Alaskan scenery: glacier in the background with rock carved by the glacier towering around, blue water in the mid ground and green trees in the foreground

Alaska Cruise from Seattle on Royal Caribbean Review

Planning your dream Alaskan cruise?

You’re busy researching shore excursions, onboard activities, the logistics of getting to, on, and off the ship, and whether or not you should purchase one of Royal Caribbean’s drink packages.

(The answer to the latter is yes, IF you like to drink A LOT. Otherwise, you’ll probably come out way ahead buying drinks a la carte. I personally stick to buying beverages one at a time.)

Earlier this month, I disembarked from a breathtakingly beautiful inside passage cruise to Alaska on Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas. Let’s walk through the details of this sailing so you can plan your Alaskan adventure!

Seattle: Pre and Post-Cruise

view of the Seattle skyline from the water, Space Needle is visible and high rise buildings

It’s always a good idea to fly in at least one day before your cruise. One canceled flight, and you could be trying to catch up with your ship at the next port.

Plus, Seattle is a hotspot of fun, so we happily flew in two days early for a mini-Seattle getaway that included visits to:

You can read more about our time in Seattle in my Gluten-Free Guide to Seattle.

We stayed at the well-located Seattle Marriott Waterfront. I would recommend it for the location. Next time, we might try the StayPineapple Maxwell Hotel.

Transportation to/from the Port

The  Link Light Rail from SeaTac Airport was a convenient way to get to downtown Seattle. It took about 40 minutes and cost only $3 per adult one way. Kids were free.

On embarkation day we arranged a shuttle with our hotel to get to the pier. An Uber, Lyft, or Taxi would have also worked well.

After the cruise, I suggest taking a taxi from the port. The taxi line moved quickly, and Uber/Lyft pickups are a bit of a wait and a walk. If you’re heading to the airport, the taxi fares are fixed and noted on the taxi window. At the time of our cruise, it was a $40 flat fee from the pier to the airport.

We took a taxi to the Seattle Ferry Terminal at Pier 52 as we wanted to spend a few hours on Bainbridge Island before catching our afternoon flight. Then, we took the Light Link Rail back to the airport.

Embarkation Day

To get an early boarding time, sign up as soon as Royal Caribbean International opens up the time slots.

We booked a Junior Suite, which came with priority boarding. We arrived an hour early, proceeded to the Suite/Key entrance, and went straight on the ship with no waiting.

The first stop was the Welcome Aboard Lunch. Then it was off to explore the large cruise ship and enjoy a few fun activities before checking into our cabin.

view of the pool deck and colorful splash pad

Ovation of the Seas’ Cabin 9210, Junior Suite 5+ (A Fabulous Family Cabin)

On the Ovation of the Seas, there is a unique class of Junior Suites that sleep 5. For a family, I cannot recommend this cabin enough!

Junior suites come with extra square footage.

These “5+” Junior Suite cabins take it up a notch with a Pullman bed (a top bunk you pull down from the ceiling). The Pullman beds are rare on the ship and are clearly noted on the deck plans with a 5+. These cabins also have a king bed (or two twins, if separated) and a pull-out sofa that sleeps two.

My teen/tween kids are too big to share a small pull-out sofa, so the bonus Pullman bunk gave them separate beds.

The other awesome feature of this cabin is that it has 1 ½ baths, making bathroom sharing between four people much more manageable.

The sleeping configuration, extra half bath, and additional space were the deciding factors for us choosing this class of Junior Suite. I highly recommend it for families, if you want to stay together in one cabin. 

In addition to those features and a larger balcony, which is especially nice for an Alaskan cruise, the Junior Suite offers several benefits. Some were advertised in advance and others just seemed to happen because our sea passes said “suite”.

  • Priority boarding. This was my favorite perk, as we were excited to get right to the onboard fun.
  • Towels and Blankets. We could get towels and blankets from the pool deck without having to check them out. Royal Caribbean requires non-suite guests to check towels in and out and charges a $25 fee for any unreturned towels.
  • Robes, a Lavazza espresso machine, and luxury bathroom amenities in the cabin. Luxury bathroom amenities meant separate shampoo and conditioner (which both smelled amazing), while standard cabins have a combined shampoo/conditioner.
  • Priority debarkation. This perk was not listed in advance for Junior Suites, but we received the earliest debarkation time and tags labeled “Suite/Pinnacle”, so it appears we were given this perk.
  • Dinner at the suites’ private dining room, Coastal Kitchen, with a reservation.
  • Double Crown & Anchor points, Royal Caribbean’s membership program that gets you more perks the more you cruise.
Coastal Kitchen dining room with white tablecloths on the tables, and a wall of windows overlooking the ocean
The Coastal Kitchen is available exclusively for Suite guests.

Generally, the main advantage of the Royal Caribbean Junior Suite category is its size, as the other classes of suites have significantly more benefits. 

This particular configuration of Junior Suite is not available on every ship.

Other great options for families who need a little more space than one standard cabin provides are connecting cabins. Note, that these are popular and go fast. If your kids are old enough, a balcony across the hall from an inside cabin also works. Those options give you plenty of space and two bathrooms.

When choosing your room type, consider that balcony staterooms are a worthwhile splurge. You’ll have more opportunities to take in the majestic scenery and wildlife on your Royal Caribbean Alaska cruise.

Tip! Unpack as soon as you can. You’ll enjoy being settled in on the cruise. Tuck the luggage under the bed or in the closet, and enjoy not living out of a suitcase! 

Onboard Activities

There was so much to do on Ovation that my son said he’d be perfectly happy to skip our port excursions. 

Here’s a taste of the onboard experiences:

  • Kids Club
  • The Living Room (Tween/Teen Room): The Living Room offered endless hours of hanging out along with planned activities, like a rock climbing competition, gaga ball, photo scavenger hunt, and a farewell party. There was always something going on.
  • SeaPlex: This sports complex hosts everything from bumper cars to pickleball and roller skating.
  • Rock Wall: I tried this and gave my son a good laugh.
  • FlowRider (surf simulator): Boogie boarding and surfing (if you know how) are included. If you don’t know how to surf, Royal Caribbean offers paid surfing lessons throughout the cruise.
  • iFly (indoor skydiving): This experience was fun for the whole family. I could not stop smiling… and maybe even drooling a little bit. Ha ha!
  • North Star Experience: a glass ball that holds 14 passengers and goes up 300 feet above sea level.
  • Plus, the usual cruise shows, lectures, comedy performances, live music, dance lessons, and more!

Most of these activities are included in the cost of your cruise.

Tip! Between 6-7 p.m. the night before port days, Royal Caribbean opened up slots to book complimentary sessions for the iFly and North Star, which are only available while the ship is in port.

If you want the extended versions or prefer to do these activities on sea days, there are paid options available.

We were very happy with the complimentary versions. My son loved the iFly so much that we also booked the paid experience, which was $50 on our sailing.

Ports & Excursions in Alaska & Canada

Sitka, Alaska

view of the water in Sitka with pink "fireweed" in the foreground

This port was a low-key day for us. The best of Sitka can be easily be managed by foot, but because my husband wanted to see the bears at the Fortress of the Bear (which was sold out and not walkable), I booked a one-hour driving tour.

One-Hour Private Tour: Including Outside Peek at Fortress of the Bear

Tracie Harang (born and raised in Skagway) from Sitka Tango Adventure Tours and her dog, Mac, took us on our one-hour tour of Skagway. I highly recommend Tracie, as she knows the area well and can provide a customized tour based on your areas of interest.

She took us to a back road where we could observe the bears on our private, “backstage” tour. If Fortress of the Bear is important to you, I highly recommend booking it early.

Tracie also took us through town, pointed out interesting sites along the way, and filled us in on the history of Sitka, its location, daily life, its place in history as the previous Russian colonial capital, and the process for Alaska becoming the 49th state. We made a few photo stops.

Raptor Center

We asked to be dropped off at the Raptor Center, which is a non-profit focused on the rehabilitation of raptors and other birds, as well as research and education. It was wonderful to hear about their work and the bald eagle’s exit from the endangered species list in 2007. We also happily saw a lot of bald eagles in the wild throughout our Alaskan adventure. 

Sitka National Park (Must See!)

With the Fortress and the Bear and Raptor Center boxes checked, I was most looking forward to the hiking and exploring we would do on our walk back to the ship. It was definitely the highlight. 

Sitka National Historical Park was surreal, a stunning hike in a vibrant green rainforest with towering trees.

On our hike, coming from the Raptor Center, we took the first loop as we entered the park, then crossed the Indian River bridge, where other tourists were playing in the water below, which inspired my kids to venture down there. They loved it! We also had our first glimpse of spawning salmon.

Crossing the bridge, we hiked Totem Park Trails, with an option for a shorter or longer loop (both are very easy walks).

I recommend venturing out to the shore, where you can skip stones and watch salmon jump out of the water. 

Sea Walk

Leaving Sitka National Park, we passed Sitka Sound Science Center, which offers more information about the hatchery and other marine life.

We skipped it and turned left at the pier to see the salmon. There was lots of salmon activity when we were there in late July.

There’s also a Great Playground right there if you have little ones who want to let off some steam. 

We then took about a 10-minute stroll along the Sea Walk back to the cruise dock shuttle. Along the Sea Walk, we passed the Russian Bishops House.

We stopped at the Market Center (210 Baranof St, Sitka, AK 99835), a grocery store just two blocks off the Sea Walk.

It was the perfect, chill day.

More Sitka Tours Recommended by Others on Our Sailing:
  • Kayak Adventure
  • Best of Sitka hits most of the spots we saw: the Fortress of the Bear (but you get to go inside), Raptor Center, and Sitka National Historical Park.

Skagway, Alaska

In Skagway, cruise ships dock in the deepest fjord in North America, which allows them to be so close to town. Note, because of a rock slide by the pier in 2022, ships briefly had to tender to shore, but now they are able to dock there and just shuttle guests 1-2 minutes to the end of the pier.

Before or after your excursions, it’s a charming town for walking around and shopping. It reminds me of Disney’s Main Street USA.

When shopping in Skagway, keep an eye out for locally-owned shops, identified by blue and white polar bear stickers or signs saying “Made in Alaska”.

We booked two excursions in Skagway: Adventure Park & Ziplines and the Skagway Dog Sled & Musher Camp Experience. With a 2+ hour break between activities, we had plenty of time for lunch and more fun on the ship.

Both excursions were booked privately, with the same vendors that Royal Caribbean uses, at a tremendous cost savings. The Dog Sled & Musher Camp Experience would have cost more than double if purchased directly with Royal Caribbean.

Adventure Park & Ziplines

Whoever does the hiring for the Adventure Park & Ziplines is an HR guru. The guides were incredibly fun and enthusiastic. They also really LOVE climbing, so they hit it off with my son, CJ, who was born to climb.

On top of being personable and entertaining, they were very safe. Every safety feature seemed to have a backup.

We learned about the history of Skagway, a few interesting sites, and nature facts during the 15-minute drive along the Klondike Highway to the base camp.

The Adventure Park consisted of a few wobbly bridges at the top of the tree line, including the “terrible 2×4 of doom and dispair” followed by a baby zip line for practice. We had one reluctant zipliner in our group and the guides effortlessly helped her feel comfortable. By the end, she was having a blast. 

After the Adventure Park, we moved on to a series of five ziplines, which were a blast. They were modest in length, but long enough for us to try a few fun moves: trust falls, no hands, and upside down. My son did that last one, not me!

After the adventure, we headed back to the base camp for snacks, including Motts Fruit Snacks and Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate (both are gluten-free). 

Tip! The guides will have you leave your backpacks at the Basecamp, where squirrels have been known to chew them open to get to snacks. Remember to leave any food in the squirrel boxes at Basecamp and not in your backpacks!

Dog Sled & Musher Camp Experience

Mushing is the Alaskan state sport, so it seemed like the perfect thing to do on an Alaskan cruise. Plus, my daughter had her heart set on seeing Alaskan Husky puppies.

We went on the excursion where you meet the dogs at their summer camp and they take you on a ride in a wheeled sled (not on snow).

We set out on an approximately 30-minute shuttle drive where we learned more about the history of Skagway and saw several bald eagles. 

When we arrived, we walked over a bridge over a creek with small pink salmon swimming over their eggs and then we headed into basecamp.

At base camp, we transferred to a Mercedes Unimog capable of climbing the mountain.

Unimog with big tires, an orange cab with a scary, black, zig-zag mouth painted on the grill, back is a covered area with red seats for about 20+ passengers

We were surprised to learn that Alaskan Huskies are not an official breed recognized by the American Kennel Club. Instead, they are mutts, bred for their ability to do a job, not for a specific appearance.

The 16 dogs who pulled our sled were German Shorthaired Pointer Mixes, herding breads like Border Collies, a couple of Doberman mixes, and other mixed Greyhounds, Whippets, and German Shepherds. These dogs are bred for their athleticism and can travel up to about 80-100 miles per day for races.

Our sled’s musher clearly cared for the dogs. She knew them all by name along with their colorful personalities. The dogs seemed happy and healthy, down to their teeth and paws.

We then headed back down the mountain in the Unimog with a stop at an observation deck, overlooking the Taiya River Valley and across from AB Mountain. It was a beautiful view with a bald eagle soaring overhead.

Back at basecamp, we learned more about dog sledding and got to play with a few adorable puppies, whose mom and dad had pulled us earlier. Then it was in the shuttle and back to the ship.

Miss E smiling and holding an Alaskan Husky puppy
More Skagway Tours Recommended by Others on Our Sailing:

Dog sledding and Glacier Flightseeing by Helicopter: This is next level. But, pack your flexibility. Several cruisers had this shore excursion canceled due to weather. One lucky cruiser went and had a blast. Her photos were amazing, and this was truly a bucket list experience. She did say they almost got stuck overnight. The tour guides have contingency plans, so this was handled safely, but it is an excursion that requires you to be adventurous and roll with the punches or have a backup plan in case it gets canceled.

dark green train with red roof next to a hill/mountain

Whitepass & Yukon Route Railroad: This is the second most popular cruise ship excursion in the world. The first is the Hawaiian luau. Note, while this excursion is wildly popular and cruisers rave about it, it may be a long time to be on a train if your party includes younger travelers.

Dawes Glacier & Endicott Arm: Top Pick!

tall wall of Dawes Glacier which is blue as it meets the water

This excursion can only be booked directly through the cruise line and usually pops up in the Royal Caribbean app about a month before your sailing. I highly recommend keeping an eye out for it and snagging a reservation as soon as it appears. It will sell out.

On the morning of our Juneau port day, the Ovation was scheduled to travel down the Endicott Arm, in view of and about 7 miles from the Dawes Glacier, where it would turn around giving everyone on the ship a chance to view the glacier.

Unfortunately, as we arrived at the Endicott Arm, the captain determined the conditions were unsafe. There was a lot of ice from the calving glacier and fog. Visibility was too poor. This happens often.

Thankfully, we were booked on the Dawes Glacier Excursion.

The excursion was canceled for just a couple of minutes due to the same fog that kept the Ovation away from Dawes Glacier, but the captain decided at the last minute that it was safe. As soon as we got further into the Endicott arm, the visibility was great. 

We saw quite a few seals. All of the ice makes it unsuitable for whales, so the Endicott Arm is a bit of a refuge for the seals. 

Pieces of ice from the glacier that looked like beautiful, blue, ice sculptures were floating out to sea. We learned that the stunning blue color is from the ice being so compressed that there’s no oxygen, which impacts the way the light refracts. As a non-scientist, this basic explanation was enough for me.

glacial ice floating in beautiful turquoise water

Eventually, you can see the wall of the Dawes glacier. We got within about a quarter mile from the glacier’s face which is an impressive 300 feet high.

The glacier calved several times while we were there… including one incredibly giant chunk of ice.

According to our boat’s tour guide, the large block of ice that fell was 2 to 3 times larger than what they had seen in the past. The giant piece of ice created a decent wave and a lot of excitement on the boat. The experience was really incredible and one of the highlights of our trip.

While at the glacier, the crew harvested ice for “glaciertinis”. I opted for a Canada Dry with glacier ice and my kids ordered Cokes. 

Heather smiling and holding a large piece of glacier ice

It was then about a three-hour boat ride from the Dawes glacier to Juneau where we tendered back onto the Ovation, which had arrived in Juneau just ahead of us.

Juneau, Alaska

Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls Hike
Alaskan scenery: glacier in the background with rock carved by the glacier towering around, blue water in the mid ground and green trees in the foreground

We did this excursion on our own, but you can book a variation of it with Royal Caribbean. 

Important if going to Mendenhall Glacier on your own!

Currently (summer 2023)  the Forest Service has limited permits to Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, meaning you have to pre-book your tour (many tours are being canceled), rent a car to drive yourself there, or arrange for a ride with one of the approved taxi companies.

There are more details on the Forest Service’s website. Just before we left Seattle, I scheduled a pickup with DLUX taxi company, as it still had permits to take visitors all the way to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.

Even with the capacity limits, it was still fairly crowded on the trail to Nugget Falls, and felt more like a theme park line than a hike at times.

After being so close to Dawes Glacier, the Mendenhall Glacier at a distance was admittedly less impressive.

Still, it was a beautiful hike. Everything was green. With the waterfall, you could almost think you were in Hawaii, except for the giant retreating glacier in the background. There were lots of rocks for kids/teens who like to scramble.

The small Visitor’s Center was well worth the stop. It has panoramic windows with glacier views, an educational video on glaciers, and displays throughout providing a better understanding of how glaciers retreat (like Mendenhall Glacier) and advance.

Tip! I recommend scheduling your taxi to pick you up two hours after you are dropped off, giving you enough time to hike and explore the Visitor’s Center.

DIPAC Macaulay Salmon Hatchery

On the way to or from Mendenhall Glacier stop by the Salmon Hatchery. There were more salmon here than we had seen at any of the other ports. There were even a couple of harbor seals there, fishing for dinner.

Shopping in Juneau
display of candles made locally, black sign reads: local candlemakers, Alpenglow Candles

Before boarding the ship, we popped in a few stores around town. As in the other Alaska cruise ports, I recommend looking for shops that are locally owned or say “made in Alaska”. There were plenty of local options!

More Juneau Tours Recommended by Others on Our Sailing:

Whale Watching: Juneau is one of the best places for whale watching. One family on our sailing reported seeing about 10 whales on their Juneau whale-watching tour. (Another great place to watch for whales is Victoria. The captain said the ship slows down as it gets close to Victoria to protect the whales.

We also had a beautiful whale sighting on a Sea Day, the night before we arrived in Victoria, as a pair of humpback whales, one after the other, showed off their tails in the sunset before diving away.

Goldbelt Tram: A couple that went on the tram highly recommended the tram ride and said they enjoyed the hiking and beautiful views at the top

This port also had a helicopter and dogsledding excursion, but all helicopter rides were canceled the day we were in Juneau due to weather conditions (fog).

Victoria, British Columbia

Our original plan was to go to Butchart Gardens because it looked so beautiful. A boatload (pun intended) of buses head out on this popular excursion, and there were still available seats when we docked.

But at the last minute, we decided to take a Pedicab Tour of Victoria, which has been on my hitlist since noticing them in Munich

The Pedicab Tour was a perfect choice. We saw city highlights, the Parliament Building, the Empress Hotel, peacocks in Beacon Hill Park, the Inner Harbour, and historic homes. There was plenty of time to walk around and explore, and our guide, Nate, was excellent.

Debarkation Day

Our amazing 7-night Alaska cruise was coming to an end. We savored one last filling breakfast, and it was time to leave the ship.

Port Valet FREE Luggage Transfer: Recommended!

Port Valet is a complimentary luggage service in Seattle that transfers your bags from the cruise ship to your airline. You’ll receive information regarding Port Valet a few nights before your cruise ends.

Simply place your suitcases outside your cabin the night before debarkation, and pick them up when they come down the luggage carousel at your final destination.

Sign up on board, and your airline will not charge you overweight baggage fees.

Place Apple AirTags in your checked baggage, just in case something goes south. At least you’ll know where your bags got off track and can follow them as they make the journey back to you.

To take advantage of PortValet, you will have to meet certain requirements regarding cruise line, airline, and flight timing, which are outlined on the Seattle Port Valet website. I’m a fan. We enjoyed a little extra time in Seattle with just carry-on backpacks in tow.

Royal Caribbean also offers:

  • Luggage assistance: Your luggage is carried off the ship for you at an assigned time.
  • Self-assistance: You carry off your own luggage.

Unlike my typical trip reports, this review is notably missing the usual details about where to eat. We were on a Celiac Cruise for this Royal Caribbean Alaska sailing, and enjoyed all of our meals on the ship.

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