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Cruising to Alaska on Rhapsody of the Seas – Pros and Cons

100_1002.JPG Cruising to Alaska on Rhapsody of the Seas – Pros

Scenery – awesome
Wildlife – good, but we didn’t see enough, probably should have sprung for a tour
Meals onboard – almost always good, sometimes excellent
Service onboard – friendly and capable
Music onboard – good and sometimes excellent
Ports – interesting and sometimes unforgettable
Change of itinerary – trading wind and rain in Skagway for beautiful Endicott Arm, worth it

Cruising to Alaska on Rhapsody of the Seas – Cons
Change of itinerary – it felt like we traded cruising the Inside Passage to being out of sight of land for gambling, yuck!
Coffee – made double strong all the time, almost made me a tea drinker
Cabin – I knew I was getting an inside cabin, but never dreamed I would have to crawl off and on the end of the bed
Sneaky fees – park the ship at the most distant pier and then wait in line and pay an extra fee for a shuttle to where we were supposed to be in the first place

You can see our photo album at http://picasaweb.google.com/pastorscott.com

Cruising to Alaska – August 22, 2009 – Downtown Seattle

around seattle - 8-22-2009 3-54-25 PM.JPG We spent our last vacation day exploring downtown Seattle.  Jackie especially wanted to visit the Seattle Central Library which is famous for its design and unique architecture.  We arrived just in time to join an architect led tour of the library. It was quite interesting and I recommend the tour to anyone.

We, and about every person in the Seattle metro area headed for Pike Place.  It was packed.  Still, we enjoyed checking out all the flower and fish and vegetable venders.  We also had lunch at a crowded and busy little fish and chips place.  After an hour or so at Pike Place we headed up the hill a ways, bought some coffee and sat down for a nice break.

All the downtown area is a free ride zone on the city bus system, so we hopped on and off at several places before boarding the monorail to City Center where we watched a street performer doing some nifty juggling.

We finished off the evening at the Cheesecake Factory.  Neither of us could eat all the food that we ordered.  From there it was back to the hotel for final packing in preparation for an early flight home.

Response code is 404

Cruising to Alaska on Rhapsody of the Seas – August 21, 2009 – Back in Seattle

seattle area - 8-21-2009 5-57-13 PM.JPG  When we awoke on Friday morning the ship was docked in Seattle.  We had a leisurely breakfast because our time to disembark was 8:50.  As we ate, we could see people leaving the ship and heading for customs.  There was a quick, last visit to our room, a word of thanks to our stateroom attendant (we had prepaid our tips before departure), and a last visit to a couple of our favorite places on Rhapsody.  Our departure group was called a few minutes early and our walk through customs was mere formality in which we never even stopped walking.  Our luggage was waiting for us and we were soon at the Budget car rental desk.  I’d rented from a different office than the one that usually services pier 91, but the fellow at the desk called for me and within 20 minutes we were picked up and taken to the agency to pick up our car.
The rest of Friday was spent exploring north of Seattle, specifically Whidbey Island.  We took the ferry across to Clinton and then took our time driving and looking.  Highlights were lunch at Greenbank Farm, Fort Casey State Park with its lighthouse, and Deception Pass State Park.  Once we were off the island, we continued north a ways on Highway 11 and enjoyed the dramatic views along the way.

I had bid for and gotten a room at the downtown Sheridan for our final nights of vacation.  We arrived back in Seattle, found our hotel, and enjoyed a very good night’s sleep.

Response code is 404

August 20, 2009 on Rhapsody of the Seas – Victoria, BC

100_1014.JPG We arrived in Victoria at mid morning and after waiting 45 minutes or so for the preferred guests to disembark, we non-preferred guests ventured out to see the city.  We got a few photos of “welcome to Canada” signs to prove that we actually made it to Canada after all these years.  There’s a $6.50 all day shuttle to downtown so we took it.  A person can walk, but it’s more than just a stroll.  We decided we’d save our legs walking around downtown.

Let me mention that there are two big attractions that everyone talks about when Victoria is mentioned.  First there are the Butchart Gardens and second there’s the Royal BC Museum.  Both of those are biggies that take time to really experience.  Since our ship’s final call was 5:30 and since we really just wanted to experience the city, we opted for a hop on/off bus tour.  I don’t know that we made the best choice, but that’s what we were in the mood for on our last cruise day.
Victoria is a beautiful city.  The residents take pride in Victory and it really shows.  Flowers are everywhere from the immaculate grounds of the Empress Hotel to the front porches of humble houses.   By taking the bus tour we saw several neighborhoods beyond the area around the busy harbor and downtown.

We hopped off at the city public library so Jackie could check out yet another library and I took advantage of the WIFI to upload photos and check email.  At one point the bus tour came to around 12 or 13 blocks of the ship, so we got off and walked back to Rhapsody so we could drop off the computer and everything else aside from our cameras.  After a quick lunch in the Windjammer, we took the shuttle back into the city, explored the manicured grounds of the Empress, and got back onto our on/off bus to continue our whirlwind tour of Victoria.

This is a city worth exploring and we’d like to return for a more casual visit some day.

One of the things I wondered about was why the ship was leaving so early with Seattle close by.  After all, one can take a fast ferry from Seattle to Victoria in around 45 minutes.  As Rhapsody pulled away from Victoria I realized what was happening.  We went, not toward Seattle, but back out to sea.  Before long, it was announced that the casino and duty free shops would soon be opening.  My guess is that we had just a short day in Victoria so the cruise line could make more money from the gamblers.

We ate a wonderful meal (Jackie had lobster) in the formal dining room and enjoyed the farewell from the food staff that came out for introductions and even a song.  Those in the dining room gave them a standing ovation for the food and service.

After dinner we took a stroll around the deck and then returned to our room to pack.  Some people had opted to do express disembarkment and just carry their luggage off the ship.  Everyone else was given luggage tags and instructed to keep just a carry off and put the tagged bags in the hallway before midnight.

We finished and called it a night around 10:30.  However, with the gambling and partying going on many came to their rooms considerably later.  It was the noisiest and least restful night of the cruise.

Response code is 404

Cruising to Alaska on Rhapsody of the Seas – August 19, 2009 – at sea

Our Wednesday was spent at sea and the rocking and rolling continued.  However it was only mildly objectionable.  Again, my objection was that the itinerary showed us being in the inside passage for this part of the cruise.  When I booked the cruise one of the negatives for this particular cruise was that it went out to sea as it traveled north in the first days of the trip.  I decided I’d risk the possible sea sickness to get north as quickly as possible and then enjoy the inside passage the rest of the trip.  Instead, in addition to the journey north, it seemed we were out of sight of land at every opportunity.  Thankfully, Jackie and I weren’t suffering from sea sickness.  Still, though, the constant motion was somewhat disorienting and, instead of watching the beautiful green mountains and occasional wildlife, we had the rolling sea with whitecaps in all directions.

This was an interesting stage of the cruise, as people had pretty much figured out what is what on the ship.  Rather than exploring the ship, one could pick an area and go straight to it.   For instance, I settled on the 11th deck with its large, ceiling to floor slanted windows as my favorite hangout.  Sitting here I could see a great distance.   The ocean view highlight of the day for me was seeing two dolphin crest in perfect unity right next to the ship.
onboard rhapsody - 8-19-2009 1-56-11 PM.JPG Jackie went to a couple of demonstrations: one on cake decorating and the other on towel folding.  I read and, in the afternoon took a nap.  I decided that I have a strange reaction to the Bonine motion sickness pills.  Prior to the trip I took one just to be sure I wouldn’t have some unexpected reaction.  Around twenty hours after I took it, I became quite drowsy.  Then on the cruise that same thing happened every time I took a Bonine.  Weird, right?

Since this was an at sea day and since the morning had lots of sunshine we joined about half the ship in walking laps around the deck.  We walked a mile in the morning and then, as fog rolled in and it began to cool we walked another mile in the afternoon.  Then the fog got so thick that one couldn’t see from one end of the ship to the other and from the upper decks the water wasn’t even visible.  That lasted a couple of hours.  By the time the fog lifted the seas had calmed and we finished the day with yet another mile around the deck.

Response code is 404

Cruising to Alaska on Rhapsody of the Seas – August 18, 2009 – Ketchikan

Ketchikan - 8-18-2009 4-53-46 PM.JPG In spite of having trouble going to sleep, Jackie and I managed to sleep soundly into the morning.  If there’s any advantage to having an inside cabin (aside from price) it’s that it stays quite dark in the morning.  There’s no pesky sunlight disturbing sound sleep.  We awoke to the sound of the captain’s announcing that we would soon dock in Ketchikan and that the weather forecast called for very good, sunny weather.
Because of the schedule change, after months of thinking about and researching our cruise we ended up in Ketchikan without a clue as to what to do.  I’d seen tons of information on the area but ignored it because we were going to Skagway instead.  The downtown looks a lot like Juneau with tons of nice shops intended to draw the cruise ship passengers.  The harbor is also very picturesque.  Since we were clueless as to what we might like to do in Ketchikan we went to the welcome center and picked up a walking map of the city.  From there we, and a thousand or so fellow cruisers, set off on a personal tour of the town.  Included in the tour was the city library which made Jackie quite happy.  Then, we set off following a beautiful mountain stream that was filled with salmon.  At one point there’s section of rushing, falling water.  I managed to get a photo of some of the salmon leaping out of the water to swim up stream.

Just a bit farther on is a fish hatchery operated by Native Americans.  We paid $13 each to tour the facility and to visit the totem museum just across the stream.   The tour was sort of interesting as we saw tanks of the small salmon at various stages of development.  At one point we saw workers killing and filleting fish for food.  One fellow was in the water where the returning salmon were being corralled.  Using a big net he scooped up several of the 3 foot and longer fish.  He culled out some and the rest he hit with a club so the fish could be passed on for processing.  I had to smile when I thought of some suburban momma with her suburban kids finding out the hard facts of how food ends up on the table.   The totem museum was interesting and had lots of information about the history of the totems as well as some samples well over 100 years old.

Continuing the tour, we passed a small grocery store and bought a few desired items, including some powdered coffee creamer that I like better than the little liquid creamers on the ship.  Frankly, I was disappointed in the ship’s coffee.  It’s was way too strong for me.  In fact, I heard someone else say the same thing.  By doubling up on the creamer I managed to tame the coffee down to where it was almost drinkable!

Then, we found an internet café and I used my laptop to get on the internet.   I mostly wanted to upload photos of our trip for family and friends.  I also checked out my email.
After a return to the ship to drop off the laptop and to have lunch, we returned to the nearby shops.  I sat and people watched while Jackie did some shopping.  It wasn’t long though, before we were ready to return to Rhapsody for a couple of hours of downtime before departure.  I took a short nap and Jackie read.  Then, as the ship departed Ketchikan, I processed the photos from the day.

For supper we ate in the main dining room and I enjoyed one of the finest meals I’ve ever eaten.  A shrimp cocktail, followed by New York strip steak with portabella mushroom and some wonderful shrimp, topped off by a very good banana-almond-cream dessert.    I don’t make a big deal out of food, but this meal was absolutely terrific.

By the time we finished the meal the ship was beginning to do its rock and roll thing again.  I could only hope it was temporary and not an indication of what to expect from Wednesday’s day at sea as we made our way to Victoria, B.C.

Response code is 404

Cruising to Alaska on Rhapsody of the Seas – August 17, 2009 – Was supposed to be Skagway but ended up being Endicott Arm

Endicot Arm - Dawes Glacier - 8-17-2009 4-58-08 PM.JPG We woke early Monday morning and I was surprised at how distant land was on either side of the ship.  It was raining and the wind was blowing, creating whitecaps on the water around us.  Jackie and I went forward for breakfast.  I usually have a very good sense of direction and I felt the ship was going west rather than northeast as it should be in making its way to Skagway.  Of course, cruising, of all activities, seems especially designed to confuse one’s sense of direction.  After all, one day, when walking some interior hallway forward one is walking, say, east.  Then, you go to bed, wake up the next morning and walk in the same direction, but you are now going south.  Again, it’s easy to get turned around.

Still, as we ate breakfast, I remarked that I wouldn’t be surprised if we were diverting from Skagway.  The widening waterway and the “feeling” that we were going in the wrong direction was soon confirmed as it was announced that when Rhapsody arrived at Skagway at 4:00 a.m. that the whole area had rain and 50 mph winds.  The captain had gotten permission to divert us to a day of cruising Endicott Arm down to Dawes Glacier and then going to a yet to be announced port the next day.
I was pretty disappointed that we weren’t going to Skagway because we had a car rented and planned a drive up the Klondike Highway into the Yukon for the day.  However, doing that in weather conditions such as those wouldn’t be much fun anyway so we decided to go with the flow and look forward to our unexpected visit to Endicott Arm.  This also meant we wouldn’t visit Tracy Arm as was scheduled.  The cruise people spun it as something special because the big cruise ships generally don’t get permission to go up Endicott and this would be only the second time for Rhapsody to visit it.  Since I’ll probably never see Tracy Arm I can’t compare the two, but, honestly, I can’t imagine it being more beautiful than Endicott Arm turned out to be.
The ship cruised through a fairly narrow passage with sheer cliffs on each side.  Waterfalls were abundant; some dropping over 1000 feet and many were quite large.  At times, the mountains on either side were higher than could be seen looking out the windows.  We saw, literally, hundreds of waterfalls.  Ultimately, we arrived at the glacier.  It was taller than Mendenhall, which we saw the day before.  I couldn’t believe how close the ship came to the face of Dawes Glacier.  In anticipation of the scenery, Jackie and I had staked out a couple of window seats on deck 11 and it turned out to be the perfect place.  We took over 200 photos, although I managed to cull the number down quite a bit.  The trip back out enabled us to see the opposite side of the Arm and weather conditions had improved a bit so the photos we took on the way out were somewhat brighter than those we took going in.

Back out in the Inside Passage we saw several dolphin and a few whales.  We decided to skip the main dining hall again and eat at the Windjammer buffet.  By being there when they opened the doors we were able to get a window table right at the front of the ship.  The view from there was neat and we even saw a couple of whales as we ate a leisurely supper.  All in all, in spite of the change of itinerary and the inclement weather, we thoroughly enjoyed the day.  Because of the diversion, we were told we were headed to Ketchikan on Tuesday.

I was rather disappointed when the ship began to rock and roll mid evening.  I’m not sure, but I think we went back out into the open sea for the overnight journey.  Maybe it has something to do with opening the Casino.  Also, there was some kind of poker tournament going on during the cruise.  Since the pre-cruise information said we were supposed to cruise the Inside Passage on our journey south and I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that we were, once again, moving out of sight of land.  About 9:30 I went to bed to escape some of the discomfort of walking around in the up and down, back and forth motion of the ship.  Jackie and I had no problem with sea sickness, but after a while I started feeling somewhat dizzy.  Just in case I took some motion sickness pills and then, in the night, I ate a few Rolaids.

Response code is 404

Cruising to Alaska on Rhapsody of the Seas – August 16, 2009 – Juneau

Arrival in Juneau wasn’t till late morning, but overnight we had moved back toward land and by breakfast time there were tree covered mountainous islands on both sides of us.  The feeling was something like taking a cruise through the Rocky Mountains!  The day was hazy and cloudy but as we got closer to land we could see snow fields and waterfalls.

We were happy to see that a worship service was scheduled and at 8:00 we made our way to the “Shall we Dance” Lounge for church!  Our speaker was none other than Joel Olsten of Houston Lakewood Church.  However, I must hurry to add that it was on video.  Around 30 of us remembered that it was the Lord’s Day and took time for a worship service.

As we approached land the motion of the sea was replaced once again by the rumble strips we felt in Puget Sound.  Also, the land on either side of the ship narrowed the waterway as we continued.  It was exciting to near our first port, but the weather was discouraging.  The rain and clouds and wind and 57 degrees reminded us that we were, indeed, on the coast of Alaska.

Two other cruise ships were already in port and the remaining slot looked like it was an afterthought.  The ship was brought about broadside into the wind and the captain worked for quite some time to bring the Rhapsody to that dock.  However, the wind pushing against our 11+ story vessel won the battle.  As we ate an early lunch the ship was backed away and announcements were made that an effort would be made in 45 minutes or so to dock the ship.  When the ship’s side thrusters were used at full power the Windjammer vibrated to the point that we wondered if dishes would start breaking.

An hour or so later we were finally docked.  It was announced that those with RCI expeditions were to disembark first, based on their tour times.  We “independent” cruisers could ask for special dispensation to leave the ship, otherwise, the general ship population was to wait.  So we waited 45 minutes or so to leave the ship.  When our turn came, we paid $3 to be shuttled closer to town where the other ships were docked.
around juneau - 8-16-2009 6-37-20 PM.JPG We then paid $14 each for a round trip to Mendenhall Glacier.  As we got off the bus we were awestruck with the beauty of the blue glacier.  Words can’t describe it and photographs can’t capture it.  In spite of the rain and clouds we were thrilled with it all.  As we arrived, we walked along an elevated boardwalk that overlooks a nearby stream.  Almost beneath our feet a large black bear meandered along the stream which was filled with salmon.  Then someone pointed out a large porcupine that was up in a tree.  Soon, though, rain gear and all, we walked out to the point where we could get the best views of the glacier and the huge waterfall just to the right of it.  Mendenhall is unforgettable; a wonderful experience.

Back in Juneau the rain continued.  Jackie did some shopping, making her major purchases of the trip.  I was happy with the Alaska baseball caps I found.

Because of the lateness of docking and it being Sunday we didn’t make the Alaska State Museum or the public library.  The port area has a lot of nice shops, however, so we weren’t too disappointed and took our time looking around before returning to the ship.

We ate at the buffet in the Windjammer and went to the only show we would see on the whole trip.  We aren’t “show people” so the song and dance was interesting to us, but not the high point of the trip.

Response code is 404

Cruising to Alaska on Rhapsody of the Seas – August 15, 2009 – At sea

onboard rhapsody - 8-15-2009 1-05-54 PM.JPG Day two was spent out at sea, no land in sight.  Going north RCI ships travel outside the inside passage.  During the night ship movement increased, both up-down and side to side.  The advice to get a cabin as close to the center of the ship as possible proved to be excellent advice as our little cabin and areas in the center of the ship felt more solid than, say the Windjammer at the front of the ship.  The movement was larger than expected, but at least it was consistent.  From past experience it is random movement while on a deep sea fishing boat just sitting in the water that made me sea sick.  The movement of the ship was sometimes disorienting, but my stomach seemed to be okay with the predictable movement.
All in all, Saturday was a lazy day.  Jackie and I walked around the ship, finding more and more nice spots to sit and watch the ocean go by.  For most of the day there was nothing to see but water with not a single other vessel in sight.  We were told we were around 37 miles out.

We had some success though.  First, I spotted the spout of a whale.  Then, in the afternoon we actually saw the back of a whale as it sounded.

Otherwise, we explored the ship, ate some good fish and chips at the Windjammer, and I took a nice long nap!

Jackie and I spent our anniversary in the luxury of our ocean journey with a quiet day at sea.  Supper was eaten in the formal dining room.  We asked for a table for two but with the tables so close together, we ended up feeling like we were at a group table again.  The waiter, Raul, was very good and, with the tables so close, he often spoke to six of us at once.

A fifty’s rock group was in the theatre after supper, but the place was full when we got there, so we found quiet spot and watched the world go by.


Cruising to Alaska on Rhapsody of the Seas – August 14, 2009 – Sail Day

Luggage and cruise documents in hand we arrived at Seattle’s Pier 91.  Friends from the Seattle area hosted us for a few days and then were kind enough to drop us off at the pier.  As soon as the vehicle stopped a porter asked us if we were on Rhapsody of the Seas.  When we said we were he said he’d be glad to take care of our baggage for us.  Since our booking was all electronic, we didn’t have official luggage tags that some people have.  The porter led us to a counter where a man asked our names and then handed our porter tags.  We stood there while he put them on and then he told us that was it.  The bags would be delivered to our room.  I handed him a tip and we went inside where a smiling lady looked at our documentation and pointed us to security.

Passing through security was a lot like going through security at an airport.  However, unlike it is at the airport, the people handing security were smiling and welcoming us.  From there we stood in a long, but fast moving line for cruise check in.  Within 10 minutes we were at a window where we showed our passports, cruise documents, and the credit card which was linked to our sail account.  Then, with our sail passes in hand (these serve as our identification, room key, and on board credit card) we walked up several flights to board the ship on level five.  Around 20 minutes from arriving at the pier we walked onto the ship.

The rooms were already open so we found our way to our tiny room.  Since we’d asked for a “queen size” bed the room had been set up that way.  The room was so small that you couldn’t walk around the bed, but had to climb on and off the end.  Closet space was adequate in spite of the fact that our two big suitcases took up most of one side.  The bathroom was tiny and the shower had only a curtain rather than a door.  It is likely that the biggest advantage to having a higher class cabin isn’t the outside view so much as it is the amount of space.  Still, there was plenty of drawer space.  We unloaded our luggage and found spots for everything.

We had eaten while waiting for the luggage to be delivered.  The buffet restaurant is called the Windjammer and is located in the front of the ship on deck nine.  Our first meal there wasn’t especially impressive; however, subsequent meals were just fine.
aboard rhapsody - seattle - 8-14-2009 5-46-17 PM.JPG With mild temperatures on deck we spent the departure time outside, enjoying beautiful views of downtown Seattle as it receded to the distance.   Puget Sound is filled with interesting shipping.  As we watched the world go by we realized that one of the boats we were seeing was a submarine being escorted by two coast guard boats.

Rhapsody isn’t the biggest Royal Caribbean ship but it’s large enough to need some exploration of the eleven decks that include everything from two pools to a small shopping center to several places to enjoy music.  One of the most impressive was a violin-piano duo situated right at the center of the ship in the Centrum that is open up through the ship from deck four to deck nine.  The music was wonderful and could be heard in the seating areas on each deck.   Meanwhile, out by one of the pools a group was singing contemporary oldies.

Our dining choice was “My time” so we weren’t tied to a specific eating time.  The first night, we ate the evening meal in the main dining room.  Everything thing was done formal style and our waiter, Emal was very good, instantly learning the names of all seven people at the table.  Although we ate in different area each night, Emal never failed to call us by name when he saw us walking through his area to be seated elsewhere.

The motion of the ship was more than I expected, but still relatively minor.  It felt a little like driving over a road that is mildly rutted.  In a few places there’s quite a bit of vibration but most everywhere there’s just a gentle reminder that one is on a ship that is actually moving.

Response code is 404