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Cruising Alaska: May/June 2006
Vision of the Seas & Radiance of the Seas
(Royal Caribbean)


    After guiding land tours for cruise ship passengers for much of the past 17 years, I got offered a gig last year as Destination Speaker on a late May cruise of the Radiance of the Seas. Of course, I jumped at the chance. A review with a few of the 562 pictures that ended up in my album (after editing) are posted here. I was shooting with an old Nikon Coolpix 4300, my wife with a days-old Canon Powershot S1, and we didn't go on any organized excursions - a pretty basic cruise.

    Cathy and I went on last year's cruise with the idea that this wasn't really "our style," but was something we should try anyway. While we like to throw a tent and the huskies into a canoe and head off into the wilderness, we quickly discovered that our style has aspects that we just hadn't explored yet - we had a ball! Cruising was something that was going to continue for a while. In February 2006, we were on the Costa Mediterranea in the eastern Caribbean, doing promotional shows for Alaska cruising, for a Texas company entering the northern market - it was great fun, and successful as far as the number of Alaska bookings that were signed up on the cruise. The reviews and photos below are from 2 Alaska cruises that I just completed - a 7-night Seattle return on the Vision of the Seas with my father, and a 7-night Vancouver-Seward on the Radiance of the Seas with Cathy. On these cruises, armed with a well-equipped new Canon Digital Rebel, I shot over 1,900 pictures. Many of the pictures were taken on the excursions we went on - they're expensive, but the only way to get the type of photos you see in the brochures.

    If there's any one thing that stands out from a travel planning perspective, it was the number of people who had little idea of exactly what they had bought. They knew they were going to Alaska, but little else. I talked with people who didn't know that excursions are needed to get an in-depth experience, who didn't understand why we were sailing west of Vancouver Island instead of through the Inside Passage ("whatever that is") on the Vision, and even some who didn't understand why we weren't going to Glacier Bay (where did they get the idea that we would??). The fact that you're here reading means that you won't fall into any of those categories - I hope that you find the following images and information useful and even enjoyable.

Vision of the Seas
    Page 1: Whitehorse - Seattle - Juneau
    Page 2: Skagway - Icy Strait - Victoria - Seattle

Radiance of the Seas
    Page 3: Vancouver - Juneau
    Page 4: Skagway - Sitka
    Page 5: Icy Strait - Hubbard Glacier
    Page 6: Seward - Whitehorse

Click on each photo to greatly enlarge it.


BC's Coastal Mountains - aerial photo     Thursday, May 18: the Coastal Mountains of British Columbia, seen from the Air North Boeing 737 flight from Whitehorse to Vancouver. (2 hours, 10 minutes - $255.38 Canadian one way). It was fairly clear in Whitehorse, but after just a few minutes, there was the odd break in the clouds, but not many. After several hectic days getting ready to go away for 18 days, though, it was a nice calm break.

    The approach into YVR got me a good look at the hotel Cathy and I had booked (the Delta Vancouver Airport) for the night before our cruise. The dive we stayed at in Fort Lauderdale in February pre-cruise (the Wish You Were Here Inn) convinced us that if we have to go on a tight budget, we'll stay home.

    I met my father shortly after I landed - he had made the short flight down from Kelowna, in the interior of British Columbia. Step 2 of getting to the ship (after our flights) was taking this Quick Shuttle bus from the Vancouver airport to downtown Seattle ($134.00 for the 2 of us), where we stayed overnight with my sister Shelly and her family. This comfortable motorcoach should have been a quick and simple way to make the trip, but getting across the border was time-consuming and frustrating - US Immigration seemed to be in bus-harrassment mode.

    Friday, May 19: We got to the dock early to avoid the rush (and so we could explore the ship), but staff training had apparently been minimal (this was the first Seattle departure of the season), and with computer and other problems added (even the card printer at our station didn't work), it took an hour and a half to get aboard. People were complaining about this hassle for days on the ship.

    Finally, on board and exploring! The decorating of the Vision of the Seas is very elaborate and colourful, with the very impressive Centrum the focal point. First put into service in 1998, the 915-foot, 78,340 gross ton Vision can accommodate up to 2,416 people, cruising at a maximum speed of 22.5 knots.

    The beautiful Masquerade Theatre was where the major entertainment (including my first presentation, about grizzly bears) was held.

    Our departure was delayed by an hour due to the late arrival of the fuel barge (seen here), but there was lots to see (and eat, of course!) so nobody seemed to care. We left from Pier 30, which is surrounded by busy container ship facilities.

    Leaving Seattle, at 6:00 p.m. - there were a few drops of rain, but it was basically a very nice evening to start the cruise with.

    Saturday, May 20: Dad was at the slots early on our first at-sea day. Those in the know about such things say that ship slots have a poor return, and Dad can now confirm that.

    The disadvantage of Seattle departures is that you sail west of Vancouver Island, with either distant or no shore views, and often rough seas. We had great luck with the seas, but there was little to see - like cruising the Caribbean. This photo was taken just before 6:00 p.m. as we passed the Queen Charlotte Islands - the Zaandam, which left Seattle just before us, is seen closer to shore.

    Sunday, May 21: We got to Juneau at about noon, greeted by fine weather, surprising given the very wet May that Southesat Alaska has suffered through this year. As became our practise for the entire trip, we waited for the crowds to disperse before disembarking. We docked out at the AJ Dock, about half a mile from downtown, but an all-day shuttle pass was only $2.

    As always in the summer, Juneau harbor was a very busy place, and I added many floatplane and other pictures to my collection. This is the Vision as seen from downtown. The historic gold mining town of Douglas is seen in the background.

    The only excursion we booked was in Juneau. After reading for years about the whale watching trips offered by Captain Larry of Orca Enterprises, this seemed to be the perfect time to go out with him. The company now operates 3 boats, but we got assigned to the brand-new Orca Odysea, a beautiful and very powerful boat that gets you to the whales in a hurry.

    "Spouts and backs" are what most people see of humpback whales, and that was what we saw of about 7 of them. They had just started arriving from their wintering grounds in Hawaii (that migration takes 4-8 weeks). Although a pod of transient orcas had been seen a few times in the days preceding our visit, they had moved on by the time we arrived. We hoped that they'd be in the Icy Strait area when we got there.

    Captain Larry, and naturalists/hosts Randy and Nancy, were a pleasure to travel with. Larry is, to put it mildly, passionate about whales, and extremely knowledgeable. All of the other passengers were members of the Red Hat Society from Georgia (and husbands) - excellent travelling companions indeed.

    Whale watching boats aren't allowed to approach whales closer than 100 yards, but if the 40-50 foot long mammals approach the boats closer than that, it's okay. Getting this close is a thrill when you're on the open deck of a small boat.

    This is a perfect whale-spotting day. Glassy seas and no wind allow you to spot their spouts miles away. It's hard to believe that this is the ocean.

    The “Alaska Marine Highway” routes to dozens of communities accessible only by air or sea are run by state ferries such as the Matanuska. For visitors who want to visit places that the large cruise ships don't go to, or who want to see the communities in more detail, the ferries are a great way to travel.

    Bald eagles are seen everywhere in Southeast Aklaska. Many people take specific eagle watching tours, but they really aren't necessary. If you want to see trees loaded with eagles, you need to come up to Haines for the Bald Eagle Festival in November.

    Steller's sea lions are abundant in the waters around Juneau, and we saw a fair number. Even Larry couldn't explain how that 500-pound female got up to the "second storey" of this buoy!

    Heading back to the dock at Auke Bay just afer 5:00 p.m.. The boat to the far left appeared to be dead, as it was being towed - another person thankful for calm seas, no doubt.

At 11:00 p.m., we headed for Lynn Canal, bound for Skagway.



To Page 2: Lynn Canal to Icy Strait


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