Our second Royal Caribbean Alaskan cruise takes us through the calmer Inside Passage in early August, warmer than on our Outside Passage experience from Seattle in May, but nonetheless still cool for balcony use.
We opt for the pre-cruise package at Delta Vancouver Suites on West Hastings Street, ideally situated near Canada Place and the dock, so close that we do not use our taxi chits. We stroll with a single bag each on a short, 5-minute walk to board the Radiance of the Seas, similar in size and components to our prior ship, Rhapsody of the Seas.
Radiance weighs in at 90,090 tons, is 962 feet long, 106 feet wide, with a 28 foot draft, and cruises steadily at 25 knots. There are 12 passenger decks, 9 passenger elevators, 3 bow thrusters, 2 smokeless gas turbines, and space for 2,466 guests and 894 crew. We muster at 3.30 pm, and are promptly off.
The prior departure from Seattle was scenic, but leaving Vancouver is pure joy as we glide past the beautiful BC shoreline, pass majestic Stanley Park and cross under the Lion's Gate Bridge with seaplanes buzzing in the air, well past the UBC campus. Surrounded by the waters of the Pacific Ocean and the snow-capped peaks of the Coast Mountain range, Vancouver is truly an inviting city.
Our first evening's entertainment courtesy of Paul Rutter, amiable cruise director, is a "Welcome Aboard Show" featuring a comedian with many evenings of talented singing and dancing to come. The next day, I shamelessly watch NFL footage on the ship's giant outdoor screen adjacent to the main pool on the top deck.
Cruising through the Inside Passage offers incredible sights on both port and starboard with stunning glaciers the size of small states. There are misty rainforests and ghostly blue fjords with spirited communities on the shore excursions that celebrate their varied heritage. I find myself writing haikus, trying to capture the splendour: Each swell, each ripple/Growth opportunities/Devoid of ego. We see seals, porpoises, and huge humpback whales. They remind me of Herman Melville's Moby Dick.
Ketchikan, our first stop, originated as an Indian fish saltery, but the town's major growth skyrocketed when it became a supply base and entry port for miners during the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush. I think of poet Robert Service and his bizarre characters such as Dangerous Dan McGrew and Yukon Jake, the hopeless rake. Much of the town's colourful past is still evident, especially in the nearby First Nations villages, where we observe the intricately carved totem poles and we hear the fascinating legends that surround them.
On day 4, we arrive at Icy Strait Point near the city of Hoonah, the largest native Tlingit settlement in Alaska, and close to Glacier Bay National Park. Home to an historic cannery, the port's connection to the sea remains quite strong. A few locals tell me about sharing the sea with humpback whales, orcas, Dall porpoises, seals, sea otters, halibut and all five species of Pacific salmon! We spot several humpbacks feeding while walking along the shore. How cool is that!
In the evening we find the ship's piano bar featuring the music of Elton John. We sleep in our comfortable cabin, dreaming of gigantic whales arching their graceful bodies in mighty surface dives, their huge flukes, the last sign of the massive mammals.
On day 5, we arrive at Juneau, Alaska's capital, founded during a gold rush in 1880. Nestled at the foot of Mt. Juneau in the Alaska Panhandle, it faces the water from the mainland side of Gastineau Channel. Several magnificent fjords are located along the channel coast, and the majestic Mendenhall Glacier, a favorite excursion for visitors, looms nearby.
Again, utilizing the practise of sailing through the night, on day 6, we land at Skagway. When gold was discovered in the Klondike region of the Yukon Territory (just across the border from Alaska), it resulted in the historic 1898 Gold Rush. As thousands of gold-crazed adventurers sought the best starting point for their grueling trek, they found the deepest penetration possible by boat was at the northern tip of the Lynn Canal. This is how Skagway was born.
In between our shore excursions, there is plenty to occupy us onboard the ship. There's a spa and fitness centre, beauty salon, solarium, three pools, three whirlpools, half basketball court, rock-climbing wall, nine-hole miniature golf course, jogging track, video arcade, boutiques, art and photo gallery, medical centre and Internet centre. The meals are all delicious, and unfortunately, we are allowed to sample as many dishes in one sitting as we like. Cruises require discipline! We travel with two friends, and we often like to play cards in the ship's library.
Our next day is remarkable; we cruise the Hubbard Glacier, the longest river of ice in North America. We spend hours here, Norwegian Captain Claus A. Andersen expertly maneuvering his ship to provide us with the best views of this massive natural wonder, its 1,350 square miles of blue ice observable from just about anywhere on the vessel. Andersen slowly turns the huge ship 180 degrees, and again, the surrounding nature makes me feel quite minuscule.
On day 8, we arrive in Seward, the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. The historic downtown district is filled with quaint shops and art galleries. From here, we will board a deluxe motor-coach and travel the Seward Highway to Denali National Park which I will describe later.
We have experienced our first two cruises, both to Alaska, and both aboard Royal Caribbean ships. Given a choice, I would opt for the Inside Passage from Vancouver. The scenery is breath-taking!
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review, Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine.
Alaska is a state in the United States, situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with the international boundary with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait. Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area, the 4th least populous and the least densely populated of the 50 United States. Approximately half of Alaska's 731,449 residents live within the Anchorage metropolitan area. Alaska's economy is dominated by the oil, natural gas, and fishing industries; it has these resources in abundance.
Alaska was purchased from Russia on March 30, 1867, for $7.2 million ($118 million adjusted for inflation) at approximately two cents per acre ($4.74/km²). The land went through several administrative changes before becoming an organized (or incorporated) territory on May 11, 1912, and the 49th state of the U.S. on January 3, 1959.