Note: I am currently sailing a 7-day Alaskan cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas. Each day I cover the experience, giving you an inside peek at what it’s like to sail on a “bucket list” cruise to Alaska.
You can view other days here:
- Live Blog (Day 2): Wet Weather Doesn’t Spoil the Fun
- Live Blog (Day 3): Sitka, Stunning Peaks, and Skydiving
- Live Blog (Day 4): I’ve Never Seen a Landscape This Amazing
- Live Blog (Day 5): Glaciers, Gold, and Juneau
- Live Blog (Days 6/7): A Beautiful Canadian City and Wrapping Up My Alaskan Cruise
For those people that are used to Caribbean cruises, a sailing to Alaska offers something completely different. For many, it’s a bucket list item. In fact, I’ve encountered a number of people who say they aren’t interested in cruising, but would make an exception for a trip to Alaska.
When it comes to seeing the state, it’s hard to beat the experience that’s offered from a cruise ship. With so much area accessible only by sea or by air, cruises offer the best opportunity most people will have to see Alaska.
That’s just one reason that I booked this trip after the chance to sail for the past two years was disrupted by Covid.
Today, however, the Alaskan cruise season is in full swing, with a seemingly record number of cruise ships offering sailings.
Overview Of This Sailing From Seattle
This sailing is a classic Alaskan itinerary. Cruising aboard Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas, the 7-day journey departed Seattle on Day 1. From there, the ship is headed to Sitka, Skagway, and other ports before returning home. The full itinerary is as follows:
- Day 1: Seattle
- Day 2: At sea
- Day 3: Sitka, Alaska
- Day 4: Skagway, Alaska
- Day 5: Endicott Arm/Dawes Glacier/Juneau, Alaska
- Day 6: At sea
- Day 7: Victoria, British Columbia
I plan on covering each day. Today was boarding, followed by sail away, where I’m getting the first impressions of the ship and learning more about sailing from Seattle.
Normally I am a big proponent of flying in for a cruise the night before the departure. It’s less stress if there is a delay, and you can take your time heading to the port. For this trip, however, since I was coming from Texas, the time zones make flying in the day of the cruise work quite well. I was able to leave at a reasonable time in the morning and still make it to Seattle around noon — plenty of time to head to the ship.
The flight itself was uneventful (seriously, does anyone want an “eventful” flight?), albeit long — taking over four hours. Since I’ve been on the ship, however, I’ve heard multiple people talking about their trips here, including those who flew cross-country from Florida with multiple stops. I guess I’m lucky in that sense! If there is one disadvantage of sailing Seattle, it’s that it is a pretty far trek for most people.
Arriving at the airport, I opted to try out Seattle’s Link Light Rail. An Uber or Lyft from the airport was going to cost about $55 and take about 40 minutes. A trip on the light rail costs only $3 to downtown Seattle and takes about the same time.
The train itself was quite convenient. It’s a little bit of a walk from the baggage claim area to catch, but no more than walking down a long cruise pier and into port. I bought my ticket, hopped on and about 40 minutes later, I was at the Westlake station in downtown Seattle. From there, it was an easy five-minute walk to the famous Pike Place Market and the first Starbucks store (with a huge line out the door).
Seattle has two terminals — Pier 66 (located right by Pike Place Market) and Pier 91. If I had been sailing from Pier 66, then taking the train and then walking to the ship couldn’t have been easier. But most cruises sail from Pier 91, which is about 10 minutes up the coast from downtown. So after exploring the tourist area around the market, I called a quick Lyft over to Pier 91.
A Loooooong Wait to Board
I always try to board later in the day. By then, crowds die down and often you can walk almost straight through the terminal to the ship. That was NOT the case today. Despite arriving at around 2:15 for a 4:00 departure, there were hundreds of people still waiting to board.
We all stood in line outside the terminal… to wait to stand in line in front of the building. Then we stood in line in front of the building… to then wait and stand in line in the terminal. Then we stood in line in the terminal… to stand in line for security and check-in.
In total, it took over an hour from the time I was dropped off until I was through check-in and boarding the ship. In all the cruises I’ve taken, I’ve never had it take that long. Other passengers were voicing their frustration as well.
I can’t tell exactly what the issue was, except I guess it’s just a smaller terminal with fewer people checking in passengers. Combined with the checking of vaccines and pre-boarding tests, the process takes longer.
Even so, after a longer than usual wait, it was time to finally get on the ship.
First Impressions of Quantum of the Seas
The first day on the cruise ship, I try to simply get my bearings. Even after sailing so many cruises, I’m always turned around on the first day or two aboard a new ship. Fortunately, while I haven’t sailed aboard Quantum of the Seas, I have sailed Odyssey of the Seas, which is a similar setup. Therefore, the general layout is familiar, making it easier to get around.
Quantum of the Seas offers the amenities that have become well-known in the class. There’s the North Star observation pod, the RipCord skydiving simulator, and the covered SeaPlex at the back of the ship.
For a cruise to Alaska, I’m thinking it will be ideal. There are more indoor spaces than what you find on most ships, including two different indoor pool areas. So when the weather gets chilly, there should still be plenty of nice places to enjoy.
There are some differences I’ve noticed so far. Quantum of the Seas has catered to the Asian market before moving stateside. There are a number of instantly recognizable touches due to that.
For one, nearly every sign has English and Chinese characters. That’s a first for me. Restaurants and activity areas are slightly different as well. For instance, there is no Playmakers (sports bar) or El Loco Fresh (Mexican food). There are also different casino games. And even the elevator announcements are made in English… with an Asian accent.
It’s nothing major, but it has stood out as different from other sailings. You can definitely tell the influence.
First Evening on the Cruise
So what did I do on Day 1? Well, with the later boarding time due to the delays at the terminal, there hasn’t been as much time on the ship as normal. Like most people on the ship, I spent quite a bit of time around the pool deck taking in the sunshine and the gorgeous views of Seattle during the sail away around 4:30.
Today saw highs in the 60s with plenty of sunshine, despite Seattle’s reputation for gloomy weather. You couldn’t ask for better weather.
I also tried out Splash Away Cafe — a quick-service Asian restaurant on the pool deck that I haven’t seen on other ships. While the concept seems like it could be neat, I wasn’t terribly impressed. The pictures made it seem like Asian noodles and stir-fry were available (which sounded great after skipping lunch on the plane!), but it was just a few dishes like Chicken Satay or fish and chips. First impression, is that I’d much prefer an El Loco Fresh in the same spot instead!
Dinner was just a quick bite to eat in the buffet. With the long day of travel, I didn’t have the energy to sit through a long meal in the main dining room. I did have a delicious stir-fry here that I was still craving (the night’s theme was Chinese food), along with some fantastic key lime pie (decidedly not Chinese food).
One thing I’ve noticed from my last sailing a couple of months ago is that the buffet is back to self-serve. After so many trips having the staff serve food in the buffet, I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of everyone back using the same utensils again.
In the evening the highlight was watching the Welcome Aboard Show, which featured a comedian — Steve McGrew — who had the audience rolling. It was a fun way to wind down what was a busy day of travel and starting out the trip to Alaska.
- The vibe on the ship is definitely different from a Caribbean cruise, which makes sense. There was no big sail away party with loud music and dancing like when you leave Miami. Instead, most people just crowded the top rail of the deck to get a great view of Seattle as the ship departed.
- While the weather was great this afternoon, it quickly gets cold with the wind when sailing. The ship has blankets you can check out at the Towel Station to be able to sit outside and not get too cold. It’s something so simple, but seems like such a clever idea.
Thanks for the details and I really want to hear all about your cruise to the ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’. I don’t think an hour to board the ship is really bad especially with all the additional passenger requirements. It sounds fun to sail again after years of Restrictions and sounds like thinks are about the same as before. Maybe point out what has changed and what’s expected on-board.
Honestly, nothing has changed from a passenger perspective from when cruising was paused, except you need to have a vaccine and be tested. Crew are masked up, but passengers don’t have to do so. There is no distancing in place, everything is open. For instance, I went on the North Star, which is an enclosed pod that holds up to 12-14 people in a small confined space. At least for now, it’s back to normal.
Thank you for all the interesting & helpful information! I am scheduled for the same cruise in July. Looking forward to reading about your daily experiences; especially the last day because I just booked my flights from Tennessee and my husband thinks it may be impossible to catch our return flight at 11:30 am. When I went to re-schedule for a later departure I was met with a cost of over $800 to leave Seattle at 1:30 pm or 3:00 pm. Very interested to see how long it takes you to disembark and get to the airport on the last day. Thanks!
Eeeek. You called out exactly what I am worried about. My flight leaves at 10:30 a.m. Later flights would put me home at 1 a.m. the next day. With the delay in boarding the ship, I’m worried what it will look like to get off the ship.
Great entry. We will be doing an Alaskan cruise on Quantum in July. I had a question….how long did it take for Royal to validate your vaccination when you did your check-in?
Do you mean to check it? I showed it to the check-in agent and she took a photo, checked the dates, and that was it. Took about 10 seconds.