Category Archives: Cruising

Alaska Cruise

7 July – 14 July 2023 – Radiance of the Seas

Seward, Hubbard Glacier, Juneau, Skagway, Haines, Icy Straight, Ketchikan, Inside Passage, Vancouver.

This is the Claudia birthday cruise.

Somewhere around 15 years ago, Claudia mentioned to a large group of people that for her 50th birthday she wanted to do an Alaskan Cruise.

Having been given so much time and notice to plan and save, there really were no excuses for missing out on this one.

Having met up with Brad and Nora in Anchorage a few days earlier, both Jill and I were handed our cruise pack. Claudia had been busy. Our pack included a range of Aussie staples (most importantly for me the vegemite). But it also had Caramelo bears, milo, sparkly swizzle sticks, coffee bags, lanyards and a specially branded shirt…you know…the essentials.

The group included ten people this time around. Mostly Australians but a couple of Canadian ringers who were quickly indoctrinated.

Claudia and Jeremy, her sister and brother-in-law, Chrissy and Wayne, Brad and Nora, a couple they had met on another (trans-Atlantic) cruise, Juliette and James and of course us.

An eclectic group got together and all got on famously. We enjoyed each other’s company, shared experiences, stories and good times. A better birthday option I could not imagine.

For those that remember, our last cruise was described as the worst one that we had ever done, as everything was just a little bit off. This one reset the balance again and was excellent. All of those things that were off, were on point this time around. And I could even get my beloved MacCallan whiskey in certain bars.

The cruise departed from Seward, Alaska, a small pretty little town with not too much to do. Some of us visited while others just arrived and got on the boat.

The scenery of Seward was lovely and it made for a fantastic departure point.

Unsurprisingly, the pools on our icy adventure remained almost empty the whole time.

Hubbard Glacier was our next viewing spot, although we had to watch from the decks. This is amazing but sadly the cameras on our telephones could not really do this place justice.

Juneau was the next little town (30,000) that we stopped at (along with 3 other cruise ships). Like most places in Alaska, the scenery was stunning. Virtually everywhere you look there are high mountains, snow covered peaks and dense forests. The locals tell us that Juneau rains around 300 days a year. But we had some of the most amazing weather that you could hope for.

The only real detraction for Juneau was the cable car that took you up the cliff. The cable car itself was fantastic, but once up the mountain, Jill decided it was time to go hiking. So we trudged through the Alaskan bush, up and down hills, for hours. As it happens, we did get some pretty amazing photographs from right up top.

The next day was a two port day taking in both Skagway and Haines.

Skagway is the home of the White Pass and Yukon Route narrow gauge railroad that was built during the Klondike Gold Rush. It is a pretty little town that ran on gold, sex and alcohol.

Based on what we saw while here the gold has been replaced with tourism and the sex (for money) is historical, but the alcohol is alive and well. There were almost more pubs than other buildings. And the names of the pubs and hotels remained true to the historical past. We had a beer in the Happy Endings Saloon, where they offer cornholing and are conveniently located next door to the Morning Wood Hotel.

Haines is even smaller again but is blessed with stunning scenery. Once again, not too much to do, but wandering around surrounded by icy mountains is still a pretty good way to spend a day. We did manage to find a quiet bar to sample a local beverage.

Icy Strait Point is a 100% tourist stop designed and built to service cruise ships, with nothing else to it. It is owned and operated by the local Alaska Native tribe with all profits directly supporting the nearby community of Hoonah (Alaska’s largest Native Tlingit village).

While it was built solely for the tourist trade, it is still pretty good. There is a an old cannery that can be visited and a couple of cable cars that will take you up the mountain.

Ketchikan was our last port of call before landing and disembarking in Vancouver. It is the southernmost entrance to Alaska’s Inside Passage and is best known as “The Salmon Capital of the World.” A fact that Jimmy, Clauds, Jill and I can all attest to as we stood on the bridge and watched salmon swimming upstream directly beneath us.

The catch cry of Ketchikan is “the place where both men and salmon have been coming upstream to spawn”. The crystal clear waters and salmon swimming upstream meant that, right in the heart of town, sat a bald eagle, just waiting for its opportunity to swoop and scoop one of the huge fish. This made for some pretty good photos.


Claudia’s birthday cruise was a smashing success, with everyone getting on famously and the Alaskan scenery (and weather) turning it on like no other place could. The scenery was stunning, virtually everywhere you look there are high mountains, snow covered peaks, deep oceans and dense forests.

And of course there were the people. Great people, good friends and a wonderful time had by all.

Most importantly for me…

We finally got to see some orcas in the wild.

There was a pod of about 5 of them that appeared to be hunting.

They were moving way too fast for any of us to capture on film, but they were amazing to watch and we all got a fairly decent view of them.

Iceland Cruise

6 June to 17 June 2023Jewel of the Seas

Amsterdam– Reykjavík– Isafjordur – Seydisfjordur – Belfast – Liverpool – Cobh/Cork – Amsterdam

This has been a really tough one for me to summarise. Life during and after Covid has been very tough for the cruise ship industry. The experience today is very unlike the cruises that we had done before the pandemic. And in many respects, the changes are not for the better.

Jill and I both agreed that this was the worst cruise that we had ever been on. It wasn’t terrible, but it was nowhere near the standard of the other cruises that we had done. So we tried to break down what it was that made it so.

Was it the ship?


While the ship was older and smaller it was more charming and intimate than the bigger ships and had more style and character to it.

It was a bit of a visual throwback to the halcyon days of cruising. Certain elements were tired, but a small revamp will fix that once the revenues return.

Was it the staff?


The staff were super friendly (as usual) and more than willing to assist at every turn.

Was it the ports?


The ports were fantastic and could not be faulted.

Was it the food?

A bit.

The food was a bit down on its usual standard and the choices were lacking at times, but there was still something on every menu for everyone.

So what was it then?

The entertainers were obviously the B team, with the real headliners and acts on the newer ships. There was a massive focus on karaoke on this cruise which was very uncomfortable and disturbing for the rest of the guests. A bunch of people (guests) with American Idol aspirations but no talent warping away (at volume) with nowhere for us mere mortals to hide or escape them.

The pianist in the main bar was a thumper, who could not sing, didn’t know the words and fluffed his way through most of the songs. Another of the entertainers played so loud that there was nowhere to escape.

We had one night at one of the specialty restaurants (Izumi) where we paid an extra $US40 a head to eat there and the experience was terrible. While the food was OK, it was not worth the additional expenditure. The service was slow and poor, the ambiance was loud and akin to a cafeteria and at the end of the meal we found that there was an enforced 18% gratuity tacked on top of the bill.

The theme nights were terrible (in a food sense) with only a single option (in the main dining room) that represented that theme. The rest of the menu items were an eclectic spray across the board. On a European cruise, there was no focus on European things or foods. Although there was a fish and chip night when we were in England.

Instead there were Indian and Mexican nights. In fact, Indian was a constant staple for every single meal (despite the fact that there would have been less that 20 Indian guests on the whole boat – admittedly the chef was Indian). But the desserts were excellent, every day and for every meal. Those options were perfect.

On a similar theme, many of the announcements were delivered in both English and Spanish (less than 20 Spanish speakers on the boat). The German and Dutch tourists (it did leave from Amsterdam) were constantly asking what was going on. This may be fine for the Caribbean cruises but in Europe it didn’t work here.

It is clear that in a post Covid world significant cost cutting measures have been put in to strip away some of the outgoings while the industry rebuilds. But this has happened to the detriment of the cruise experience and threatens to derail the industry if this is not realised and adjusted, before it is too late.

The cost-cutting started with the dropping off of the higher-end spirits. As an example, I used to be able to order a Macallan single malt whiskey on the drinks package but it was pulled, so I switched down to the Glenlivet, which has also been pulled leaving only a Glenfiddich. As the cruise progressed, Jill started on the Kim Crawford’s Sauvignon Blanc which was also being phased out to lesser wines.

On arrival our names were wrong on the door of our room and we were told by our room attendants that the room cleaning would be reduced from twice to once daily. In reality nobody really needs their room serviced twice daily. He mentioned that before they looked after 17 rooms each, but that this number had gone up to almost 30.

At our status level (when we got on) we should have received a range of perks (robes, welcome basket, free water etc), none of which were present and when we raised it they were still not supplied. During the cruise we hit the next level of the loyalty program (so next time there are supposed to be even more perks). Nothing major was wrong, things were just a little bit off across the board.

We still enjoyed our cruise and it was certainly the best and most cost effective way to see Iceland (given that it is so expensive). The stops in Ireland and the UK were all nice and the experience was OK.

We are quite pragmatic as travellers and understand that some cost cutting had to occur. But by the same token, minimum standards and levels of service still need to be delivered for it to be a fun holiday and for people to want to come back and go on another cruise. If the cruise lines continue to strip back the inclusions on these ships, the market will respond unfavourably.