Loyal Royal Caribbean cruiser, Nick Vitani, is back with yet another cruise review. This time, he shares his Ovation of the Seas Alaska Cruise Review with us.
Nick is not only an avid cruiser, but he’s also a Royal Caribbean Travel Partner with All Travel and Cruise Center, Inc. For inquiries on booking your next Royal Caribbean cruise, you can contact him at his personal email at email@example.com or message him via Instagram or Twitter @nickvitani.
Ovation of the Seas Alaska Cruise Review 2021
I have cruised to Alaska only once (9 years ago). This recent cruise to Alaska was a last-minute switch from a Europe cruise on Anthem of the Seas which was interrupted by the global pandemic. So, it was a pleasant surprise because I had not planned to return to Alaska in the foreseeable future.
I was especially excited about the Royal Caribbean Ovation of the Seas. While it is a great ship to cruise anywhere, it is certainly a great ship for cold weather views and activities.
Another thing I was really looking forward to was seeing first-hand how Mendenhall Glacier, near Juneau, has changed in the past nine years. Spoiler alert: there is less ice today.
Finally, I was looking forward to seeing a new port of call, Sitka, and a new glacier I have not seen before (Dawes Glacier).
The Ovation of the Seas is one of four Quantum Class ships which debuted in 2016. For reference, the size of the ship is larger than the Freedom Class and a little smaller than the Oasis Class. The Quantum Class ships’ layout is much different than the Voyager, Freedom, and Oasis Class ships.
Where the signature Royal Promenade is present on the other three classes of ships named, the Quantum Class features a “Royal Esplanade”. This is still a central corridor but is broken up into two sections. The forward section is referred to as “The Via”, but there is a second floor with additional restaurants and other venues (unlike the Royal Promenade).
Quantum Class ships also feature the Ripcord by iFLY which is a sky diving simulation experience and the North Star aerial capsule.
Perhaps the most unique factor of the Quantum Class ships is the Two70 Lounge at the aft of the ship. This lounge features 270 degrees of floor to ceiling windows that offer spectacular views during the day. The lounge is a multi-use space, meaning it can be used for games, events, shows, or just a place to hang out with a drink or some snacks from the adjacent Café Two70.
Fun fact: This lounge cost over $33 million to build. The Nordic Empress, the first new-build by Royal Caribbean, cost only $24 million when it was built.
Onboard the Ship
Onboard Ovation of the Seas, there is so much to do. There is a Flow Rider surf simulator, Ripcord by iFLY, bumper cars, and three rock climbing walls. The ship also features the North Star observation bubble that lifts you 300 feet above sea level and the multi-use space called the SeaPlex. This venue not only has bumper cars, but it features table tennis, X-Box stations, a basketball court, pickle ball courts, and parties like the Club Red dance party.
The last time I was on sister ship Anthem of the Seas, the SeaPlex had a circus trapeze school. Though, it was not offered on the Ovation or the Odyssey, so it was possibly discontinued.
Dining on the ship is similar to other Royal Caribbean Quantum Class ships. Complimentary options include the Windjammer Marketplace (buffet). This venue is currently closed for dinner across the fleet due to low guest counts.
Other complimentary dining options are the Café Two70, Sorrento’s Pizza, Café Promenade, Fish and Ships, and the SeaPlex Dog House. Coastal Kitchen is included for guests in suites. Junior Suite guests can dine in the Coastal Kitchen for dinner only.
Specialty dining includes Izumi (sushi), Chops Grille, Wonderland, and Jamie’s Italian. There is also a Chef’s Table, similar to every other ship in the fleet. For snacks, there is LaPatisserie in the Royal Esplanade for French pastries and coffee. This is located at the same spot where Starbucks is on Odyssey of the Seas.
Entertainment on board Ovation of the Seas was great. There were a couple of headliner shows in the theater. One of which was the best vocal group I have ever heard on a ship. The group is The Las Vegas Tenors. If you ever get a chance to see them (even on You Tube), you will love them. The main production show in the theater is A Beautiful Dream. I thought it was very good. My wife absolutely loved it.
In the Two70 lounge, there were two shows (besides some virtual concerts periodically scheduled). The Two70 Experience show is where they demonstrate the technology of the “Vistarama” projection screens and the Robotic Screens. The main show in Two70 is Pixel’s Cabaret. This show is the best of the three shows I have seen on Quantum Class ships.
There is plenty of live music on Ovation of the Seas as well. The guitarist named Jabes from Columbia is the best acoustic guitar player you will ever see. He played mostly in Boleros. There is also the piano entertainer nightly in the Schooner Bar. Currently on Ovation is Kelly Goodrich, one of the Royal Caribbean fan favorites. Additionally, there was a singer in the Amber and Oak pub, and there were two house bands playing mostly in the Music Hall. This two story venue even has pool tables on the second floor.
Finally, the Vitality Spa and Fitness Center on Ovation were fabulous. I purchased a Thermal Suite pass and used it every day. It has the heated tile beds, a dry sauna, and a steam room. It also has a cold shower with modes simulating tropical rains that is really refreshing.
Comparisons to Other Quantum Class Ships
One interesting facet of this trip is that I was just on the brand-new sister ship, Odyssey of the Seas, two weeks prior to this cruise. So, it was interesting for me to compare the two ships.
The Ovation is nearly identical in layout to her sister Odyssey. Though, there are some differences that I noticed.
One major difference is the Ovation still has the indoor pool area that the original two Quantum-class ships have (Anthem and Quantum). However, in the same space on Odyssey, the pool is open air. The indoor pool concept is a great asset for cold weather cruising.
Another noticeable difference between Ovation and Odyssey is the Ovation still has the compartmentalized main dining room carried over from the failed concept of “dynamic dining”. While, the Odyssey has the open “grand” dining room which I feel is more elegant.
The only other major difference between Ovation and Odyssey are different shows and a couple of different venues. Ovation of the Seas still has Jamie’s Italian specialty restaurant while Odyssey has the new Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen. Also, Odyssey of the Seas has the Playmaker’s Sports Bar and Arcade on the second floor of the SeaPlex while Ovation just has more play areas (table tennis and X-Box stations).
Ports of Call
This cruise was a 7-night roundtrip itinerary from Seattle visiting Juneau, Skagway, and Sitka. One day was spent cruising in the Endicott Arm passage, which is a fjord leading to Dawes Glacier. Absent was the call to Victoria, British Columbia. This is a special exemption to the requirement to stop at a foreign port for the 2021 Alaskan cruise season.
We decided to fly in to Seattle (port of embarkation) two days early because there is a lot to see and do in Seattle.
Originally, we really wanted to take a ferry to San Juan Island, but the tour we wanted was not available on weekdays. We then decided to get the Seattle City Pass which includes multiple attractions. This ended up being a great decision.
We spent the two days visiting as many attractions as possible included in the City Pass. The cost was $109 per person and resulted in a nice cost savings compared to purchasing the attractions separately.
We were able to squeeze in the Space Needle (2 visits), Chihuly Glass Gardens, Argosy Harbor Tour, and the Aquarium. We could have visited the Museum of Pop Culture as well, but we didn’t make it to that.
Additionally, we visited the Pike’s Market where we bought a beautiful bouquet of fresh flowers to bring on the ship. This was only $10. In case you were wondering, you are absolutely able to bring flowers on the ship. We used a plastic champagne bucket (ask your Stateroom Attendant for one) as a vase to hold the flowers all week.
Next time we come to Seattle, we will be here over a weekend, and we plan to take the Orca Watching Tour with a stop in San Juan Island. This is a 12-hour tour, so plan accordingly.
In Juneau, we purchased a shuttle ticket to the Mendenhall Glacier, just as we had done nine years ago. The cost of the shuttle had gone up considerably though. This time it was $45 per person and included the entrance fee to the park.
Expect to do a lot of walking if you decide to see Mendenhall Glacier (and the adjacent Nugget Falls) up close. I noticed there were little to no icebergs floating near the glacier, unlike my last visit here. Also, the glacier was much thinner, but this was not a surprise.
The weather was cool this day, and drizzle to light rain fell. We had rain ponchos, but a small umbrella would have come in handy (which we forgot to pack). Also, we didn’t pack water-proof shoes or boots, which would have helped.
Related Post: Top Things to Do in Juneau on a Cruise
In Skagway, we booked the Scenic White Pass Railway tour through the ship. As a result of a bridge replacement project this year, the trip was shortened to mile marker 14, instead of 20 which is at the White Pass Summit. Thus, the cruise line automatically refunded us a portion of the cost.
We absolutely loved this train ride, despite the shortened duration. We would book this again next time. In fact, we already booked for May 2022.
The train cars are closed and heated, so no need to worry about the weather during the train ride. There are platforms at the ends of each car, so you can stand outside if you desire. I was out on the platform almost the entire time taking in the views and taking lots of photos.
At the end of the tour, we had time to wander through the town. It was interesting to learn about the role Skagway played in the Klondike Gold Rush. Also, there is a free museum displaying lots of historical information on the gold rush.
Related Post: Top Things to Do in Skagway on a Cruise
This was our first time visiting Sitka. We didn’t have any plans and just decided to “wing it”. The actual town is about five miles from the port. Though, there is a free shuttle to take you into town. We saw some tours offered once we got to the drop-off point in town, but most were sold out by the time we arrived (we took our time getting off the ship this day).
We walked along a scenic path and then through town. The town wasn’t much to see. It was mostly souvenir shops. Next time we come here, we will have a tour lined up. I know people who took an independent tour where you drive your own Zodiac boat following the guide. They highly recommended it, so I will be booking this the next time I come here in May 2022.
Cruising Through Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier
The ship entered Endicott Arm around 5:30 AM and reached Dawes Glacier around 8:30 AM. I was up for the entire time which was easy since we moved the clocks back an hour. So, we were now 4 hours behind the eastern time zone.
Most of the way into Endicott Arm, there wasn’t much to see other than calm peaceful water and rugged mountains on each side of the ship. The fjord was fairly narrow. As we got closer to the glacier, we started to see numerous small icebergs. We were told that the captain would make a 360-degree turn around at the glacier so all spots on the ship would have great views.
There were a lot of people camped out early in the Solarium with pillow and blankets (although the Solarium was heated) in hopes of scoring prime views at the front of the ship. I knew from my previous cruise to a glacier, that the best way to experience the glacier is to move around from one side to the other to see different perspectives. I stand by that plan.
Though, I was a little disappointed that we were only at the closest point to the glacier for about 30 minutes, and then we turned around to leave. As we turned around, I thought the ship would make another turn and spend a little more time at the glacier, but the ship just kept heading out of the fjord.
There is a possibility that the conditions such as current and winds forecasted could have played a role in our short stay. Afterwards, I learned that we had a “pilot” onboard throughout the journey into and out of Endicott Arm. This was not an easy journey into this narrow channel with this large ship. Winds and currents definitely play a factor.
Related Post: Alaska Cruise Packing Guide
Compared to my last Alaska cruise nine years ago, we enjoyed this so much more. I think much of it has to do with the ship itself. The last time we took the Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas. That ship was not bad at all; Ovation was just that much better.
We especially loved the Two70 lounge at the aft of the ship with its 270-degrees of floor to ceiling windows for spectacular views. The ship just has so much to offer, and it is a great way to cruise Alaska.
The only advantage I can say about the smaller ships, such as Radiance, is that they are able to do the northbound and southbound itineraries (between Anchorage and Vancouver) as well as itineraries to different glaciers.
If you are planning to cruise to Alaska, I would recommend bringing the following: rain poncho, small collapsible umbrella, and some water-proof shoes or some slip-on boots. Also, the weather can vary quite a bit. Generally, expect clouds and drizzle and daytime temperatures in the 50’s. Therefore, I recommend wearing layers instead of heavy jackets.
Alaska is beautiful, and cruising is an amazing way to see the glaciers! They may be mostly gone in the next 20-40 years, so if you have been hesitating to cruise to Alaska, now is the time to go.
Did you enjoy this Ovation of the Seas Alaska Cruise Review for 2021? Have you cruised to Alaska? Drop us an anchor below to share your experiences sailing “way up north”.