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Not so live blog - Radiance of the Seas Alaska Southbound 8/31/18

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In this continuing series of how weather can change in Alaska, I present you Ketchikan in blue skies.




Time for a scope:


Time on the clock says 5:30pm.  All abroad!


With that our sail away began.






























Sunset scope:




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Day 7 - Cruising the Inside Passage

The inside passage is a channel of water within Canada's territorial limits that permits deep water vessels to pass through.  At certain points it is very narrow and a local pilot is brought on board to assist the bridge with navigation.

In other words, it's a sea day...  but close to land on both sides with opportunities for marine life sightings.  

For those curious, the shops on board had the following hours:


Lunch menu for this sea day in the MDR


Cascades MDR


I wasn't here for lunch, I came for the Galley Tour:

A Sous Chef was our guide today.  Here he is talking about the bread making capabilities which were impressive.


Another cook getting the soup for the lunch ready.


A mixing bowl that can mix 10 billion eggs, six million pounds of flour, 2,673 cookies or some astronomical quantity of each.


The cook in charge of protein preparing steaks for today's lunch.  Each type of meat has it's own cooking area.


Preparing the cake that will be presented in Windjammer for lunch.


The galley is on two levels.  The bakery one deck above the bulk of the galley.  Being a relatively smaller ship, the galley tour was equally quick, leading many of us directly to the Bridge tour:


Radiance is one of two ships in the fleet that feature Gas Turbines which accounts for the letters GTV on the aft side of the ship.  Gas Turbine Vessel.  I thought all Radiance class ships were GTV but apparently Jewel and Brilliance are not.   


Looking back at this picture from Juneau, notice the GTV letters near aft?


Radiance and Serenade are the only GTV ships in the fleet.  They can burn cleaner fuel in sensitive marine environments such as Alaska.


The bridge wing:


With see through floors:


The view aft from the bridge wing:


The view forward:


Flags carried on board that have to be displayed for various nautical purposes.



For example, while in Ketchikan there were divers cleaning the hull.  The ship had to fly the "Diver in the Water" flag so that other boats and ships would know and stay well clear.   

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Our pilot arrived:


During the noon announcement the Captain mentioned that as we approach a narrows there would be opportunity to see marine life.  That would occur for me near dinner time.  

I picked up some Canadian cell towers and was able to scope a little from the inside passage after dinner:


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Day 7 - Dinner


I started with the Crispy Coconut Shrimp.


The Fish of the Day was Alaskan Sole.  

During dinner I looked up and saw Orcas swimming not far from the ship.  Their large dorsal fin very prominent above the water.  Soon after in the ripples of our wake several Dolphins were playing jumping in the waves.  More Orcas a few minutes later further out.  With the distraction and constantly looking for marine life I forgot to take more food pictures.


The fish was very bland.  No taste at all and this is from a guy who doesn't like fishy tasty foods and doesn't eat fish very often.  

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Miscellaneous items:

Radiance has small movie theater near the pub.  I never used it but movies playing this cruise:



People often ask "Is there a Hairdryer?".  Yes, a small one but you have to hold the button down while using it.  Most woman I know like to bring their own.


Later in the evening they started displaying the disembarkation times, which were different than the letter placed in my cabin.



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Day 8 - Vancouver

Scheduled disembarkation 7:30am

I set my alarm early to finish packing and eat breakfast in the Windjammer.  It was raining outside so I kept my rain coat handy.

On the ship's forward looking bridge camera it looked like a pretty sunrise so i donned my rain coat and headed to the helipad in the rain.  It was worth it.




Downtown Vancouver.  The white spiked roof is Canada Place and the cruise terminal.  



Look back towards the Lions Gate Bridge that we sailed under.


Of course I scoped it:


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At 7am I headed out to the deck 5 with my bags to join the self-disembark line.  We were still slowly approaching the pier.

I had an 11:16am international flight from Vancouver airport.  That's a little aggressive but since I am traveling alone it makes it a lot easier.  I've got a couple cards up my sleeve to help with this early flight time.  More on that later.  


I was 4 or 5 groups from the front of the line.  

At 7:20ish Canada customs boarded.  A few crew were let off.  At 7:30am they started letting guests off.  

A Canada customs declaration card was left in the cabin the day before and with that completed I headed off.  Through the terminal and towards two customs agents waiting to collect our cards.  Very quick and painless.  

Through customs I followed the signs for the exit and was outside on the streets by 7:41am taking this photo:


I planned to take the Skytrain from Waterfront Station to the airport.  

A few steps forward and I took two more photos:

The first looking towards the train station entrance.


And immediately turning to look in the direction I came from.


That blue taxi to the left coming up from underground below Canada Place and the Public Parking sign is where I walked up.

The train station in the photo can be used to access the train system but there are several train lines here and the Skytrain is more easily accessed by walking past this entrance and making a left to walk 500 yards to the main train station entrance.  I went into this entrance anyways and walked underground up and down escalators to make the same trek but underground.  

Once downstairs you need to purchase a Compass ticket at a machine for the train.  


Tickets are based on zones.  If you plan to travel within a zone it's one fare.  Two zones is another fare and so on.  Waterfront Station to YVR Airport is two zones.    

Ticket cost $4.20 CAD which ended up on my credit card as $3.20 USD.  Pretty darn cheap airport transfer.  

A ticket is dispensed that you will need to enter through gates to access and depart the train at the end - don't lose your ticket.  It has an embedded RFID chip that you place against a card reader to open the gates.


Digital signage makes it pretty clear which train is for YVR and when the next train will arrive.

At 7:55am I was on the Skytrain on my way to YVR.  


Since it's an airport train lots of people had luggage. I pushed mine towards the window and sat in the aisle seat beside it.

We arrived at the airport at 8:25am.

There are lots of signs for the domestic and international terminals.  A 5 minute walk later and I as approaching the ticket counter. 

For international flights the airline tags your bags but then you have to carry them past the ticket counter and place them on a conveyor where they go through xray and into the luggage system.

Fortunately I have a Nexus card which is sort of like Global Entry for Canada.  At YVR airport this allowed me to bypass long security lines and go directly to a trusted traveler airport security line.  Since we are in Canada this is not TSA PreCheck but it works just like it.  I probably saved 45 minutes here.  With my Global Entry I was able to use a kiosk for U.S. Customs and quickly was through and into the departure area by 8:50am.  This probably saved me 15 minutes.  Through the process and at the gate at 8:50am with plenty of time to kill before my 11:16am flight. 

Without Nexus or Global Entry I would plan on at least an hour minimum to go through the process after checking bags with the airline.  The good news is after this you have cleared U.S. Customs so once you land in the U.S. you are like any other domestic flight and you don't have to go through U.S. Customs upon landing.

One hour and twenty minutes ship to gate clearing both Canada Customs at the port and U.S. Customs at the airport.  Not bad.  

I noticed something else now that I was in Canada.  Even the bears are friendlier here.


There are duty free shops here past U.S. Customs and by the gates to load up on last minute Maple Sugar treats or what ever other stuff you might want.  Smarties any one?

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Cruise Summary

This is my 3rd Alaska cruise.  For me the question isn't if I'll do another Alaska cruise but when.  (Hint - I've already got a 2019 Alaska cruise booked)

I scored a great last minute fare.  That doesn't always happen so book early, sit back and watch fares increase.  

Depending on your interests there are ways to do Alaska ports relatively inexpensively.  Helicopters to glaciers are fantastic but expensive.    For American readers the fact that you are in America and cell phones work normally is a huge benefit to those who want to self explore.  Some ports have city buses and for those on a tight budget a little research before going can help you save a lot of money.  Car rentals for a family of four can be very economical and at a port like Skagway you can see a lot from a rental car (just bring your passports if you want to drive into Canada).  Uber and Lyft have arrived in Alaska!  (not all ports)

I bought Voom on day 2 and saved an extra $20.  With my C&A discount that took the price down to $74.  On a port intensive cruise like where the ports are US ports you can easily get away without Voom (at least for US residents).  

No drink package.  Prices for drinks (including Gratuity):

    Kraken and soda $8.26 (same for any common cocktail)

    Expresso Martini $14.16

    Total bar bill ~ $70.

No specialty dining - all MDR or Windjammer. 

Overall this was a fantastic cruise.  


Common Alaska Cruise Questions

One-way North/South or Seattle round trip? 

Having done both this summer I feel I am qualified to tackle this question.  Both are an awesome experience.  Like comparing two Caribbean cruises they are different and there are pros and cons to each.  Some ports overlap and some ports or glaciers are unique . 

The Royal Caribbean Blog Group Cruise in June was a Seattle round trip and it was incredible.  (For proof  read my live blog from that cruise here ).  

Our time at Dawes Glacier from Seattle was incredible.  Seeing the ship in this narrow passage with steep canyon walls all around us while the ship slowly turned around at the glacier is a memory I will never forget.

On Radiance watching Hubbard Glacier calving in front of my eyes and hearing it crack was incredible and a memory I will never forget.  Hubbard is much wider than Dawes.    

One is not better than the other, they are different.  I'm very fortunate to have experienced both.  

Having said that, I do feel that a one-way North/South cruise is a better overall Alaskan experience.  I love Icy Strat Point.  I love Ketchikan.  I love the Alaskan Railroad between Anchorage and Seward.  I like the extra ports and long days in each afforded by not having to turn around and return to where we came from.  That doesn't mean a Seattle based Alaskan cruise should be avoided as this is still a great way to experience Alaska (my 2019 booking is from Seattle).

Isn't it harder to book plane tickets for a one-way cruise?  No.  Maybe it was some years ago but not really any more.  Last year I found it cheaper to book it as two one-way plane tickets.  This year it was the same booked as a multi-city trip or two one-way tickets.  Since you should be using a travel agent anyways, let them research and figure this out for you.  I was pleasantly surprised how affordable airfare was for this most recent cruise.  For non-Canucks, Canadian airports do charge a higher landing tax so if you can make it work, flying into Seattle and making the short journey to or from Vancouver by land or sea part of the experience should be considered. There is ferry service, trains and buses between the two.  Both are great cities to explore so if you can afford an extra day or two it may be worth looking into Seattle based flights instead of Vancouver.  (Hint, many Canadians who live close to a U.S. airport will drive across the border and fly from a U.S. airport for this reason).  

Explorer or Radiance? 

Neck and neck but I have to give the nod to Explorer.  In some areas I prefer Radiance and in some areas I prefer Explorer.  Having thought about that for a moment, maybe Radiance gets the nod.  I can't decide.  Ovation 2019 should be interesting.  4500+ guests versus 2,500 guests.   Explorer can accommodate 4,000 so will Ovation really be that much different?  Probably not.  I missed certain things present on Explorer while on Radiance but with a port intensive one-way cruise that really wasn't a big deal - I was there for Alaska, not the ship so much.  Unlike the Caribbean where I have cruised often, the ship isn't the destination.  With more sea time out of Seattle having more ship features works well (Flowrider, ice skating, etc).   

Time of year?

That's a tough one.  Seeing the Salmon spawning in the rivers was pretty special.  You won't likely see that in June. 

As a photographer the longer days in June were a treat.  Many photographers will tell you the best time to take pictures is not in the middle of the day but during golden hour, that time just around sunset.  The long June days in Alaska have an extended golden hour.  There is something very special about enjoying 13 hours at a port, boarding the ship, having dinner, watching a show and then going out on deck at 10pm and seeing a spectacular mountain vista with a glowing sky and a sunset in June. 

Here is an example from Juneau.

June 2018 from Explorer looking at Radiance leaving Juneau


September 2018 from Radiance looking back at Explorer at the same time of night and same ship positions.


I definitely felt the shorter days in September.  Even finishing my hike in Skagway at 5pm the shadows from the sun in the forest cast long shadows that let me know it was time to head back.  In June I probably could have gone an extra hour or two.  

In June there was more snow at elevation.  That only impacts your pictures and mountain photos always look better with snow on them (trust me, I live in Colorado).

Here is an example from the train.  

June 2017


September 2018


Both are nice photos but the snow really defines the peaks, cracks and crevices.  

I think I give June the nod but feel very fortunate to have experienced both.  I wouldn't hesitate to cruise September again though.  I really should try July but that is peak season and as a bargain hunter I may not.  Okay, never say never - right.  

I did this same itinerary day for day on Celebrity last year in June.  Here is my recap blog from that cruise in early June 2017 

You decide what is best for you.

MUST you have a balcony on an Alaskan cruise?

No.  Both Explorer in June and Radiance in September were done from an interior cabin.  Look at my pictures from both.  Does it look like I missed out because I had no balcony to call my own?  Sure a balcony is great if you have the extra money.  Both of my Alaskan cruises in interior cabins combined cost me one Alaskan cruise with a balcony. 

Alaska excursions are expensive.  Given the choice of incredible excursions from an interior cabin or cheap excursions with a balcony cabin I'd go interior cabin every time.  That person sitting next to me on the float plane/helicopter/dog sled/train just might have a balcony.  I'll be sitting a little higher though because of my fatter wallet.  Once off the ship for 13 hours what does that balcony do for you?  Nothing.  Sitting beside that person in the theater - is the show better for them?  Sitting in the dining room - is the food better for them?  No.  

I had a balcony last year on the Millennium in Alaska and it was great, no question.  However nearly all of my memories and photos from 2017 were not from my balcony.  

If you got it, spend it.  For the rest of us, do not put off an Alaskan cruise saving a few more years just for a balcony.  

Balcony exception - Ovation has a higher balcony cabin ratio and the difference to upgrade to a balcony may be affordable for many people.  Time will tell if that holds true as sail dates book up.

I hoped you enjoyed this experience with me and I thank you for following along.

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Loved the critique of both ships. Cruising in Alaska in June is awesome. It took me over a week to get back to my schedule. It never gets dark at night. My husband and I were up all night and it was twilight at midnight. We saw more animals we cruised in August. I have a picture of a bald eagle swooping to get a salmon. We were told to look at the trees and look for ornaments, those were the bald eagles sitting. I was able to spot the bald eagles in your pictures. As always you have set the bar.

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@twangster When I got to your debark day, I was literally feeling the emotions of getting off the ship. Ugh. Now the withdrawl. Where are we going next, @twangster? Thank you for posting this blog. Still haven't decided what our second trip to Alaska will be. I think some research into Seattle and Vancouver will be the deciding factors. We are taking the train from Vancouver to Seattle for our first Alaska cruise southbound, next summer. I had questioned my move until I read your last two entries. Now I believe I made the right decision for our family (and hoping the Seattle Sounders MLS will be in town that Saturday). Can't wait for your next blog!!

Edited by Baked Alaska

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Wow, what an thoroughly enjoyable review! The zip line videos were killer, especially the fog/clouds and then the no fog/clouds the same day. My wife is NOW chomping at the bit, "when are we going? can we cancel the Bermuda trip next year? let's get a reverse mortgage and do a couple of Alaska cruises, etc ". 

Thanks again for your work, pretty sure everyone enjoyed it. :27_sunglasses:

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Thanks for yet another amazing blog, @twangster! I’m actually glad that you took the time this go-round to just enjoy the trip, take the pics, then decide how you wanted to tell the story afterward. You’ve done plenty of times where you pulled from your time off to keep us up to date and virtually cruising along with you, you more than deserve a chance to tune out, seize that trip to the fullest, and enjoy it to the max!

I know you have your editing tools down pat, but I still can’t imagine the time post-cruise needed to cull down the photos to the best ones, edit them, come up with a narrative, and put it all online for us to enjoy. No wonder you have 11 more cruises booked, we’re wearing you down with the blog posts and leaving you desperate for new vacation times! 😅

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11 hours ago, JLMoran said:

Thanks for yet another amazing blog, @twangster! I’m actually glad that you took the time this go-round to just enjoy the trip, take the pics, then decide how you wanted to tell the story afterward. You’ve done plenty of times where you pulled from your time off to keep us up to date and virtually cruising along with you, you more than deserve a chance to tune out, seize that trip to the fullest, and enjoy it to the max!

So true!  If anyone deserves a break, it's @twangster!

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6 minutes ago, WAAAYTOOO said:

rjac, are you still home or did you evacuate ?

Staying home. The hurricane has been downgraded to a cat 2 and is headed towards Wilmington, NC and Charleston, SC. Pretty sure all we're going to get is a LOT of high wind and rain. Currently strong wind and small/light rain showers. No newspaper delivered (ugh), think the delivery person evacuated and I hate reading the paper on line, oh well. We've been through that many times before. Thanks for your concern. Will keep everyone here informed. :27_sunglasses:

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