Ovation of the Seas – Alaska May 2024

The situation was this, we were to board at 1:30 PM but this was shuffled back to 8:30PM due to a Medical Emergency on the incoming cruise. The Coast Guard was called but unable to effect a rescue this far out to sea. The US Air Force was then tasked with the with a  HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter to airlift a sick Passenger off the ship some 400+ miles out to sea from San Francisco. This was no easy task as most helicopters can’t go that far without refuelling. This required the Air Force to launch a c-130J to refuel the helicopter 4 times during this rescue.

Ovation of the Seas

Ovation of the Seas as seen from C-130J – Courtesy Photo 129th Rescue Wing

one of the 4 tank-ups

Courtesy Photo 129th Rescue Wing

With this change the Ovation OTS would not make low tide to clear the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver, The low tide was now 1:30 PM thus pushing departing guest back and getting onboard back. Not an ideal situation but it is good to know the lengths that cruise lines will go to get help when needed. With this said I can not stress enough to make sure you have Travel Insurance for this type of thing.

We got to Canada Place about 7:30 PM and dropped our luggage off and joined the many lines. It was first show our sail and sign pass and then head upstairs to the Ballroom to get a piece of paper and check-in. It was then back downstairs to go through Security and then join a snaking line to have our photo taken again to see if we could board the ship right away r have to go through US Customs. Well wouldn’t you know it my partner goes first and is cleared and off she goes. I am denied boarding and to go to US Customs. There she continues walking thinking I am behind her. She turns around and sees me waving and just shakes her head. You see since last November I have been detained every time I fly or cruise, I have no problem at land crossings. It took some time for US Customs to bring my information up as my Nexus card would not scan. The system still has me in Miami from last November. He said he has fixed it but I was told this 3 prior times too.

Getting onto the ship late this meant we could go directly to our cabin and drop our carry-on off and go find dinner. Arriving at our door our key-cards were there and we opened them. I tried the door and the light went green ready to be opened. I couldn’t open the door. I tried a couple of more times and was not getting mad until I grabbed the handle on the next try and pushed then pulled and the door oped, all be it outwards. In 40 years of cruising I have never had the cabin door open outwards. Lesson learned that they are changing things on newer ships.
When we looked in all I could say was wow! This was a huge cabin and larger than some suites on some ships. The cupboards were on either side of the bed. A couch that coul sit 4 4 with room to spare. A large dresser and lots of drawer space. Spare storage above the bed too.

Now as our cabin was on Deck 7 forward and dinner was deck 4 aft it would require a hike. I mean this is the biggest ship we have travelled on to date. I have never been a fan of getting on a larger ship as 5000 passengers is a small city, little mind the 2000+ crew.
We ate at the Silk Restaurant and of course being first night on Royal Caribbean it is Prime Rib Dinner. This was started with French Onion Soup and of course Escargot.
The end of dinner used to be finished with Coffee Ice Cream but with recent changes there are only 3 types of ice cream now.

It was back to the cabin to find that our luggage had made it and now we could unpack.
We finally went to bed at 11:30 Pm and decided not to stay up for sail-away at 1:30 AM.

Reflecting back on what we had seen so far it was wow we could get used to this.

Day 2 we woke up to our first sea day and we were just leaving the entrance to Juan de Fuca Straight into the Pacific Ocean.
I decided to brave the cold breeze and look for whales from our balcony. I have always had good luck here sighting whales.  It did not take long before I saw about a dozen Humpbacks going past the ship.

Cabin 7128 Ovation of the Seas

The rest of the day was spent enjoying what this ship offered.
Tonight we opted to try Jamie’s Italian Restaurant.
After dinner we walked for a bit and then headed back to the cabin to wait for the big Event.

This arm will set you back $55

TWO70 Lounge

I had been watching for the chance to see the Northern Lights this trip and while the outlook was not great it appears the day before we left there was a major solar flair from the Sun. Tonight would be the night to see them. The best site I have used over the years is based at the Universality of Fairbanks Alaska.
There were several of us that stayed up up late waiting for the chance to see them. It was not until 11:30 PM I started to notice a change in the sky from our balcony. It appeared to be waves in the sky but with no colour. I then took out my IPhone 14 Pro and looked through the camera. Wow did the sky come to life. After spending some time on the balcony we moved higher up on the ship for a better look. Here is the issue with all the light the ship produces it makes it tough to see with the naked eye. I was told that the camera filters out this light ad we get to see the Northern Lights itself.

Northern Lights

Northern Lights. The white dots are the stars

Northern Lights


Northern Lights

Can even see them with the Moon

The one thing about larger ships is they have so much to offer us as passengers. Many years ago I listened to a Captain give a talk saying how the ship of the future was going to be the destination. I am starting to really believe that this is becoming the case.
I know we did not get to see or try everything and I suppose this is designed into the ship to get you to come back again to the ship and explore the things you didn’t see or try.
There is the Private Islands of each cruise line that have water parks etc. and they do charge to experience the park itself.

Day 3 brought us to Ketchikan where it was sunny and warm. Not docking until 11:30 AM allowed me to sit back and watch the world go by sailing up Tongass Narrows. I have always enjoyed this part of Alaska and it is hard to believe that in the 40 years I have been coming here it has not rained while I have been here despite this being the rain Capital of Alaska.

There are many things to do here like Visiting Saxman Village to see the Totem Poles or taking in the logging show. This is also where you can get your fill of Seafood as well. The Red King Crab is what is being fished this year. The Snow Crab fishery is to remain closed this year yet again. While I was there Crab was $70 USD a pound so be prepared to open your wallets.

Ketchikan from the ship

One thing I can recommend is taking the walk to Creek Street and through the boardwalk to the very end. Once there you can now follow the stairs and trail past the fish ladder and up the hill through the trees. You can continue to follow the creek which will bring you to the Fish Hatchery. At the top follow Park Ave. to the right and you will come to Deer Mountain Hatchery. Here you can see a fish hatchery in operation. Walking across the bridge brings you to Totem Heritage Center and the option to catch a free bus back to town.

Creek Street

I highly recommend this walk in early to mid August as the Salmon come back to spawn. You can almost walk across the river above the fish ladder on salmon.
Even standing near the entrance to Creek Street is worth the walk when the salmon are in.

For those that Geocache there are a couple of caches as you get off the ship in Ketchikan. Be advised that NCL Cruises docks farther north at Ward Cove. There are caches around Ward Cove recreation area.
From there as you walk to the Fish Hatchery there are a few more along the way.  Then there is the TB Hotel which is the Garage of an Apartment building. When I was last here you could hide a small kid in this one.
There is 1 Virtual caches and 2 traditional Cache on/near the pier.

I can also recommend the Tongrass Store on the Pier. Need a weather proof jacket get it here. The funny thing is the price has not changed in the last 15 years. Jackets were $29.95 USD in May of 2024.

I have never done the Logging Show because as a kid I saw many of these in Vancouver at the PNE. They are fun but I highly doubt they log like this today.

Day 4 brought us to an arrival into Juneau. It was overcast and light rain today. We only got out of bed a short time before we arrived because as we had stayed up again last night hoping for a repeat of the night before.

We waited until the rush was over and then headed ashore in the rain. We headed farther into town than most would venture. It was truly delightful as not many people walking around here. Visiting more of the local shops today.

Red Dog Saloon complete with Sawdust

We did stop to get one cache today which would have proved to be a problem for my other half as it was up HIGH. It was not long before we penned in our initials onto the log and returned it to it’s hiding spot.
From here we continued along the waterfront coming and going into the stores. The rain was now stopping so we crossed over the street to get another cache at the Information Center which was a Travel Bug (TB) hotel.

Once done here we stopped at Alaskan Brewing Public House for a drink and a snack.

Totem Pole nearby

From here it was back to the information center to try and get some information about how to get to Mendenhall Glacier.
I have used the Glacier Blue Bus in years past. I had heard recently that the Blue Bus was sold last year at the end of the season.
I have learned that it is in fact still going as M&M Tours. All I can say is wow the price has gone up and the frequency has changed.  The current price appears to be $79 USD for 3 hours. I paid $20 for all day just 2 years ago.
There is another company called Juneau Tours. I have never tried them.

Yours truly in Juneau

Having said this if there is more than two in your group it might be better to Rent a Car for the day and make the trip at your leisure.

Tonight we decided that eating at an onboard Restaurant called Wonderland would be something different. Let’s say it is nothing that one would expect. They play with your senses by serving things like Tomato Soup in a test tube and it is clear.
We had invited another couple from, Perth Australia we had met onboard to dinner and arrived at 7:15 and finished just after 12:30. In fact the staff closed up and left the lights on for us. Truly a great night with Justin and Nicole.

The Menu – note it is blank

You use the Paint Brush with water to view the menu

The Birds Nest

Citrus Seas Shhhh*

The Rib “I” Luscious Short Rib

Halibut Cooked in Clear Paper

Baby Vegetables in the Garden

Day 5  While sleeping our home has moved onto Skagway.
Stepping out onto the Balcony to see the changes in the last 2 years due to a slide onto the Railroad dock. As normal with Skagway it was windy and a whopping 4°C, talk about cold.

There is still rock work being done on the cliffs and one has to get on a bus to be bussed past the slide area. These are 30 foot small buses and don’t set more than 35 people.

Once into town it was a walk around to see what has changed in 2 years since I was last here. I can say this, not much.


Original Building built in 1900 after the Gold Rush

That being said I did manage to find 2 geocaches while walking around town. I am still trying to get over to the other side of the airport trail to do a few more nut the last two times I have had Bear Encounters. With this being early spring and bears just waking from hibernation they are hungry and I don’t want to be that meal. Hungry Bears with Cubs spells Trouble…

The is a Geocache somewhere there

White Pass Railroad boarding from downtown

The new White Pass Engines added last year

As I said in the first part if it is your first time here I can recommend the White Pass Railroad.

Now something I have done and recommend is renting a car and heading north to Carcross ( the original name was Caribou Crossing) and Emerald Lake and beyond to Whitehorse. This is a bout 2 hours each way and the drive is spectacular. Not only do you cross into Canada through BC then you cross into the Yukon. There are some great picture opportunities here. The last time I drove this we saw Moose (baby included) Mountain Sheep and Bears. Not to mention the worlds most northerly Desert north of Carcross.

Day 6 was a sea day with a visit to Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier. It would turn out we could only venture half way into the fjord due to ice. This can be a problem when you travel to Alaska early in the season.  I have experienced it before and all I can say is the smaller size ships appear to be suited for the conditions due to size.
There were 3 large ice bergs that were in our way as we were going to make the final turn into the fjord for Dawes Glacier. The situation is this what you see on top of the water only shows about 10% of the real size. Larger wider ships can not manoeuvre as quickly as smaller ones.

The 2 bergs that got in the way

one of the many chunks of ice along the fjord

The many waterfalls

leaving the fjord

I have to caution people here that almost all of the Glaciers are retreating from view.
For example Glacier Bay while still being considered a must do by many is suffering from retreating Glacier action. When I first went to Glacier Bay back in 1984 and you travelled down Tarr Inlet to the end you could see Margerie Glacier beside Grand Pacific Glacier and they were joined at waters edge. Grand Pacific was two glaciers that came together with the other being Ferris Glacier. Today neither is visible (Grand Pacific and Ferris) as they have retreated back into Canada.
Also many years ago Johns Hopkins Inlet (Johns Hopkins Glacier) was open to ships but later closed until the middle of August when seal pupping is finished. The larger ships don’t even venture into here now as it is a very tight space. Just the trip into the inlet is amazing. The next thing to bring to your attention is Celebrity and Royal Caribbean cruises can not travel into Glacier Bay because they were banned by Parks for “dumping” many years ago and banned for life. A few years back the ban was lifted for a test but the outcry was so large saying a life time ban is not 10 years. These lines declined the permits to once again visit Glacier Bay.
In fact things have become so strict while a ship is in Glacier Bay that ships can no longer do on deck BBQ s for guests. Almost all lines used to BBQ Salmon and other seafood while making this trip. I remember being on a early season cruise on NCL and the BBQ was lit on deck and about to start when a Park Ranger came by and told the Chef this was no longer allowed in the park.

There other options such as Hubbard Glacier (which I highly recommend) and College Fjord and the numerous Glaciers named after Ivy League Colleges on the East Coast of the USA. You will see many types of Glaciers here such as Hanging Glaciers. For these cruises they are mainly done on either the North or South Bound cruises from Vancouver to Seward/Whittier.

What I am saying is do your research on what you think you want to see. I can assure you things have changed in just 2 years with things such as Mendenhall Glacier. I was last there 2 years ago and saw photos from friends on this cruise and could not believe how far back it has retreated. So looking at older photos may not give you the whole picture of what you might or hope to see. I also know that Dawes Glacier is in the process of retreating and splitting back into 2 different glaciers that form Dawes. No one is sure what will happen with the name.

Day 7 was a very nice day at Sea. This allowed us to explore the ship some more and just relax.

One of the scheduled events for us today was to go and check with the Next Cruise Agent. We have decided that a cruise from Seattle to Japan in September would fit this bill. It will be our second trip to Japan.

Tonight we had dinner with couple we met on this cruise. We spent the dinner talking about things to do in Victoria tomorrow. Once dinner was done we adjourned to the Wine Bar to further discuss this. At the end it was suggested that I rent a car to drive around Victoria. I got onto my phone and made the reservation and had a car for about $65 CAD for the day or so I thought.

Day 8 has us docked in Victoria at Ogden Point on a clear but very windy day. I get off the ship early and heard into town to go get our rental. I have the rental on my phone and it says Cruise Passengers call the Enterprise Office to be picked up. I call to find that this service in fact is not offered despite what it says. I talked to one of the Visitor Centre guys and he laughed at me. He says we have been trying to get Enterprise to remove that from their web-page for 2 years. There was a taxi driver who said I can take you to the Empress Hotel and you can walk the 3 blocks or so to the location. I take to cab as suggested. Getting out of the cab I start the walk north and after a few blocks I start to realize that this is no 3-4 block walk. A look at my phone says it is 16 blocks or 1.5 km hike.
Arriving at the rental counter was a relief or so I thought. Hand them my reservation number with drivers licence and credit card. He looks at the screen and says this rental is for tomorrow and we have nothing left for today.
How did this happen? It was not until I got back to the ship and we figured it out. You see because we were on Alaska time I went to the next day not noticing that it was now past midnight in Victoria. This caused the next day to default to the Friday.
Tough lesson to learn. I pride myself on getting things like this right. It turns out that it doesn’t matter how many times one travels you can still make stupid mistakes.
In the end we all laughed about it.
We then walked into town as there was a shuttle service for $15 USD or $18 CAD PP round trip. It is a very nice 20 minute walk into the Harbour Area.

Since this is the last day it is normally pack your cases tag them and leave them in the hall.
For us we were rolling off our cases as we scheduled to take a 9:15 bus back to Vancouver.

Final Thoughts:

I did my first cruise to Alaska in 1984 and along the way seen many things and watched the changes happen. Towns getting bigger and ships getting bigger and more and more people coming to this last frontier. The reality to all this is things are changing and changing fast. Glaciers are retreating at an alarming rate.

I have seen a huge uptick in bookings for this year and I expect this to continue for next year as well.
Having said this I have noticed some cruise lines jacking up shore excursion prices double or triple to what you can get privately. The kicker to this is cruise lines say by booking with us you will make it back to the ship on-time. Now if you are in Juneau from 7:00 AM to 9:00 PM it is pretty hard to miss the ship and likewise in Skagway.
There is great Whale watching in Juneau and Victoria at a fraction of the cost of that on the ship.

Picking the month/dates you would like to travel is another question. Early cruises pose several problems. NCL has started Alaska in early April and October for the last 2 years and will continue this in 2025. US Parks has asked NCL to stay out of Glacier Bay during these months. The ports have not yet spun up for visits in April as almost all workers are College Students from the mainland of the USA.
There are also weather considerations on the time of year as well. April, May September and October can be very cold for some. It isn’t uncommon to see snow low down or rain with a cold wind. Dressing in layers is advised. Bring a Touque with you. Early/Late season cruises allow for the possibility to see the Northern Lights.
As the weather warms up and days get longer brings one big problem and that is bugs. These are your not so normal bugs we see in the south. These things are BIG and have been known to try and carry a small child away ;-). Take bug spray with you and use it before you enter a bug infested area.
Bring those sun glasses along as all day sun can be hard on your eyes.

Want a real adventure look into the land tours offered by the cruise lines. If doing one of those one way cruises look at taking the train from/to Seward/Whittier. I have done this and enjoyed both trips.

For those that Geocache and cruise here is some suggestions.

Anchorage has lots of caches have fun and take bug spray.
Whittier has many caches and I can not recommend any here as the ones I have done have been archived.
Seward has one I recommend highly that is called Book Smart, Not Street Smart.
Skagway has a couple of Virtual that are about the history of Skagway. There are many more around town but some can be hard to do due to sheer number of people. Go visit the Gold Rush Cemetery. If you do go north there are several caches along the way like the Yukon Sign where tours do stop as well as Emerald Lake and the Worlds most northerly desert. If you are in Whitehorse go visit the airport and do the few around there.
Haines has a few caches and it too bad the one about town history has been archived. The big item in this port was the Hammer Museum.
Juneau has many caches but good lock at finding the one on the pier called A Tribute to Patsy Ann. If you dock at the south dock this one is also a fun one called Working in a Gold Mine.
Of course if you go out to Mendenhall Glacier and do the trail choose clockwise as when I did it the stairs at the far end are about 300 going down.
Ketchikan brings many choices but stop at this off at Creek Street brings you to this fine gem called Fish-on.

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