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Cruising Alaska's Outside Passage

© by Mike Keenan

Royal Caribbeans Rhapsody of the Seas, photo by RC

Friends recommended Alaska for our first cruise last year, so we tried it and enjoyed it so much, we repeated it. First, we took the Outside Passage from Seattle in May and next, the Inside Passage from Vancouver in August, both aboard Royal Caribbean ships. This week, I describe the Outside Passage; next week the Inside Passage.
     We leave Seattle's iconic skyline with its Space Needle, porpoises slashing through the water and a surfaced US nuclear submarine mid-May for a 7-night adventure onboard the Rhapsody of the Seas, captained by seasoned Rob Hempstead from Rhode Island with his capable crew. Our balcony is cool for most of the trip, but the cabin is comfy and well apportioned, with seemingly a place for everything.
     Emerging from a month-long $54 million dry dock refitting at Singapore's Sembawang Shipyard, the revitalized Rhapsody was like a brand new vessel from bow to stern.
     We try most of the signature dining features including the following restaurants: Giovanni's Table, an Italian trattoria featuring Italian classics served family-style (open for lunch, $15, and dinner, $20); Izumi Asian Cuisine, featuring a sushi bar with hot-rock cooking, (open for lunch and dinner, $3.00 cover charge for lunch and $5.00 for dinner plus a la carte menu pricing); Park Cafe, an indoor/ outdoor gourmet market featuring salads, sandwiches, soups and pastries (open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, complimentary); Chops Grille, Royal Caribbean's signature steakhouse offering premium cuts and quality meats (open for dinner, $30 per person). My favourite - the Izumi Asian Cuisine. Delicious!

Auditorium, photo by Mike Keenan   Captain Rob on the bridge, photo by Mike Keenan   Captains view from his bridge, photo by Mike Keenan   Centrum Action, photo by Mike Keenan    Climbing at stern, photo by Mike Keenan   Solarium, photo by Mike Keenan

     At the centre of the ship, the aptly named Centrum features myriad daytime activities, evening entertainment and a high-flying aerialists gliding through the five-story atrium as we sip wine in the 60's inspired R Bar.
     Fortunately, dress is casual during the day and business casual for the evenings, aside from two formal evenings when cruise veterans obviously relish getting fancied up to have their pictures taken by professional photographers.
     To work off the calories, we walk outside on the decks. There is a rock wall for climbing at the stern and a well-equipped fitness centre; the outdoor pool is cool, but there is a warmer version in the Solarium. The ship also offers miniature golf, golf simulators, and courts for basketball, paddleball or volleyball and jogging tracks.
     We did not use the spa which included beauty treatment areas, unisex full-service hair salons; manicure, pedicure and facial facilities; separate male and female changing rooms with access to sauna, steam and shower areas; and a full menu of massage treatments.
     The Solarium is a lovely refuge for reading along with its pools, whirlpools and full beverage service. I have access to WiFi both in my cabin and amid ship in the computer area.
     Royal Caribbean was founded in 1969 and enjoys a fleet of 22 ships, visiting 233 ports in 71 countries on 6 continents. Captain Rob tells me that they enjoy one of the highest repeat passenger percentages in the market. At 78,491 tons, 915.35 feet long, 105.6 feet wide, 25 feet draft, 22 knots cruising speed, his ship carries 1,998 guests and 765 international crew, has 11 passenger decks, 9 passenger elevators, 2 bow thrusters, 1 stern thruster and 2 stabilizers.
     There are regular dining rooms such as Edelweiss, a theatre where we take in a movie, the casino which we avoid, several lounges for an evening drink as well as a baby and tot nursery and a youth area, literally something for everybody.
     Our stateroom has a shower, phone, flat panel LED television, mini-bar, hair dryer and individually controlled air conditioning. This is certainly the way to travel! In fact, I talk to several older passengers and a few handicapped people who exclaim that cruising is their preferred travel experience.
     Patrick Richard, our affable Cruise Director from Tracadie, New Brunswick does a wonderful job organizing the evening shows (one early; one late) which includes first-rate dancing and singing inside a comfortable auditorium with non-stop drink service included. I could get used to this! During the dancing, I notice the prime difference between the Outside and Inside Passage. The Inside Passage is smoother. The dancers are quite amazing in maintaining their demanding routines often amidst some heavy Pacific seas.
     On day 4, we stop at Skagway, Alaska in the morning; day 5, it's Tracy Arm Fjord in the morning; day 6, we visit Victoria, British Colombia and on a Friday, we disembark from where we started back in Seattle. I will describe our shore excursions in future articles.

Pool Deck, photo by Mike Keenan

     For cruise novices such as my wife and I, this trip is a thrill. Our first experience aboard ship is to get "mustered." Not the kind of Great War experience by troops in trenches. We are ordered to report to our station on deck 5 at 3.15 pm where our names are checked off; we are advised about safety measures and placed in a group of about 25. These are the people that we would accompany in an emergency. Captain Rob comes on the PA system and advises us that on his signal - 7 short and 1 long blast of the powerful ship horn, that we should report here ASAP! I like the concept of mustering, the coming together in emergencies; there should be more of this as we grow up; looking around at my group of 25, I realize that we are basically all in the same boat (oops, ship!).
     One of my thrills during this trip: on our balcony, peering through fog, I spot magnificent Mount Rainier which suddenly looms high above. Wow! A cruise is a perfect technique for taking stock, a way of comprehending one's place in the environment, realizing how small one really is in the greater scheme of things, and that perhaps we should not take ourselves quite so seriously. (Next week: the Inside Passage)

Walking the deck, photo by Mike Keenan

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.

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan
Royal Caribbean
Travel Alaska

Alaska courtesy of travelalaska.com 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.    - Wikipedia

If you go
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaska
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Alaska
Wikivoyage: http://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Alaska
Royal Caribbean: http://www.royalcaribbean.com/home.do
Fiction: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Alaska_in_fiction
Films featuring: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_films_set_in_Alaska
Places of worship: http://youralaskaguide.com/category/...
Trip Advisor: http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Tourism...

Travel Aid
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Currency conversion: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Maps (Google interactive map): http://maps.google.com/
Maps (Mapquest) U.S. & Canada: http://www.mapquest.com/maps/main.adp
Maps (Mapquest) World: http://www.mapquest.com/maps/main.adp?country=GB
Media Guide (local newspapers with current listings): http://www.abyznews...
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/
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