After a slow start in early 2021, cruising returned in Alaska this past summer and will be in full swing come Spring 2022. Many Americans are still hesitant to make European plans and instead are choosing Alaska. And why not? The 49th state offers pristine wilderness, wildlife, glaciers, and fascinating small towns.
I just returned from a Royal Caribbean cruise on their mega-ship, Ovation of the Seas. The 7-night tour of Alaska’s Inner Passage started and ended in Seattle, making it even easier to get on board. Once I landed in Seattle, I found the baggage claim area and walked to the cruise shuttle buses taking passengers to the pier.
Since many are interested in hearing about cruising under the current Covid protocols, I will explain. Both vaccinated, and unvaccinated passengers were required to complete an in-app questionnaire and arrive with documented negative Covid test results. Unvaccinated guests were required to undergo additional wellness tests before embarkation. Vaccinated passengers produced their vaccination records, and test results then received a wristband denoting their status. The boarding process went smoothly and moved quickly.
The Muster drill was done individually using the Royal Caribbean App and/or the stateroom TV, followed by check-in at your muster station.
Masks were worn when walking around the ship, except when in your cabin or when eating or drinking. Every effort was made to separate vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers in the various venues and dining rooms. For example, in the big auditorium used for special evening performances, vaccinated guests sat downstairs, and unvaccinated went to the balcony. Once seated, vaccinated guests could remove their masks. In some locales, this was not always possible but was enforced where it could be.
Before entering the dining area with numerous food stations, formerly the buffet area, all individuals were required to wash their hands. A room with multiple sinks `was installed for this purpose. You were handed a plate and a rolled napkin with utensils. You roam around deciding what you want, and the servers within the stations spoon it on your dish. Any individual food items (like a yogurt parfait) were wrapped in saran wrap. Drink cups and glasses were filled by servers. Tables were spaced apart and signs denoted which tables must stay empty. The crew would try to clean up quickly when a guest finished eating.
Before entering, the main dining room required hand sanitizer, and vaccinated/non-vaccinated passengers ate in separate rooms. You were seated at tables for the size of your group, and solo travelers or couples did not have to sit at a shared table.
The ship was spotless, and I saw the cleaning crew wiping down elevator keys, railings, and any other frequently touched surfaces. The hallways, lobbies, and venues were disinfected and sanitized every morning from 3:30-5:30 am.
While I’m sure the procedures and protocols do not guarantee the absence of Covid, I felt safe enough. (I am fully vaccinated). I did not choose to use the swimming pool or hot tub.
The vast majority of cabins have a balcony, a real bonus for any cruise. However, because both sides of the ship contain all those balconies, the only place to see out to the opposite side, front or rear, is the 14th and 15th floors.
My carpeted room included a queen-size bed, sofa, desk, two closets, and a bureau with drawers. I also made use of a mini-refrigerator and the power outlets. I could look out the sliding glass door that opened onto the balcony with two chairs, footrests, and a small table.
The bathroom included a circular shower with a rounded glass door instead of a shower curtain. Of course, I also had a sink with room for toiletries and a toilet. I did not feel cramped in the bathroom. What more did I need? My cabin attendant cleaned my room twice a day.
The hallways are well lighted and carpeted to keep the noise down. Glass-sided elevators overlook a central lobby that seems more expansive than many malls; it’s very spacious. A number of high-end shops line the hall on the main level. The ship maintains a customer service area, shore excursion desk, and internet desk. Internet or WiFi for your devices comes for an additional charge, something I’d like to see changed.
Ovation of the Seas can hold 4,905 guests in total with a crew of 1,500. Scattered around the 16 levels on the ship, you will find a total of 20 dining areas. In addition to the main dining rooms, there are specialty dining options and a pub, café, pizza shop, and other laid-back options.
The Royal Caribbean free app lets you make reservations for any events or excursions. It informs you when and where the many activities take place.
Things to Do
Pick from among a skydiving simulator, an observation pod that hovers 300 feet above the sea, and a bionic bar where robots mix cocktails. Other highlights include a rock climbing wall, a surf simulator, bumper cars, an outdoor movie screen, sports (basketball) court, two outdoor pools, four whirlpools or hot tubs, and a large casino. There’s also a full spa, fitness center, and medical center.
I found myself drawn to the fascinating artwork all over the ship. The Butterfly Wall is interactive. The exceptional installations, paintings and sculptures will surprise you and are often hidden at first glance.
After the ship left the port in Seattle, we spent a day at sea en route to Alaska. The first stop became the little town of Ketchikan, the Salmon Capital of the World. I especially liked the totem poles and the Creek Street area with colorful historic wooden buildings on stilts above flowing water. Of course, it’s a great place to buy smoked salmon to take home.
The next day we arrived in Juneau, the capital of Alaska. One can visit the capitol building and the terrific State Museum, as well as browsing all the shops. The historic Red Dog Saloon is a favorite stop. We enjoyed beautiful weather, and many folks rode the tram up to Mt. Roberts for scenic views of the city.
Skagway was our third stop and my favorite. The walk from the ship into town is rather long but provides lovely views of the marina and mountains ( and an excellent way to burn some calories). Hop-on hop-off shuttle buses run all day and take passengers from the pier to various stops within the town for just $5.
My favorite spot was the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Center. The site includes a museum that explains the gold rush of 1896-1899. Approximately 30,000 prospectors came through this tiny town in their search for gold. You’ll see interpretive displays and memorabilia and some historic trains outside. I was disappointed the introductory movie was not offered (Covid protocol), but I still learned a lot.
The rest of Skagway is chock full of historic wooden buildings like saloons, brothels, and hotels (the town never suffered a fire), many of which are converted to shops. The story of Soapy Smith and his death in a gunfight make for fun tales.
After leaving Skagway, the following day, the ship crossed into Endicott Arm where we viewed Dawes Glacier. The morning was glorious, and the vessel had a festive, party-type atmosphere. The palm-tree-filled Solarium area was most popular, and everyone was taking photos of the landscape.
After the visit to the glacier (we weren’t able to get very close due to the ship’s size), we started our return to Seattle. So, we had two days at sea before reaching the pier in Seattle.
I was thrilled that Royal Caribbean offered a complimentary luggage and airline check-in service. Those using the major airlines could register their flight information, and their bags would be transported to the airport and checked in. We received the confirmation code and a boarding pass the day ahead. Since my flight left late, I took the excursion to the Seattle Space Needle and Chihuly Gardens, both of which were spectacular. The group was then dropped off at the airport.
Thank you to Cabin Closeout Agency & Royal Caribbean, All Things Cruise & CruiseCompete!
Cover photo: Flowrider on the Ovation of the Seas, credit Royal Caribbean