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Russell Fjord ice dam, July 2002
Lynn Canal from Vision's Promenade Deck
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©Susan Milne, 2003
ALASKA INSIDE PASSAGE
July 27 - August 4, 2002
By Susan Milne
Royal Caribbean International's Vision of the Seas has the nickname "ship of light" because glass is such a large part of her design. This makes Vision ideal for scenic cruising in Alaska. You won't miss a thing when dining as the circular, Windjammer Cafe is surrounded by glass and the main dining room has a window wall (upper level) and huge round windows (lower level) affording excellent views. Around the ship you are seldom away from a view of the sea and passing scenery. This feature makes Vision one of my favourite ships.
On board the decor is tranquil with an abundance of pastels - particularly blue shades. A stunning, multi-million dollar, modern art collection, adorns the staircases and hallways. Ship replicas are found in the compass room.
The colourful and bright casino is definitely Vegas-at-Sea and the noisiest place on the ship. There are plenty of slots and tables for blackjack, craps and roulette. I was disappointed not to find a blackjack machine amongst the poker machines.
RCI has excellent kids and teens centres on board their fleet and Vision offers plenty of fun for junior cruisers.
Cabins are well appointed with ample drawer and wardrobe space and hair dryers have been added, the one thing that was missing on these ships when they debuted. While small bar refrigerators are found in the upper categories, you can arrange to have one installed in your cabin by contacting the purser's desk should you have medication or anything else requiring refrigeration.
There is a variety of cabin sizes from cozy, standard inside at 146 sq.ft, larger inside and outside at 154 sq.ft, balcony cabins 190 sq. ft, and four categories of suites ranging from 245 to 517 sq. ft. The family staterooms sleep six with a separate bedroom, double-bed sofa in the sitting area and an alcove with bunk beds. There is one bathroom. The family suites have two separate bedrooms plus huge living area and two bathrooms. The larger suites on Vision are amongst the best designed and beautifully decorated at sea with palatial marble bathrooms, mahogany-finished bars, lavish sitting areas and enormous balconies.
At 78,491-tons Vision is mid-size by today's standards with a deck plan that is easy to get around. The Mayan-style solarium is one of the most popular places on board. The magrodome over the swimming pool and sunning area is closed in bad weather creating an indoor oasis away from the elements. A cafe serving pizza and daily specials is on hand along with a juice bar, just outside the adjacent spa - one of the most luxurious at sea with, of course, sea view treatment rooms. The relaxation room, aft, offers some of the best aft views from any ship afloat.
The central meeting area is the centrum with its glass elevators rising to the Viking Crown Lounge on deck 11. (I find the centrum overpowering on the Radiance-class ships but very enjoyable on the vision-class ships.) There is often live music being performed in the afternoon and evening and, with glass on both sides, you can always see out, port and starboard. Comfortable seating areas are found around the champagne bar on deck four and on deck five and six. On my Alaska cruise, the centrum was the favoured place for family reunion photographs. It seemed that every night, a number of groups were dressing up and being photographed on the stylish staircases adding to the festive ambience aboard Vision.
Vision left Ballantyne Pier in Vancouver on schedule at 6pm and heading north at its usual fast speed. This ship routinely passes all others sailing on Sunday nights as it is capable of speeds faster than its the advertised cruising speed of 22 knots. I had watched Vision pass the rest of us when on board Regal Princess in 2000 and was quite impressed. Sure enough, on this cruise, Vision passed Veendam, which had sailed ahead of us from Canada Place, even before reaching Howe Sound - not far beyond Lions Gate Bridge. The faster speed enables Vision to reach Hubbard Glacier at Yakutat Bay on Tuesday, after only one day in the Inside Passage and the open sea.
The Inside Passage is a series of deep channels, bays and fjords that lie inside a chain of coastal islands off British Columbia and Alaska. The passage is therefore protected from the rough seas of the North Pacific Ocean. Vision, like many of today's huge cruise ships, sails "outside" part of the way, then enters the Inside Passage and sails along one of the most impressive parts: the Grenville Channel which lies between Pitt Island and the mainland of British Columbia. Only a fifth of a mile wide at its narrowest point, Grenville Channel rises 3,500 feet from sea level and is 1,600 feet deep. The area is characterized by dramatic scenery along the entire route with thick forests, cascading waterfalls and granite cliffs. Fishing boats, sea birds, seals, migrating whales, eagles and bears can often be seen along the way. Unfortunately on my Vision cruise, the naturalist did not narrate the journey through Grenville Channel. The narration usually offers a very, valuable description of the area.
On Tuesday mid-day, we reached Hubbard Glacier. The local guide who was to come on board did not appear, so we sailed in with our naturalist making the commentary. As we approached, Celebrity's cruise ship Infinity was departing. We sailed slowly across Yakutat Bay to Disenchantment Bay. Captain Antalis brought Vision extremely close to the glacier. It was a beautiful day and Hubbard was busily calving and filling the Bay with huge amounts of ice - the most I had seen here. This is the longest tide water glacier in North America. The area is so vast with mountains towering to 18,000 feet behind, it is hard to grasp that this wall of ice is actually six miles wide, as high as 200 feet and stretches for 76 miles to its source on the slopes of Mount Logan in the Yukon. We sailed along side the wall of ice, turned and sailed back along the glacier before heading out of the Bay. Most passengers were on deck for the experience and Vision offered a variety of outdoor deck space from which to view Hubbard. There were also excellent views from inside the Windjammer Cafe and Viking Crown Lounge. The naturalist's report alerted us to areas about to calve. The creaking of the glacier and loud roar as ice calves into the bay is as unforgettable as the visual scene.
There was quite a bit of activity at Hubbard Glacier on this visit, as the Coast Guard monitored a rare geological event. A small plane flew over the glacier and a group of divers were studying ice in the Bay. The event which prompted the research had started in June, 2002. Hubbard had formed an ice dam, blocking the entrance to adjacent Russell Fjord. Russell Lake was formed as the water could no longer escape into Disenchantment Bay. By August 14, Russell Lake had risen to 61 feet. That day the lake suddenly burst through the ice and debris of Hubbard forming a dangerous torrent of water containing large chunks of ice. This caused the U.S. Coast Guard in Alaska to issue an advisory for cruise ships to stay away that week due to the dangerous conditions. A similar event took place in 1986. Russell Lake rose to 81 feet that year before breaking.
Ports & Excursions:
Ports in Alaska for Vision of the Seas are the historic gold rush town of Skagway, the capital city of Juneau, and Ketchikan, home of the largest fishing fleet in Alaska. Shore excursions are many and varied allowing you to do everything from dog mushing, flying over a glacier, hiking and cycling to gold panning and taking the scenic White Pass train journey to the Yukon border. Of course, you are also free to head off on your own to explore these Alaskan settlements.
Once again Alaska proved a wonderfully, rejuvenating experience with Vision of the Seas providing outstanding food, service and entertainment.
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