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Trip Report [May 24 2019] Radiance of the Seas Seward - Vancouver


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Day 5: Monday May 20 – Denali Transit Bus

 

We slept in a bit late this morning due to the late nature of last night. It’s easy to do even with the long hours of light. All the places we’ve stayed have great blackout drapes. Anyway, we had discovered through reviews both here on CC & Trip Advisor the McKinley Creekside Café. It was a bit of a drive, being over 15 miles south of the Grand Denali Lodge. The food, atmosphere and service more than made up for the $5 worth of gas!!

 

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We managed to just snag the 10:30 Transit Bus non-narrated tour. We also managed to snag a bus with a gent (Chavez) who was very knowledgeable and willing to share that knowledge. Right off the bat, in less than 40 minutes DW got her Grizzly. It was one of the main things on her “bucket list” while in Alaska. Moose & Whale were the others. He was not all that close so I’m zoomed out to 500mm and hand holding and may have been shooting through window. Make sure that the window you sit near can easily open and close. If you think you might just leave it open, someone will have an issue with the wind or the cold!

 

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Different angle on the Grizzly munching on roots.

 

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Not being able to easily exit and then re-enter the bus was a real bummer. It was of great interest to have Chavez as our driver. He really kept things interesting and was quick to pause when someone spotted a distant Caribou, Goat or Dall Sheep. On my list were Wolves and Lynx, but they were “no joy”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 5: May 20 - More Transit Bus Spotting


 

Just minutes after spotting the Grizzly rooting for lunch, we spotted our first Caribou. An apparent pair dining in a river bed about 200 yards out.

 

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Spotted another Grizzly after 10 minutes and more Caribou 10 minutes later. The Bear was to far away for good imaging, but just spotting him across the river was a treat.

 

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It was near 40 minutes until the next animal sighting but there was some pretty scenery along the way.

 

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Day 5: Monday May 20 – Moose, Sheep


 

After a short lull, we spotted a Moose peeking through the trees. This is the time that most of Denali’s Moms are protecting their young. Bear, Caribou, Moose, but we had not seen any of the young ones.

 

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It took another 30 minutes to spot just over a hill,  baby Sheep.

 

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As we moved around a hill, more view showed more babies.

 

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With just a bit more movement, Chavez put the guardian into view.

 

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Day 5: Monday May 20 – A Break for Scenery

 

The awesome beauty of this part of the world might seem just old hat for some of the jaded folks that spend all their time here. For this guy from the Gulf Coast where ancient oceans have not yet begun to fold, it is simply difficult to believe so much beauty even exists.

 

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Day 5: Monday May 20 - Last Few Shots from Transit Bus

 

We had to transfer prior to getting to Tolkat River due to a timing issue with making a pre-arranged jeep tour and dinner reservations. Just after Poly Chrome, our driver snagged an oncoming green transit bus so we could make the return trip in time. We made a few more observations of wildlife b4 getting on a bus piloted by Mike P. - a young new guy that did a fantastic job. I wish there was a way to contact him because we got into a really good conversation concerning cosmic rays, cloud cover and solar activity. Anyway, here are a couple more pix. A Ptarmigan crossed right in front of the bus.

 

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We spotted a couple small Sheep believing they were protected in the rock.

 

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And a good look at an adult Caribou.

 

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One of the things I highly suggest is to bring a light weight pair of low power binoculars to Alaska. I carried a pair of Nikon Action 7x35 while DW carried a pair of 10x42 which I believe are too high powered and somewhat heavy. The image stabilized are nice but heavy and expensive.

 

 

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Day 5: Monday May 20 – Dinner and Begin Jeep Excursion


 

We had to jump buses due to having 5pm reservations at Moose-Aka’a. Name kind of reminds me of a scene in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The place was small but very comfortable. The service and food were outstanding and only a bit pricey. They are located at mile 239 George Parks Highway right next door to the Denali Jeep Excursions office where we had a 6:30 tour. We had a bottle of Serbian wine and an authentic Serbian Meal. I think DW had something called Crepadilla. Sounds like Moose KahKah to me :-]

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We made it to the tour meeting place a bit after 6 where the small bus picked up others from the surrounding lodges.


 

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The weather could not have been better with dry, clear conditions in the upper 60s. The tour was a small caravan of 6 or 7 new Jeep Wranglers all with cb radios so if anyone spotted something of interest, they could get the leader (Austin) or rear jeep (Quinton) to halt the team. The blue jeep was ours. Call Sign Optimus Prime.


 

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The tour ran along the Denali Highway from Cantwell east towards Paxton. The scenery was just beyond awesome as we made stops at small lakes, some looking north towards the Hayes Range, an eastern extension to the Alaska Range.


 

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The scenery went on like this for many exquisite miles with many photo stops. Views towards Denali were partially clouded over but the Range was mostly visible the full 4 hour trip. Looking back slightly to the north of Denali showed the view.

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Day 5: Monday May 20 – Jeep Excursion Back West


 

Several types of wildlife were spotted as we made the trek over the Denali Highway. Snow Geese were first seen around 8pm in one of the small lakes.

 

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Another sharp-eyed observer made a Porcupine discovery near one of the water crossings. Little bugger was making every attempt to hide from all the paparazzi.

 

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Around 10pm, the “Mountain” finally lifted its cloud veil just for us.

 

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DW finally got a good view of her Moose. It was the last trophy spotted b4 getting back to the office and driving to our room to get ready for the long morning ride to Alyeska.

  

So far, our pre-cruise land tour has had better than expected weather. Looking at the next two days, good predictions were seeming to continue to follow us. In fact, we kept hearing from the locals that the dry spell was very unusual.

 

 


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Great photos!  Thanks for sharing!

 

We actually sailed out of Seward the day after you.....I may have a few photos of the Radiance to share when the time comes.  

 

We also spent a week in Alaska prior to the cruise and also did the rental car pickup and return in Anchorage.  Otherwise the drop fee was crazy!!    We were in Seward for 4 days so just got up early and drove back to Anchorage and took the cruise shuttle back down.   Yes it was a bit of back tracking but it saved us hundreds of $ that were spent on much better things!

 

Looking forward to more of your review!

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Great photos - and beautiful shot of Denali! Can’t wait to hear more - we are doing a B2B with a land excursion next year, so I am voraciously reading up on everything I can for tips and hints and reviews! 🙂

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Day 6: Tuesday May 21 - Alyeska and Dinner


 

Prior to departing the Grand Denali Lodge to make the 280 mile trip to Alyeska, we took on their buffet breakfast. The view was superb and the breakfast was enough to keep us going the 5 plus hour drive.


 

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The drive south is similar in beauty as the north route and we got checked in to the Alyeska resort at 3:40pm. So far, we had used around 24 gallons of fuel at $3.12/gl. Verizon cell coverage between Denali and Talkeetna dropped completely on some occasions but we had 2 bars of 4G often. It was much better at the lodges and resorts than on the open road. Traffic was very light with few tour buses.

 

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The Alyeska Resort is just above Girdwood at an elevation of 300’. It is primarily a ski resort and until mid April was a busy ski facility. It is a beautifully appointed, luxurious hotel with not so bad pricing. At least in their off season.

 

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Our room had a nice view looking northwest at still snow capped peaks.

 

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We had dinner reservations at the 7 Glaciers which is a tram ride to above tree line - another 2000’.

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Day 6: Tuesday May 21 – Seven Glaciers Restaurant


 

The tram took about 4 ½ minutes to make the trip up and gave a commanding view of the resort/hotel and Turnagain Arm.

 

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In the restaurant, we had amazing views of the mountain tops capped with snow.

 

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And a better view of the Arm.

 

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I ordered an amazing Pork Chop while DW did the Snake River Farms Filet and of course a bottle of wine. Check out one of their wine racks.

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You have to experience this place to really take in the beauty. I always like to share the story of my visit here in August of '95. I had been backpacking with several of my astronomy buddies from Houston, Anchorage and Flagstaff for 2 weeks and one of them suggested dinner at 7 Glaciers. We had a rent car and made the trip, took the tram and were seated at the big window with a great view of Turnagain Arm. I don't remember any snow and my Velvia 35mm slides are in storage. The one thing I remember being only 43 years old and not very sophisticated was the fufu food, high prices and sitting next to a dozen Japanese couples who ordered in Japanese! Some experience. I had recently heard that there is a new owner but have been unable to find out very much other than some Canadian firm (Pomeroy Lodging) made an offer last October. Not sure how that might change things.

 

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On 6/17/2019 at 8:52 PM, masterdrago said:

One of the things I highly suggest is to bring a light weight pair of low power binoculars to Alaska. I carried a pair of Nikon Action 7x35 while DW carried a pair of 10x42 which I believe are too high powered and somewhat heavy. The image stabilized are nice but heavy and expensive.

 

 

Thank you for the info about binoculars.  And for all the great pictures.

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Day 7: Wednesday May 22 – Lazy Otter Charters


 

In order to make the 10am boat charter in Whittier, we would need to be at the 9:30 tunnel opening. Always make sure you know the schedule. Search whittier tunnel schedule. The resort said it might take 40 minutes to get there depending on construction delays. We made sure to set our alarm so we could get breakfast and be in line. We were in line by 9:12 and watched as folks came from the tunnel heading west. It only takes a few minutes to drive through the tunnel but it is a weird experience running on top of the rail track, passing giant exhaust fans and getting splashed by large amounts of glacier melt water. It’s somewhat dark and eerie. 

 

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We had booked “The Best of Prince William Sound” with Lazy Otter Charters back in October after Major Marine had moved their Whittier operation to Seward and we cancelled with them. The drive to Seward from Alyeska would have been too early to take their long tour. If we had missed the included breakfast at Alyeska, we could have easily had time to chow down at the Lazy Otter Café. Their Breakfast Sandwiches and Cinnamon Rolls looked scrumptious. They will also pack you a box lunch if needed but our tour included lunch onboard. Captain Mike Bender has sailed Prince William Sound since 1980 and started Lazy Otter in 1994. His boat that we did the “share ride” on was a 6+ passenger aluminum hull catamaran driven by a pair of 225hp Yamaha 4 stroke outboards. Same vintage (2007) as on my 25’ pontoon. The all day cruise was primarily to see Surprise and Harriman glaciers. 

Surprise Glacier was iced in badly so we did not get near the face.

 

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We moved southwest about 5 miles into Harriman Fjord to get close to the face of Harriman Glacier. This shot shows the full glacier, slightly over 1.2 miles wide. We hung out there about 40 minutes but unfortunately, it was not calving.


 

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And yes, it really is this blue.


 

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Many other beautiful and active tidewater glaciers are easily seen while in Barry Arm. From left to right is Cascade Glacier, Barry Glacier and Coxe Glacier. Now seen as individual but they were at one time merged. 


 

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Currently Cascade is retreating while Barry sometimes drops so much ice that the area is blocked by floating bergs.


 

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Just 3 miles south of the trio of glaciers is Point Doran. One of the folks onboard has kayaked and camped in this beautiful wilderness area.

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Day 7: Wednesday May 22 – Lazy Otter Wildlife

 

Captain Mike was quick to spot this little Black Bear up on the hillside. Most of the “bears” all of the others picked out were big black rocks onshore.

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We spotted this lonely furry Otter hanging out on a floating berg. He gave us the steely eyed looked for several minutes b4 taking to the water.


 

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The little guys just look like they’re having the best time floating around on their backs. This guy, I swear, was giving us the wave.


 

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Went looking for the nesting Tufted Puffins on some cliff walls along an island chain near the Alaska Marine Highway just north of Lone Island. The appearance was that they had not begun nesting yet. We had to keep our distance per some guidelines concerning interference with wildlife. We saw many floating Puffins in the water and it’s humorous to see them make a clumsy take-off after eating their fill of fish.


 

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In this shot of one of the cliff walls, the Puffin nesting sights are the holes along the line divided by rock and greenery. Black-legged Kittiwakes share the cliff, building their nest in the open rock.


 

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If we had chosen to spend more time in Seward, we would have opted for the longest tour we could have taken with either Major Marine or Kenai Fjord Tours. Unfortunately, because of our date of ship sailing, only their 5 & 6 hour tours were available to us. The 2 hour drive from Alyeska to and from Seward put a big damper in using either of them. Just a heads up when planning.

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Day 7: Wednesday May 22 – More Prince William Sound


 

I just cannot refrain from adding more recommendations for viewing the beauty of Alaska. So much of it looks unspoiled. I know that there must be remaining impacts from the great oil spill 30 years ago, but I saw nothing of it.


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 Captain Mike found us a beautiful pebble beach to explore and stretch our legs. Pictures just do not do this land justice in any way.

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I'm still having issues finding on my maps where this spot was. But one of the rocks had this survey marker attached to it.

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Day 8: Thursday May 23 – Seward Orca Quest Cruise


 

I had mentioned our time constraints in booking with the Seward marine tour companies. One of my aversions to taking one of their tours was the size of their boats – most are 150+ passenger boat. A few are half that size. Most of the folks I talked with who had taken the big boat tours had no complaints what so ever.

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At the last minute, 30 days b4 leaving for Alaska, I convinced DW to book another tour! I found the 4 hour Major Marine Orca Quest Cruise out of Seward. DW was already saturated with excursions, tours, and driving Alaska miles, but why not fit in a bit more!! This cruise is into Resurrection Bay on a 65’ monohull (Orca Song) that they only allow 60 passengers.

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We made the drive directly from Alyeska after having a nice breakfast in the resort. The Seward Windsong Lodge stored our luggage since we would be checking in after the Orca tour. We began boarding about 12:30 and I snagged a spot on the upper deck stern where I had a good vantage point for photos and full cover if there was hard rain.

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Although the Orca Song was only nearly full, it did not feel overcrowded in any way. I think the majority of passengers opted to stay in the enclosed 1st level because it was cold, windy and often threatening rain. There were only 15-20 on the top deck and most of those were under covered seating. DW and I stayed out on the open stern deck the full 4 hours, only sitting occasionally.

 

I would like to remind folks that even though the temperature at Seward during the 4 hours we were out on the boat was around 50 degrees, it felt much colder on the water. Always layer up.

 

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During the trip down Resurrection Bay, we got near the Gulf of Alaska. The Bay was somewhat rough but near the gulf, things got bad with 20’ rollers spaced about 100’ apart. People were chumming at the back of the boat on level one. I understand why some of the full day tours were cancelled and others shortened. Conditions were perfect the day b4 with the NatGeo boat going out and folks seeing many, many pods of Orca.

 

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Day 8: Thursday May 23 – Seward Orca Quest First Sightings

 

Right out of the harbor got my best view ever of a mature Bald Eagle. He defiantly sat on top of a buoy as everyone blasted away. He finally took flight as the long lenses nearly touched him. I think these tour operators have some of the wildlife trained.

 

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Just minutes later while we are still in view of the harbor, a Mom and infant give us a peek. Truly an amazing sight.

 

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Minutes pass and all get a close look as a big boy passes near the boat.

 

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This one frolics in front of us for a minute or two. I kept waiting to smell his spit but never did. I had heard that the smell is awful and the blast can eject at 200mph!

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We go in search of more wildlife and I’m dazzled by the scenery gliding by.

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Day 8: Thursday May 23 – Seward Orca Quest Scenery In Route

 

It’s strange how foggy and misty it appears during a calm period. 


 

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I noticed a Coast Guard ship anchored a ways out.

 

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Later the wind and chop picked up as we got closer to the Gulf of Alaska.


 

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We kept asking ourselves how these Sea Lions could find their way up on these rocks in such rough conditions.

 

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Day 8: Thursday May 23 – Wildlife Galore


 

Out in the middle of the edge of Resurrection Bay someone has a secluded place tucked up high and safe.


 

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One other lone soul living not so high in a quiet cove.


 

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Just a bit farther into the rough seas, we spotted a large group of Sea Lions napping up high out of harms way – think Orca aka Killer Whale looking for lunch.


 

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Along the west side of Resurrection Bay, I spotted a view of Bear Glacier. We never got very close. We were after Orca viewing.


 

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This is one of the premier spots to Kayak and the next time we come to Alaska, this area will be on our list. Do a search. There are a huge number of tours to this area.

 

And finally, the Orca  sightings…..

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As we got nearly back to the boat Harbor, I snapped a pix of DW with Captain Chris. He had done an excellent job of maneuvering us through the rough waters and getting us within zoom view.

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We spotted a couple of Lazy Otters while taking in a much needed dinner at Ray's Waterfront Restaurant. We then headed off to the Seward Windsong for an early night since the next morning was to return the rent car to Ted Stephens Airport and get the A.C.T. Big Bus back to the cruise ship dock.

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Good for you that you saw orcas.  I know that's a hit or miss kinda thing.  

 

Valdez is another good kayaking place if you want to be around 'bergy bits'.   I've gone there twice but had stormy weather both times.  My Alaska trips always had to be end of July thru Aug and I've always had bad weather.  But Im now retired so not held to that vacation schedule. Yay !

 

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1 hour ago, mapleleaves said:

Good for you that you saw orcas.  I know that's a hit or miss kinda thing.  

 

Valdez is another good kayaking place if you want to be around 'bergy bits'.   I've gone there twice but had stormy weather both times.  My Alaska trips always had to be end of July thru Aug and I've always had bad weather.  But Im now retired so not held to that vacation schedule. Yay !

 

Yep. I was pretty sure they were going to be iffy. Like calving glaciers and bubble net feeding Whales, which I'll be coming back to try again. I had picked May because of weather history and when I had hiked the Kenai area in '95 in late august it rained on us 50% of the time. When we come back, it would be very late May into June (to get to Eielson and longer Major Marine tours) or late August into September for the Fall Denali colors. And if planned right, longer tours - northwestern fjords. Might even skip the cost of a cruise. Could never get DW to do an inside cabin!

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Day 9: Friday May 24 - Boarding Day Radiance of the Seas

 

Planning for boarding day might have been better but things did go well. Had a nice early breakfast at Seward Windsong Lodge, got on the road early but no stops. Spotted a Moose on the loose along Seward Highway. Counted about 50 mature Bald Eagles in the mud flats of Turnagain Arm feeding on small fish trapped by the receding tide. And dropped DW with luggage at departure gate of Ted Stephens Airport. Had plenty of time to gas up rent car (found cheap nearby) and drop car. Things went amazingly smoothly. Rental facility right across street from departure & arrival zone. DW and I waited ~45 min for the 11am A.C.T. Big Bus. All went smooth and it was an easy ride to the Seward Cruise Terminal. There is a multitude of ways to plan the sail-away day and everyone is advised to look at all the options. Ours was nowhere near perfect but it went without a hitch.

 

When there, the bus allowed the luggage to be unloaded and loaded into the cruise ship transfer. It went simple and quick. I stood and watched others come in on the Alaska Railroad.

 

 

Check-in was simple and fast since we had a suite. We immediately had a bite at the Windjammer after getting onboard and were in our room by 2:15.

 

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That’s the Grand Suite tour. It comes with a lot of perks that we only really discovered on the last two days cruising. Mostly we were just interested in having a king bed and a big balcony. Next cruise I will opt for a smaller balcony.

 

Here is a point I want some folks to know – starboard or port. We were in 1556 – level 10 starboard side. If the trip is southbound, I would recommend port side. Just a better view even in ports docked. So just for grins and giggles, I checked late August next year and only found one balcony available on the port side southbound cruise. There was also a $600 ding over the starboard side which had several remaining rooms left. There were some in early August on the port side and also aft balconies at a big premium. Interesting:=\

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Day 9: Friday May 24 - Boarding Day Radiance of the Seas - Walkabout

We decided after getting settled in to have a walk around the ship. It is larger than the Liberty of the Seas but still small enough to get around easily. Our walkabout lasted several hours until dinner time.

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Exterior was similar in many respects to the Liberty of the Seas which we had sailed on a few times in the Caribbean. The interior except for room configuration is very different. The Centrum and gift shops are laid out very differently. The biggest issue I had with the Centrum is that all the smoke from the Casino can easily slip into the level 4 where the dance floor and band are.

 

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Our 1st dinner was not that special in that the tea was very weak and the rolls were cold and hard. I expected more.

Another twist was that on entering our room after dinner, there were tickets for the excursion we had planned in Juneau for a 3:30 "5 Glacier" Flight Seeing tour over the Juneau Ice Field. I was really looking forward to it but DW was really having 2nd thoughts due to all the recent news about Alaska private plane crashes over the last two weeks. The tickets were for a 10:15 flight! How could they do this. I marched down to the Central Command Center on deck 5 and after much confrontation cancelled them. We had a 10am whale watch scheduled with Harv & Marv's, so no way could we keep a 10:15 flight. Terrifying to me but DW was happy. As it was, we had done the Denali glacier fly around w/glacier landing and had a flight scheduled with Island Wings w/lake landing in Ketchikan. DW used to be a white-knuckled flyer but since being cured of stage 4 Melanoma, she is a cool cookie in the air. Hey, maybe I could get her on the zip-line!!

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