Just back from an amazing Northbound Alaska Cruise on Radiance, and below is part review, part info, part answers to questions that have been asked over the last few months:
We had AMAZING weather - 5 days of sunshine. It was rainy in Vancouver, and Ketchikan, and then simply gorgeous.
1) Which side is best? I was on the Starboard (right side), the good: The whales at Icy Strait Point are right outside your window; the bad: so's the sun at 4am even with the curtains drawn you'll get light. The other whales/wildlife could show up on either side at anytime. HOWEVER - be warned the ship will NOT tell you when they see whales or any other wildlife (like the other 28 cruises I've been on have done...) - the closest they get is a vague "From 6:30pm to 9pm we'll be going through and area that we normally see wildlife" and that only happened twice.
2) Early or Late Seating (if you're doing traditional). I like late, but because of the times they pass through whale rich areas, if you want to see whales - consider early seating, or miss a couple of nights.
3) Embarkation was a nightmare in Vancouver - 2 1/2 to 3 hours, and from talking to several people there really wasn't a good time. Even if you were there right when it opened at 11:30 - it was still 1 1/2 hours. The problem was supposedly caused by US Immigration and sequestration. Multiple ships go through this at the same time.
4) All the whirlpools have bubbles, and ALL the pools are heated - including the outdoor one.
5) For our cruise it was the old menu, but the food was much better than what I had had on Grandeur 1 1/2 years ago. However - stay away from the cookies unless you want to break a tooth. They could double for hockey pucks - all of them.
7) Icy Strait Point - There's a shuttle that goes to the little town of Hoonah down the road, I think it was $5. You don't need the excursion to see the Whales - they live there. According to the workers at Icy Point: the 3 Humpbacks are always there, the workers at Icy Strait feed the fish with left overs every morning. I would have felt ripped off if I'd paid $150 to follow the 3 humpbacks around that I could see from either the ship or land all day. I did talk to some people who went on the whale watch cruises, and because of the commentary they thought it was worth it. There's wi-fi available at the restaurant at the bottom of the zip line. Oh - and be sure to say "Hi" to Rascal. He's a very old black and gray dog that lives there, he belongs to one of the managers, and he's a professional mooch and goes from outdoor eating area to outdoor eating area looking for a handout :D.
8) Wi-fi in Port - The easiest is Juneau if you get one of the dock spaces in the middle, the library will be either right in front of the ship, or slightly to the left. It's on top of a parking garage - there's free wi-fi and computer terminals when it's open. There are also several other places with free wi-fi - you can get a list from the visitor's center. As for the other ports, there were a bunch of place in Ketchikan - BUT - the provider was having issues so it was out/spotty all over. Icy Strait at the restaurant at the bottom of the zipline, in Skagway at the place that says "Internet" (it will be jammed) and there's also a photo shop down one of the side streets on the left with terminals and wi-fi. In Seward, I didn't find any.
9) Bus Tickets to Mendenhall are $6 each way and will be available right as you get off the ship - look for the kiosks (they also sell other tours too). When you're there, look for bears. We saw one go right behind the bus stop, at the bear crossing sign no less. If you take the trail out by the waterfall - look up. Several people saw long horn sheep.
10) Pick up the free "tourist" shopping guide before embarkation. The free silver charms at Royal Jewelers are very nice.
11) Hubbard Glacier - the whole ship gets a great view. He spins the ship around. If it's a nice day for Hubbard Glacier they'll be a bbq by the pool for lunch. The chicken was great, the beef ribs were really chewy.
12) Disembarkation - If you do it through Royal, expect to leave the ship at 6/6:30 am. If you do it solo and want to do the 6pm train to Anchorage, which I did, you can leave the ship as late as 9:30/10 am. I went on the 5 hour Resurrection Bay tour with Major Marine - and it was amazing. We saw every animal you can imagine (orcas, humpbacks, dall's propoise, 2 different kinds of seals, puffin, mountain goats, otters, other birds, etc...) - now, the crew said this was highly unusual, especially for the Orcas - they normally only see those about 15% of the time and we saw multiple pods). Other people I met went with Kenai Fjords and had the same experience. The major difference between the 2 is for Kenai lunch is on an island, with Major Marine it's on board (and optional) - and it was very good. Burt our Park Ranger was great too. They will both hold your luggage and then transfer you to the train station.
13) In Seward to get from the ship terminal to downtown for either Major Marine, or the National Park shuttle - just ask the Hertz shuttle bus driver. He'll take you. Both stops are the same place.
14) The train was great - we saw bears, moose, a porcupine up a tree, a beaver trudging through snow (felt so sorry for this little guy), and some amazing views.
15) Best place for crab - Tracy's King Crab Shack in Juneau. It's right by the library, just off the docks. Look for the red shacks. They have King, Snow, and Dungeness. Prices are bad either.
16) Desert Buffet - Yes, they did a desert buffet 11pm - Midnight.
Let me know if there's anything you want to know that's not here.