Radiance of the Seas

May 24 - June 5, 2016

Alaska Cruisetour - Anchorage, Talkeetna, Denali,
Seward, Hubbard Glacier, Juneau, Skagway, Icy Point Strait, Ketchikan, Inside Passage, Vancouver

Alaska has been on our cruise to-do list for years. But it required flights to and from where we live in Florida. And living in Florida, we could drive to cruise ports in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Port Canaveral, and even Tampa. We could even save on parking by having people drop us off and pick us up at the port or staying a night in a hotel what offered free parking for the length of the cruise.

Even flying to Europe for transatlantic cruises were cheaper because it was necessary to fly only one way and Royal Caribbean Air2Sea (formerly Choice Air) offers great deals on international flights. But domestic flights are not discounted much if any.

So we planned on an Alaska cruise for 2016.

We wanted to take a one direction cruise so that we could see as much of Alaska as possible. We also wanted to take a land tour in connection with the cruise.

So we booked a Radiance of the Seas southbound cruise from Anchorage (Seward) to Vancouver and a 3 night pre-cruise tour. The land tour started in Anchorage and went to Denali, Talkeetna, and then to Seward.


Anchorage

We flew from Palm Beach International to Atlanta, then on to Anchorage. We were met at the airport by Royal Caribbean personnel. We claimed our bags and turned them over to Royal Caribbean. We boarded a bus and the luggage was placed on the same bus.

We arrived at the Marriot Downtown hotel and were introduced to our tour guide for the land tour. We were given an outline of the cruisetour and told what we needed to do each day. We were then dismissed to our rooms where our baggage was already waiting for us.

We had a great-newphew and his wife living in Anchorage and hoped to be able to meet them while we were there. Unfortunately, they had already gone home by the time we were finished with our tour guide. But that wasn't a problem because we were all going to be in Indianapolis in less than 3 weeks for his sister's wedding. We were able to talk on the phone.

The next morning we placed our luggage outside our room. We had been given 2 type of luggage tags. One tag was for bags we would need each day and those bags would be delivered to our rooms each evening. The other tag was for bags we would not need until the cruise. Those bags would remain on the bus and be returned to us the last evening of the land tour.


Wilderness Express

The first morning, we met in the hotel lobby and were introduced to our bus driver. We boarded the bus at the hotel and were taken to the Anchorage train station. We boarded a Royal Caribbean Wilderness Express car which was attached to a regular Alaska Railways train. We took the train through Anchorage suburbs including Wasilla to Talkeenta.

At Talkeenta, we exited the train (another Royal Caribbean tour boarded) and had time in Talkeenta for lunch and shopping. We boarded our bus (same one that we had ridden in Anchorage) and continued to Denali. We made a stop at the Alaskan Veterans Memorial. The memorial is located within the boundary of the Denali State Park.


Denali

We continued on to Denali and our hotel, the Denali Park Village. The next morning we met in the lobby and boarded a bus for the Denali Tundra Wilderness tour. This tour goes 53 miles into the park and takes 7-8 hours. There was a $70 per person charge to upgrade to this tour. We were able to see some wildlife on the tour:

  • One grizzly bear crossing a riverbed
  • One moose in the road who came up and checked out our bus
  • Several Dahl sheel
  • Several Caribou
  • Several birds including the Willow ptarmigan, the Alaska State Bird
The Denali tours are run by the US National Parks. We boarded a bus - basically a school bus type. There are 2 tours offered:
  • The Tundrea Wilderness Tour
  • The Denali Natural History Tour
We were told that the Tundra Wilderness Tour is a wildlife tour and the Denali History tour is a history tour.

A couple of comments from the Internet:

  • Taking the Denali History Tour is like visiting Disney World and not going past Main Street.
  • Don't expect Alaska to be the Serengeti of the north. The land just won't support a large population of wildlife.

The Tundra Wilderness Tour includes a box lunch. The best part of the lunch is the box and the water. Take your own snacks.


Talkeenta

The Tundra Wilderness tour left us off at the park Visitor Center where we could shopping or purchase lunch at the cafeteria. We boarded our bus and continued back to Talkeenta where we had stopped the previous day.

Our hotel for the evening was the Talkeenta Alaskan Lodge. From the back porch of the lodge, there was a fantastic view of Denali. Denali is so high that it makes its own weather. As a result of the clouds that often surround the mountain, only about 30% of visitors to Denali actually see Denali. We were fortunate that we had spectacular weather and views of Denali.

All of our luggage was returned to our room that evening so that it could be tagged for the ship and we could get any items we would need for boarding the ship.


Seward - Wildlife Conservation Center

The next morning we set out our baggage and met in the hotel lobby. We boarded our bus and went back to Anchorage. We had time for lunch while our baggage was transferred from the bus to a truck to be taken to the ship.

After boarding the bus, we traveled along Tracy Arm to the Alaskan Wildlife Center. The center contains several animals, so we were able to see bear and moose up close. The center is also raising buffalo which are released to reestablish the buffalo population in Alaska.


Radiance of the Seas

At Seward, we boarded Radiance of the Seas. We had sailed on Radiance in 2010, so we spent a little time refreshing our memories and finding out what had changed.


Hubbard Glacier

Our first day on Radiance we approached Hubbard Glacier. As massive as the glacier appeared, when we saw arial or satellite photos, we realized that there was even more to the glacier that we could not see.

We heard the loud booms as the ice split. Occasionally we were able to see a section if ice break free and drop into the water with a splash. Those were (relatively) small piedes. We never saw a large (iceberg size) piece split off. We stayed at the glacier for over 2 hours as the captain turned the ship so that both sides were able to get view of the glacier. Our spectacular weather still held and we were able to get great view of the glacier.


Juneau

The following day was our first port of call - Juneau, the capital of Alaska. Access to Juneau is solely by water or air. There are no roads or railroads. It is not possible to build bridges over or tunnels under glaciers as they continuously move.

In Juneau we took the tramway to the top of Mt.Roberts for a view of the city, harbor, and surrounding area. While we were there, we watched Explorer of the Seas arrive. We had been on Explorer last October and had left her in Dubai, UAE, as she continued on her reposition to Australia. Now we were seeing her again after her transpacific voyage from Australia to Alaska.

The Tramway excursion on Royal Caribbean's site lists a time of 9:30. Actually, the ticket is good all day long for unlimited trips.

In the afternoon, we took a whale watching excursion. We were taken by bus to a marina where we boarded a boat that held about 20 passengers. We were able to see a group of Orcas (Killer Whales). But from a distance, they looked pretty much like black porpoises. We were able to see a single humpback whale. The first sign of the whale was a spout of spray as it exhaled. That was followed by the back of the whale, and finally, the tail.

We would have liked to see more whales and to get closer. However, there are laws that prevent the boats from approaching closer than specified distances from whales.

Click here for a link to the Juneau harbor webcam.


Skagway

The following day we arrived in Skagway. We were able to spend time in town. We also took one of the train excursions. We took the excursion that took the route gold prospectors took from Skagway to get to the gold fields in the Yukon. The train made no stops, but took us up to White Pass and a few yards into Canada. Then back to Skagway. Again, we had spectacular weather and were able to enjoy the scenery along the way.

There are other train excusions that have a stop in Canada. If you take one of these excursions, you will need to take your passport.

One note, Internet was unavailable while we were in Skagway. Even the Next Cruise people on board Radiance were unable to connect to make bookings. If you purchase a single day of Internet or have free days, don't take one in Skagway.

We were an hour or two late in leaving Skagway. As near as I could see, we were waiting for fork-lift driver to arrive and remove the gangway.


Icy Strait Point

The next day we were in Icy Strait Point. This is a privately owned area that offers several excursion options. The town of Hoonah is nearby, but we did not go into the town.

I did do the ziprider. It is a ride that takes you from 1300 feet level on the mountain down to the landing a little above sea level. The ride takes about 90 seconds. The difference between a ziprider and a zip line is that on a ziprider you sit in a sling/seat while on a zip line you are suspended by a harness that you wear.

For the ziprider, we were taken by bus from sea level to the launch tower. The bus driver dropped us off about 50 yards from the launch tower and gave us the safety lecture. There are bears in the area (as evidenced by little piles along the road). Stay in a group and make noise. Do not run from a bear. Their prey runs. Make yourself look as big as possible and slowly back away. Make sure you are not between a bear and its cub.

The driver told us that there has never been a documented bear attack at a group of more than 4 people. I was amazed. I had no idea bears could count.....

I tried to lake a video of the ride down the mountain. Unfortunately, the iPhone uses the volume buttons as shutter buttons. As I handled the phone on the way down, I evidently hit one of the volume buttons and terminated the video after about 30 seconds.

We left Icy Point Strait at 3:00 to make room for another ship. The Celebrity Infinity arrived to take our place.


Ketchikan

The following day our port of call was Ketchikan. We did some shopping, but no excursions.

We were docked at pier 3 in Ketchikan. Two days later, the Celebrity Infinity (the ship that we had seen at Icy Strait Point), was attempting to dock at pier 3 in high winds. The Infinity struck the dock displacing some of the supports and knocking the walkway into the water. Click here to see a video of the Infinty docking. The crash takes place at about 1:40 into the video.


Inside Passage

Our last full day on Radiance was spent sailing the inside passage. There were no port calls on this day. Just shipboard intertainment including the cake decorating contest. It was hilarious. Don't miss it. But don't sit too close.


Vancouver, BC, Canada

Friday morning, we arrived in Vancouver. Clearing customs and immigration was a breeze. They just collected our declarations and sent us on our way.

We purchased the hop-on/hop-off bus and baggage transfer excursion. At the airport there was a desk where we took our luggage and received a claim check. We then went outside and boarded a hop-on/hop-off bus. We stayed on the bus for one circuit (with a quick off and on to drop off an item), then got off at Stanley Park. We looked at the totem poles and back on the bus again. One more stop at the Bridge of Lions for pictures, then back on.

We got off at the CF Pacific Center shopping center where we had something to eat at the food court. We then went to the train station to go to the airport. We actually had to take a train back to Waterfront Station and transfer to Canada Line to go to the airport. We could have walked to the Granville Station and caught the Canada Line directly. Don't confuse Sky Train and Canada Line. Canada line is the one you want to go to the airport.


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