Alaskan Cruise

So, never been cruising? Cruising is for old folk, isn't it? Well, you really must just take our word for it: there is something here for everyone. The lines themselves don't help of course and some of their advertising can be quite off-putting. Cruising gives you an active multi-centre holiday without the need to pack and travel between locations. You simply go to sleep and wake up somewhere new. It gives you the opportunity to reach parts of the world that you would otherwise not easily be able to see (our trip here is to Alaska) and it does it all with a certain level of comfort.

Alaska Cruise

We took the Radiance of the Seas (Royal Caribbean) from Vancouver through Alaska to Junea, Skagway, Ketchikan all the way to Seward and flew back from Anchorage. Some cruises are round-trip, others one-way with a flight or rail trip the other way; it's your choice. On this page we'll talk a little about cruising and life onboard, and on later pages we will introduce you to some of the wonderful places you can see if you choose to travel to Alaska.

The Radiance of the Seas (left) caters for around 3,000 passengers. Most cruise ships are of a similar size, although now much larger ships (three or four times larger) are coming on the scene. Royal Caribbean has a good reputation. We found it to be comfortable, not too formal, but a quality experience nonetheless.

Arriving on a cruise ship for the first time is exciting. They are enormous, magnificent vessels. Embarking takes some hours unfortunately, but when you consider the number of people joining it's not surprising. You will need to check your bags in first, and they will be delivered to your stateroom a few hours later. Once onboard you will be free to explore and roam.

A day on board

Take breakfast in the formal dining room with silver-ware, white linen and a full waiting service, or go to the self-service buffet. The meals are huge. You'll soon learn that eating is one of the main on-board activities. The formal breakfast will have typical western-style fare: bacon, eggs, pancakes, toast and so on. Three courses with juice and tea or coffee is the norm. You'll wait until your table of eight is full before starting so you and your fellow guests will enjoy breakfast together. In the buffet the range is very impressive with a selection of cereals, juices, eggs, pancakes, breads and cakes, bacon and sausages, the list goes on. Here of course you have to find a table, take your tray and queue for the buffet. You'll probably get a table on your own, as the restaurants are huge seating hundreds of guests, but it does get very busy at peak times.

Radiance of the Seas Lounge

After breakfast return to your stateroom and prepare for the day on-shore. You may have booked a trip in which case your meeting time and place will have been given to you already, or you may have chosen to spend the day exploring the local area on your own. Either way you will be off the ship for a long time, so take what you need with you. Passports, money, a bottle of water and your camera are all essential. We also found that we were walking almost all of the time, so sensible and comfortable shoes are necessary.

The line to disembark (debark on some American ships) is pretty long too, so be patient or early or both. You will also get very used to the photographic ritual: as you leave the ship each day (yes, every day) the photographers will capture the moment, often with someone dressed up appropriately as a bear, gold prospector etc.). These photographs will be ready for you to see and buy in the evening.

All cruises are full-board so all of your meals are included, but drinks are restricted to tea, coffee, water and juice or squash. of course every other type of drink imaginable is available but you will need to pay for it. There is no cash on board for security reasons and you will have to set up a credit account at the beginning of the cruise with a suitable means of payment. You can do this when you book, or at client services when you arrive on board.

Radiance of the Seas Atrium

So, if you are out on a trip you may miss lunch. If you choose to spend the day on board, or if you have a half day trip, then you can enjoy a buffet lunch or fast food at one of the dozens of eating outlets. As well as the huge buffet there are numerous specialist restaurants. Do explore very thoroughly so you don't miss your favourite. We discovered a wonderful indian takeway on the last day!

There are activities on board during the day, but the Alaskan cruise is all about seeing the country and you should expect to be off the ship every day, if not on a special trip then simply exploring this wonderful place.

There are very many comfortable seating areas. If you have chosen to spend the day on board you can relax here with a good book (for ideas visit our book reviews), coffee or cocktail. The Radiance of the Seas has a huge atrium. You can see here the view from the top down to the central cocktail bar with a small seating area. There are lots of bars, and entertainment for most tastes. At this bar they have a small live band with pianist. It's a very pleasant way to pass an hour or two on-board.

Radiance Lounge

Dining

When you first join the ship you will be a allocated a table and dining time which you will keep throughout the cruise. There are two main restaurants and each has a large number of tables. Most are for eight people although there are tables for four and increasingly cruise ships are providing tables for two as well. Traditionally dining was a very social affair and you would expect to spend you evening meal with some fellow travellers. However, times change and cruise lines are now allowing much more flexibility. You can ask for a different time (or even a flexible time) and you can also request a smaller table for your party of you wish. Speak with client services at the beginning of your cruise.

Evening

After a long day exploring it's time to prepare for the evening's entertainment. Get ready in your stateroom which is quite spacious and very well designed. It does have something of the feel of a luxury caravan or winnebago - it's not a four star hotel - but really it's well thought out and well equipped. If they could find a place for you to stow your suitcases then it would be almost perfect. Before dinner take a cocktail in one of the many bars.

The next part of the evening ritual is to check out the photographs that have been taken in the morning when you went ashore. These are displayed on great boards by the shops. They are relatively expensive and there will be one or more every single day of your cruise so choose carefully. If you don't want to buy the photo, take it off the display and throw it in one of the bins: the pictures are not kept for more than the day.

There is shopping on-board and you'll find jewellery, handbags and clothes as well as duty free merchandise. We found that prices were comparable to those ashore and at home. There is no pharmacy but basic toiletries are available. You may also find an art exhibition on-board. We've seen these on every cruise but our view is that these are not for the novice. The art is very expensive, and they will offer a number of incentives. You need to know what you are doing.

Radiance Show

Your evening meal can be taken in the formal dining room, or in the buffet area as for lunch. The main dining rooms are much less formal than they used to be. The dress code is smart so long trousers and shirts for the men, and dresses for the ladies. The dress code is set out in your guest handbook and most people observe it. If you are worried about being over-dressed please don't be. A great many people dress up, and we think it's nice to do that now and again. There will normally be two black tie nights as well, but often these are observed by only than half the guests. That means you can be comfortable in a lounge suit or a dress suit either way you will not be alone. If you don't have a dinner jacket they have them for hire (along with shirts, studs etc.) for a very reasonable fee.

Formal dinner will be a four course event. Drinks are not included, but there are a good range of both expensive and more affordable wines. You won't be invited to sit at the Captain's table; those days are gone. If you prefer to have an informal evening meal then the buffet restaurant is available as are the specialist food outlets. This works the same as breakfast; find a table, get a tray and queue up. It's not as elegant, but a perfectly good option without the need for a set time, and with much less formal dress.

Radiance News

After dinner there are several options to entertain you. In the main theatre there will be a game show in the early evening (with audience participation so beware!). The main variety show is put on twice each evening. This is because there are two sittings for dinner and there are a lot of people on board. We think these shows are great fun, if not quite up to Broadway standard. There are professional performers but the ship's animation team will do a lot of the shows. Keep an eye out and you may see your steward in the line up: the crew work very hard and very long hours.

If the show does not appeal, or even after the show, retire to one of the many bars. They cater for all tastes with a jazz bar, piano bar, disco and others. On the top deck is the open-air disco and DJ. This is also where the speciality food places are. This is where the youngsters congregate. It's noisy, chaotic and great fun. There are also huge screens here and sometimes a movie late at night.

At the end of the day retire to your stateroom. By now the ship will be at sea, and you'll be well on your way to the next destination. The ships have their own newsletter which is delivered to your room each evening. This gives the full listing of all the activities for the next day, details of the shows and day-trips and other useful information.


Radiance Bar Radiance Ship

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