Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Serenade of the Seas
Sailing Date: June 27th, 2004
Itinerary: Alaska, Inside Passage
I'm a travel
agent in Denver, Colorado who has been selling cruises for many years. I have
heard from clients and read on these web sites the good, the bad and the ugly.
My wife and I have cruised on the Carnival Holiday to the Baja, and the Golden
Princess to the eastern Caribbean. We chose the Serenade of the Seas out of
Vancouver up the inside passage to Hubbard Glacier, Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan,
and Misty Fjords. We decided this would be an adventure and something fun to do.
We were right!!!!
I'd like to start by saying that as a travel agent I have to know a lot about many ships and cruise lines. I sell many different cruise lines and would place Royal Caribbean in the same type of experience you would get on Princess. This review will be a comprehensive overview of our experience, and along the way, I'll give some tips I've learned through clients or my own experience. Despite a couple of problems I'll describe, I have mostly great things to say about Royal Caribbean, the ship, and Alaska.
Sunday, we took a flight to Seattle. The airfare was much more expensive to Vancouver, so we thought Seattle would be a good choice, and the cost of the Royal Caribbean transfers we're $100.00 per person roundtrip. Although I hate to start out on a bad note, in retrospect, this was a mistake. As you always should, plan your arrival time with plenty of time to spare in case of a late flight. Our Frontier flight arrived at 840a as we were advised to be there no later than 1230p to ensure making the transfer to Vancouver. Four hours and another Frontier flight in between gave us the assurance we needed. We quickly claimed our luggage and found the Royal Caribbean rep holding a clipboard with their logo on it. She escorted us outside to an area where all the cruise line transfers met. We went to the Royal Caribbean desk and were advised to come back at 1115a for the bus. Ok, a two hour wait was kind of a drag, but at least we we're there. At 1115a we went back outside and were advised that the bus would not arrive until 1145a but to stay near by. In the meantime, we saw box lunches being passed out to other bus passengers. Since it was a 3 1/2 to 4 hour ride, we wanted to know if they had lunches for us. They said they were not sure. At 1200n, the bus still had not arrived and the personnel still seemed confused. Finally at 1220p, the bus showed up and we left. Fortunately for us, we were on the manifest for the bus, since those who booked late or that day received no lunches at all. We had even a worse experience coming back. More on that later. Since our bus arrived so late (415p), we had no lines at all. We flew through check in, security, and immigration and were on the ship in about 3 minutes. We had heard the disaster stories of long lines at Ballentye pier, but we experienced none of that. So getting to the pier late alleviates the waiting process.
TIP: Save yourself the time, the 4 hour cramped bus ride, the gross boxed lunch, and the disorganization, and just fly to Vancouver to start with. You'll be glad you did!
Once we got to the ship, things took a turn for the wonderful and stayed that way until it was time to leave a week later. In a word, the ship is beautiful. It looks fabulous from the outside (unlike Holland America ships' dull blue and white, and Celebrity's X) and even more beautiful on the inside. Glass is everywhere. You first enter on deck 4 into the atrium/centrum area. This is a 8 deck high area with glass elevators, a shimmering glass staircase, grand piano, bar, landings on each of the higher deks with glass partitions overlooking the floor, tropical plants (yes...they were fake), a huge contemporary sculpture hanging from the top, multi colored lights that change throughout the day (even more beautiful at night), live entertainment most of the time, and a general aura of excitement. WOW! The shore excursion desk called "Explorations" and the pursors desk called "Guest Relations" were next to each other off to the side of the atrium. It was not gaudy or over-stimulating at all, but rather inviting and tastefully done.
There are many web sights to see pictures of this ship, but until you see it in person, you really haven't seen anything.
Going aft on deck 4 is one of the entrances to the 2 deck high Reflections dining room. Another beautiful room with crystal fixtures, brass trim, dark woods, huge windows (particularly on the upper deck area), tables for 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12. Most tables were 6 or 8. Tables for 2 were limited and not in the best locations, so be social and enjoy the larger tables in the better areas. Dining times were at 600p and 830p. No personal choice here unless you go to the buffet or order room service.
TIP: First thing when you get on the ship is to go to the dining room to see the table you have been assigned to. If you don't like it, see the Maitre'd right away and ask to be changed. They're standing at the entrance to the room on deck 4 all afternoon. They're happy to help and won't take your tips either.
We were assigned a table right at the entrance of the restaurant. I asked to be moved further into the room. No problem! That night, we sat down at a table for 6. None of the other 4 people showed up. One of the head waiters approached and ask us to move upstairs to a table of 8 which had a couple and a family of 5. Apparantely, the family of 5 wanted their own table. He ask if we would switch so they could have their own table. Upstairs we went to even a better table right next to a full panoramic window and with 4 of the nicest table mates we could ever have had.
One of the focal points of the room were "marble columns" made from multi-layered fabric, but unless you looked close, you would never notice. There were two smaller dining rooms called Illusions and Mirage. They were for smokers and not nearly as attractive. Forward on deck 4 was the lower entrance to the Tropical Theater. This theater was 3 decks high and contained a sloped/raked floor area so you could always see over the head of the person in front of you. The carpeting and seats were multi-colored muted green and yellow while the carpeting was a cool blue floral pattern with shimmering multicolored main stage curtain.
Except for a few drink stains here and there and a couple of lousy seats (due to sight lines) up on the top level, it was a great place to see a show. Cocktail/drink service here was hit and miss. A couple of times, they forgot to bring me my drink, or couldn't find us in the dark once the show started. There are drink holders in the seats.
Deck 5 has the main entrance to the theater. In addition there is a conference center, an area where they display ALL and I mean ALL the pictures they take ALL the time. Getting on and off, eating, sitting in a hot tub, shopping, etc., the photographers are everywhere. The pictures are a bit pricey ($9.95 for a 5x7 picture). They do have a formal portrait sittings 3 different nights of the cruise (2 of the formal nights). You can choose from various backgrounds, including the green shimmering staircase in the main lobby. In additions, there is one night where you can have your picture taken in "old fashion" garb.
Deck 6 housed the top level of the theater, the casino, a small cinema, a few bars and lounges, as well as Chops and Portofino. The casino had lots of slots, blackjack, Caribbean stud poker, roulette, and video poker. It was smoky and very Vegas like. We spent about 3 minutes there one night and that was it. The Safari club at the back end of the ship was a fun area for live music and the looking out the back end of the ship. It also housed the famous self leveling pool tables.
TIP: You've got to see, if not participate in the "Scavenger Hunt" held in the Safari club during one night of the cruise. You've never seen passengers so "revealing" in your life. It was very funny and hosted by Allan, the cruise director.
Decks 2-3 and 7-10 were all cabins
Deck 11 had the Windjammer cafe (the main buffet for breakfast, lunch, and snacks), plus the outdoor and indoor pools, the spa, exercise room, thermal suite, and locker rooms. The outdoor pool area would be a great place to hang out in the warmer weather climates. It had a pool that ran from 4-6 feet deep surrounded by a splashing area. This area contained the water as the ship rocked about. There were tons of deck loungers in blue vinyl, a pool side bar, and an area for a band to play. There were also 2 hot tubs that seemed to vary in temperature as the cruise went along. Moving indoors was the fabulous Solararium pool area. This area had a Thailand motif. There were multiple tropical plants, two large elephant sculptures mounted to the wall, a wooded suspension bridge over the pool, another bar and one additional hot tub, plus the pool. The deck chairs in here were covered with a thick padding. The pool here ran from 4-6 feet deep as well. Two marble staircases on either side of the hot tub merged into the water of the pool. The water temperature was refreshing; not too cold or warm. Be aware that both pools are filled with salt water. It's very clean and pure, but will be a surprising taste on your lips if you're not ready. The hot tubs are fresh water and seemed to be very chlorinated. They stung my eyes a bit. In the evening, the hidden lights changed colors to create different looks. It was beautiful. The ceiling was transparent and looked like it could be opened for warm weather cruises. Further forward on this deck was the spa, exercise room, thermal suite, and hair salon. We did not partake of these features. However, the exercise room appeared to have lots of modern treadmills, eliptical bikes, and weight machines. One of our tablemates commented that the health area was nice.
Deck 12 had the Crown and Anchor lounge, the teen disco called Fuel, a video arcade, the Adventure Ocean Kids Club area, the sports court, a kids pool with slide, golf simulators, and a mini golf course. We looked briefly into Fuel where we got many stares from the teenagers who were in their "private" club. The Adventure Ocean Kids Club was a great area of arts, crafts, computers, maps, games, etc. for kids of all ages. They divide up the youngsters into groups, so your 4 year old is not hanging out with 11 year olds. I highly recommend Royal Caribbean for families with kids. They do a great job. The arcade had your typical video games plus air hockey. The sports court was part tennis, part basketball court. Lots of guys enjoyed this area throughout the cruise. I did not see the golf simulator, but you did have to have a reservation to use it. We played the mini golf course, which was ok at best. The kids pool and slide (the slide is not open all the time) were a hit and nicely separated from the adult areas of the ship. We heard many parents say their kids only wanted to go the the kids club as they were having a ball. There was also a jogging track (6 times around was a mile).
Deck 13 was the top deck and housed the Viking Crown Lounge, and two night clubs called Vortex (which was really part of the same space as the Viking Crown Lounge), and a separate area called Hollywood Odyssey. The area was quiet during the day and a great place to take a book and read. At night the place was jumping with a good DJ playing all kinds of music plus theme music hours (70s, country, etc.). Also on deck 13 was the famous Rock Climbing Wall. You must have reservations, and the wall is open only during selected times. Three people could climb the wall at a time. Each person had a spotter holding their ropes and kept them from falling. It looked fun!
TIP: Sign up for rock climbing early in the cruise as space fills up quickly.
Cabin: We had a category E1 cabin which was a balcony near the front of the ship on deck 9. At 215 square feet or so, including balcony, these cabins are on the small side. Each cabin has a mini fridge, safe, writing desk, plenty of lighting, a TV with multiple channels (CNN, ESPN, Nick, ship channels, etc.), several mirrors including a full length one, and an ice bucket and tongs that was refilled daily. Our cabin had one larger size sitting chair plus our bed. The beds have 4 inch thick foam mattresses that were not the most comfortable thing to sleep on, but not bad if you don't mind a firm bed. Pillows were fluffy and in good supply. In the larger balcony cabins, you get a small couch to sit on. Storage was ok (we had much more storage space on the Princess ship). There was a closet with cubby shelves in the middle and an area on each side to hang things, plus several drawers in the writing desk. We heard talk from some folks with 3 or 4 people in their cabin had to store their luggage out on the balcony. The bathroom was a modular unit with sink, toilet, under sink storage, and a shower. The shower head height was adjustable. I'm 6' 2" and I had no problem fitting under the shower head. Water pressure was meek at best, however, the shower head was a "massager" type and on a coil. They have a shampoo dispenser and body soap, but that's it (ie. no creams, lotions, sewing kits, shower caps). The shower was circular in shape and had two curved plastic doors that you bring together in the middle which meant NO getting wrapped up in a gross shower curtain. Cabin air temperature could be adjusted with a knob next to the bathroom. We like a cold room and we got it! For the warmer climate cruises, I'm sure it's nice. They hide the hairdryer in a cabinet where the safe is. You can plug it in at an outlet at the writing desk or from an outlet in the bathroom located up towards the ceiling.
TIP: Unless you want an interesting experience, don't sit on the toilet and flush at the same time. Also, consider paying a bit more for a balcony cabin. In my business we say once you have a balcony, you don't go back. You may say you aren't planning to spend much time in the cabin, but while you are there, it's a great feature! You can go out on your own private balcony and read, watch the scenery go by, or enjoy a meal in peace and quiet.
Food: This is very subjective, however, in the dining room the food was good and occasionally great. There was a nice variety of selections including beef, chicken, seafood, lobster, pastas, soups, salads and great desserts. The breads/rolls were a bit of a disappointment as they were often dry and stale. We had special bread at our table. More on that below. An excellent wine list and very knowledgeable staff helped enhance the evening. There are two alternative restaurants (both were $20.00 per person cover charge which included tip). One was called Chops which was a steakhouse, and the other was called Portofino, an Italian place. We did not try either one as we were happy in the dining room with our table mates and the food. You did need to make reservations early in the cruise for the establishments. Other reviews have suggested the food at the alternative restaurants is even better.
The Windjammer cafe is the casual buffet area up on deck 11. Most people had breakfast and lunch here (although you can go to the dining room) and in a word, the food here was poor. If you wanted breakfast/lunch/snack in a hurry, this was the place to go, but don't expect much. The eggs were powdered, the pancakes and waffles were stale, the breads were dry, the salads and mystery casseroles tasted like leftovers. You get the point. During meal times, finding an empty table was not a possibility. Plan on sharing a table with others. If you don't mind eating outside, there was a nice "patio" on the back of the ship where you could take your tray. It was a nice view out there, but too cold for Alaska cruises, particulary if the ship is moving.
Other possibilities for food are the Seaview cafe on deck 11 next to the golf simulators. This was hard to find and didn't seem to be open much of the time, so we didn't try it. Room service was efficient and punctual. There was also a pizzaria in the Solarium pool area. The pizza here was good and could settle your afternoon hunger pangs if you have late seating.
In terms of free beverages, you could have water, milk, juices, ice tea, coffee and tea. That was about it. As is the case on most ships, you can purchase a soda card. Royal Caribbean sells them for $6.00/person/day ($42.00 for the week). This gets you unlimited fountain soda drinks. They put a Coke sticker on your cruise card and give you a Coke mug. The cost of a soda separately was about $1.75. They serve Coke products on this ship. For some reason, I thought the fountain drinks tasted different than usual, so I ask for sodas out of the can where available.
TIP: Even if you plan on drinking a lot of soda, get one sticker and share it. If you don't think you will buy 4 sodas a day or you are planning on getting sodas from the can, just buy them individually. Remember the sticker doesn't count for canned drinks.
Service: With very few exceptions, the service on board was EXCELLENT. In the dining room our Waiter (Riza from Turkey) and assistant waiter (Hannah from India) provided outstanding service with a personal touch, such as remembering to bring a plate of lemons for our waters. They were both very friendly and seemed genuinly happy to see us each night and get to know us. We grew fond of them and were sorry to say goodbye as I think they were as well. We also had a head waiter (Uzin) who came to check on us each night to ensure everything was right. One of our tablemates had mentioned that he really liked sourdough bread. I overheard Uzin calling to the kitchen the next day about the bread, and sure enough, we had fresh sourdough bread at our table the rest of the cruise. It's personal touches like this that make a cruise so much fun.
Our cabin steward was excellent as well. I don't remember his name as we saw him once during embarkation and that was about it. We had requested the beds be pushed together but when we arrived, they were not. I asked him if he could change the configuration for us. He said he would do it while we were at dinner. We left, but them came back to the cabin a few minutes later, and he had already made the change. We were never at a loss for towels (yes....we did get the towel figurines a couple nights), and he kept the cabin very clean.
Service at the Guest Relations and Explorations desk was good as well. We did have one problem with ordering our shore excursions. The ship has a system called RCTV which is an interactive system on the TV in your stateroom. You can view shore excursions, view shore excursion videos, check up on you stocks, see where you are via graphics showing ship position, speed, winds, temperature, see your guest folio, order movies (regular and adult), look at a feed from the front of the ship, etc.. Anyway, we ordered our shore excursions through this system, but ended up being double booked for everything. I thought I had done it correctly, but called the Explorations desk and they fixed the problem right away. It turns out they had a computer problem that day.
TIP: as long as you are more than 10 days out from your cruise, book and pay for your shore excursions on line at www.royalcaribbean.com It's much simpler, plus your tickets are provided to you by your cabin steward your first night.
As we walked around, most all of the employees greeted us with a Hello and a smile....some did not. Our assistant waiter Hannah also doubled as a greeter in the Windjammer cafe and hugged us each morning. That was nice.
Entertainment: The theater shows are performed twice nightly for each of the dinner seatings. Early seating shows were at 900p and the late seating shows were at 1045p. On certain nights, the late seating show was made a pre-dinner show and performed at 715p. Watch your "Cruise Compass" (your daily activity guide and schedule) for times. My wife and I are both classical singers and have a lot of stage experience in musical theater and opera, so we have a good knowledge about production values and talent. The two production shows were "Vibeology" and "Stage to Screen" The costumes, lighting, sets, and general production value were outstanding. They obviously spent a lot of money in this theater and on these shows. The talented singers and dancers were good (not great). The Royal Caribbean orchestra was excellent!
Other theater shows included Kelly McDonald, a commedian who was very funny (Seinfeld-esque). There was a magician who was good if you like magicians. There was a headliner singer, Kenny James who was fabulous (a 13 time Star Search winner), a duo who performed circus-like tricks (spinning plates on tubes, balancing on single rail ladder, etc.), the Love & Marriage game (think Newleywed gameshow) and the traditional welcome aboard and farewell shows.
TIP: Don't miss the Love & Marriage game. It was hilarious!!!! Also, if a show only performs once (like the magician did on our cruise), be sure to get to the theater early to get a seat. We ended up standing in the back on the 3rd deck up.
Our cruise director, Allan Brooks was terrific. A very funny guy with energy to burn. He obviously likes his job and certainly enhanced all the entertainment. Watch for his special "sign off" each night. He was the emcee for the Love & Marriage show, and was outrageously funny! You can also see him as "Elvis", a member of "The Village People", and various other encarnations thourought the week.
Other bands, trios, duos, and solo musical acts we're scattered about the ship and sounded good.
Ports of Call:
Hubbard Glacier was our 1st stop (although you don't get off). This is in the Yakutat bay nearing the top of the panhandle of Alaska. What an amazing sight this glacier is!! It's hundreds of feet tall and hundreds of yards wide. As you near the glacier, you start passing chunks of ice in the water. The scenery getting into the bay is beautiful, but once you get to the glacier itself, well...you can't imagine how incredible it is. Parts of it have a blue glow (due to the ice being so compacted that it absorbs all colors of the spectrum except for refracting blue light). You hear the "glacier thunder" which is the sound of the glacier calving (ice falling off the end of it and crashing into the water). Our captain (Nikolas Antanlis) positioned the ship very close to the glacier with the port side facing it first and then turned the ship 180 degrees so the starboard side could see (about 30 minutes per side). So, if you have a balcony or outside cabin, you can enjoy the glacier right from there. If you had an inside cabin, you could stand on the deck 5 or deck 6 promenade. Another great spot was the helicopter pad at the very front of the ship. On our cruise, a native indian guide came aboard and offered narration over the PA system on the area and glaciers. He was difficult to understand, and after a while people kind of tuned him out. Also, there was a glacier talk in the theater that morning from a geologist. It was very interesting if you like science stuff.
TIP: If you want a good spot on the helicopter pad without having to look over lots of people, get there early. They sell hot chocolate and all sorts of various liquored hot drinks to keep you warm out on the pad.
Skagway was our first actual port. It's a small town (about 6 blocks wide by 10 blocks long) which is easy to walk around. There are 3 docks in Skagway. From each dock, there is a town shuttle service called "Smart" I believe. For $1.50 per person, they'll take you from the end of the pier into town and drop you at 3 or 4 different places. Royal Caribbean uses the railroad dock which is big enough to hold two megaships. We were docked behind the Island Princess which made walking to the end of the pier quite a distance. So to alleviate that problem, there is a large golf cart that can drive you to the end of the pier where the "Smart" bus is waiting. There is lots of shopping in town and a couple places to eat. One of them is the Red Onion, which is a former brothel turned into a restaurant. The town has a "colorful" history which you can read up on in one of the many tour books out there. The folks are friendly and happy to help you find the perfect gift (s). When the ships are in town (there were 5 the day we were there), the streets are a crowded, but not unmanageable. You can rent bicycles to get around as well. There are multiple shore excursions offered in each port, but in this review, I will only describe the ones we did. To see other information about other excursions go to www.portreviews.com. We decided upon the White Pass/Yukon Railway and Trail Camp Adventure for $136.00 per person. The train station is located very close to the ships and leave at 3 or 4 intervals during the day. The Victorian parlor cars are fun to ride in, although not much room for your knees between the seats. It traverses up White Pass to around 3000' in elevation. There is narration along the way which describes the various climates you go through. It's a beautiful ride with several hair raising turns next to shear cliffs. You can take the ride to the US/Canadian border or continue on, which we did, to the town of Fraser BC. You will see everything from lush forests and waterfalls to barren tundra. It's about an 1 1/2 hour ride to the top. You can stand between the cars for better picture taking. Complimentary water is available in cleverly shaped bottles. On our tour we continued onto a motor coach for a ride down the other side of the pass. On the train, you pass the US/Canadian border, so before you get on, they check your documentation. On the way down, we stopped for picture taking at a beautiful alpine lake. The last stop was Liarsville which was an old mining camp. They served hot cider and cookies, performed a hokey show and taught you to pan for gold. Naturally, everyone left rich :) The great thing about the camp was it's beautiful location in a rainforest with babbling brooks, a small waterfall and a tree canopy over you.
TIP: Sit on the left side of the train going up. That's where most all of the scenery is.
Juneau, the capital of Alaska, was the next port call. This city was much bigger than Skagway. They had a free tram from the cruise port to the downtown/shopping area that ran every few minutes. Shopping here was much the same as in Skagway. My wife took the Whale Quest, Mendenhall Glacier & Salmon Bake tour for $160.00 per person. First of all, this tour guarantees you will see whales or you will receive most of your money back. She was not disappointed. Her group went out in a specially designed, environmentally friendly jet boat. Basically many animals were getting injured by the propellers of boats so this vessel is propelled by "jets". The engines can be stopped instantly so as not to disturb the wildlife. There was a naturalist onboard describing whales and their lives/patterns. She said it was facinating. They did indeed see many whales including young whales (mostly humpback). Next it was on to Mendenhall Glacier for a walk around of the lakes and forest areas near the glacier. Although not as impressive as Hubbard glacier, she nevertheless enjoyed the scenery. Lastly was a salmon bake. They went to another camp area for a buffet of baked salmon with all the trimmings. She said it was not as good as having a salmon filet. Basically you had to pick around the skin and bones to get to the meat. This was a 6 1/2 tour with time for shopping at the end.
TIP: Unless you really want to eat salmon, save yourself the money and just go on the whale/wildlife quest and then catch a taxi or shuttle to the Mendenhall Glacier visitors center. You'll save money that way
I was reserved for a helicopter tour with a glacier landing and walk around. Unfortunately, it was quite foggy and all the helicopters that morning were grounded. The afternoon weather improved greatly, but those rides were already sold out.
Ketchikan, our last stop, was in between the size of Skagway and Juneau. The ship docked right in the heart of the shopping area. This definately was the best port for shopping. There were 4 ships in port that day, however the dock only holds 3, so the 4th ship (the Norwegian Star) had to anchor offshore and tender their passengers in. If you're looking for jewelry (particularly diamonds) at heavily discounted prices, this is your stop. Of all the stops, this was easily the most convenient from the ship. You got off and were within 50 yards of the stores. We decided to go to the Lumberjack Show which was $29.00 per person. It was located a short walk from the ship and was a great way to spend an 1 1/2 hours. It's an outdoor show area with covered grandstands. We had a great emcee who divided the two grandstands into the Canadian side and the US side. Lots of cheering for your team which consisted of 2 guys per team competing in log chopping, pole climbing, ax throwing, log rolling, chainsaw carvings, etc.. It might sound hokey, but between the action, the amusing emcee, and the "side" shows going on, it was really a lot of fun. Kids especially would enjoy this excursion. In the afternoon, I went on the Misty Fjords Floatplane tour. This was absolutely the highlight of the whole trip for me. We departed from a dock about 1/2 mile from the ships and seeing it's a floatplane, took off from the water right between the cruise ships at the dock and the Norwegian Star. What a thrill! The plane was a 7 seat De Havilland Beaver. Each seat had a set of noise-canceling headsets which played music during the flight with narrations interjected at points along the route by our pilot. The plane is very loud as it had a 13 cylinder radial engine. I was seated in the co-pilot seat which was fun since I have prior piloting experience. The flight started down the shipping channel while we gained altitude and then headed east to the Misty Fjords National Park. The views were incredible! We saw huge waterfalls, shear granite cliff walls, whales swimming in the waters, and gorgeous forests. Then we flew into one section of the fjords where we landed on a fresh water lake surrounded on all sides by granite mountains. Our pilot brought the plane to the shore line where we got out and walked for about 25 minutes. It was literally in the middle of nowhere. What serenity and beauty!! The shore line was covered in a alpine forest with wild berry trees scattered about. You could eat these berries right off the trees. A gentle layer of clouds hugged the tops of the mountains. They don't call it MISTY Fjords for nothing. This was simply the most beautiful place I had ever seen! On the flight back, I was chatting with the pilot about my former flying experience and she asked if I wanted to fly the plane while she ate her lunch. So I got to fly the plane all the way back to Ketchikan. She landed of course, but it was a great thrill. All in all it was about 70 minutes of flight time plus the lake landing. As we left Ketchikan on the back to Vancouver, the ship cruised into the Misty Fjords Park. It was so great to see the same areas by ship as I had by plane a few hours before. The captain stopped the ship at the end of one of the inlets, and gently rotated it so everyone could get 360 degree views. It was beautiful!
TIP: If you don't mind flying in small airplanes, you have to do this tour! It was well worth the $199.00. It's an experience you will get few other places. Go for it! Not all the operators will bring the plane to the shoreline on the lake. Some just stop and have people get out and stand on the pontoons of the plane. Our operator was Island Air Tours operated by a woman named Michelle. Get your tickets inside the Tour Kiosk building right on the dock. Be sure to ask for Michelle's tour company as their are several floatplane companies there.
Ketchikan and Juneau are notorious for their yearly rainfall. Ketchikan averages 15-17 feet of rain per year. That's FEET. On our cruise, we had cloudy skies most of the time whether at sea or in any of the ports. The daytime temperatures were comfortable (60s and low 70s). We packed rain coats and umbrellas, but never used either. Each day, it threatened rain, but we never got much more than a few drops. All of southeast Alaska is a wet area, so you still need to pack for that contingency. The coldest we ever were was actually during sea days while spending time on the outside areas of the ship. The wind chill really gets you here, but by no means is parka and gloves weather. Not surprsingly, the kids on the cruise enjoyed the outdoor pool and many adults enjoyed the outdoor hot tubs.
You will feel some motion on this ship. Most of the cruise is conducted in water that despite nearby land, does cause motion. The higher up you go, the more you feel. We noticed a light shimmy/shaking in our cabin. Perfectly normal as we've felt that before. You will notice some gentle side to side motion as well. Actually you feel rocked to sleep and it's somewhat relaxing. Talking about motion is not meant to scare anyone, but don't assume that just because you're cruising the inside passage on an enormous ship (90,000 GRT), you don't feel anything. It's generally very light. We don't have a problem with motion sickness, but there are numerous remedies for those who do including SeaBands, Dramamine, patches that go behind your ear, etc..
Getting off the ship was the only really negative experience we had. The night before you leave you are ask to leave your luggage outside your stateroom with colored tags on it. In the morning they dismiss you from the ship by color. The order of colors is based on whether you have flights to catch, other tours to go on, post cruise hotels, etc.. Our color was orange. We were expected to be out of our cabin by 800a and to wait in a public area for the announcement of colors. We left our cabin at 750a and went to the pool area to wait. About 930a, after several colors had been called, we went down to the guest relations desk to see when orange would be called as we had a flight out of Seattle at 330p. We were advised orange was called at 738a. The ship was not even supposed to dock until 8a, and by the time the ship cleared customs, it would surely be 830a or 9a before they started to call colors. The other problem was that Royal Caribbean does not "pipe in" the public announcements into the staterooms. If you turn on your TV to channel 32, you can hear them, but we just assumed no colors would be called until later. Anyway, we quickly got off the ship and found the Royal Caribbean ground staff who advised us the bus for Seattle left already, but they could get us on another bus that left at 1030a and would take 3-4 hours to get there. This would be cutting it close, but we should make our flight. Meanwhile, we had no idea where our luggage was. Considering our experience with the 1st transfer, we were not in a very trusting mood with these people. They assured us our luggage went ahead of us on another bus and would be waiting in Seattle. Since we had no way to verify this, we just had to belive it was true and get on the 1030a bus. Fifteen minutes into the bus ride, the driver announced we would arrive at the Seattle airport at 340p. My wife jumped up and questioned the driver who said this was a scheduled bus and made several stops along the way. Well now we were stuck. We had been put on the wrong bus, were going to miss our flight, and had no idea where our luggage was. I phoned the Royal Caribbean customer service desk to advise of what was going on. He put me on hold and called the reps in Seattle and then assured me the supervisor there would meet us with our luggage. At this point, we could do nothing else except hope this was true. After 4 1/2 more hours, we did get to Seattle and the supervisor was really there with our luggage, so kudos to him. In any event, it was quite upsetting and angered us that we had received so many wrong directions and answers. The next flight was relatively empty so we were put on it right away and got home only about 1 hour later than originally planned.
TIP: Listen carefully for your color to be called (even earlier than you think it should)!
LAST TIP: Get some books about Alaska and learn about it's history, glaciers, fjords, and geography. It will really enhance your trip. A really good book is called "Alaska by Cruise Ship" by Anne Vipond.
In SUMMARY, despite the transfer snafus both ways, we had a marvelous time!!! The ship was beautiful, the staff was friendly, we enjoyed our cabin and balcony, the scenery was fabulous, the ports of call were enjoyable. Would we cruise again on the Serenade of the Seas? You bet we would....in a heartbeat! Royal Caribbean has their act together and do a good job (at least on the ship). If you're looking for the ultimate in luxury, food, and service, this is not it. However, if you want good food, great facilities, lots of entertainment, and great scenery, this is your ship. I hope this review, all be it long, has been helpful. Thanks for reading!