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Rhonda Tallant

Age: 42

Occupation:Customer Service Manager

Number of Cruises: 5

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Serenade of the Seas

Sailing Date: May 29, 2005

Itinerary: Alaska


This was our 4th cruise to Alaska and my 5th cruise overall. We have previously sailed on Princess for 2 Alaskan cruises, Holland America for one to Alaska and Royal Caribbean for one Caribbean cruise. I can say, right off, that this one ranked in the top two of all the cruises I've taken. Except for the disembarkation and a few minor quirks, which I will cover in more detail later, this cruise was wonderful.

My husband and I were treating his parents to a cruise and we knew we wanted it to be Alaska. While they are avid road travelers (take 2-3 weeks and drive across the country), they had never been on a cruise and my mother-in-law had only been on a plane once in her entire life. My parents also decided to go so we had 3 couples in all. In deciding which cruise to select, I had 3 criteria in mind. I didn't want a huge mega ship that would overwhelm my in-laws. I wanted one where we could afford a larger suite for ourselves so we would have a room where we could all meet (plus I'm spoiled now and like suites!), and, of course, I wanted one that had decent reviews. Royal Caribbean's Serenade of The Seas met all my criteria so we booked it.

Pre-Cruise:
As I mentioned, my parents also decided to join us and my mom is an experienced traveler and cruiser. Her and I did the planning for this trip. I selected the cruise and made our flight arrangements. She researched and selected the hotel. I do not ever book my travel with the cruise line as I've heard too many horror stories of needless connecting flights, long layovers, etc..

We elected to fly into Vancouver the day before and stay overnight in Vancouver again at the end of the cruise. My mom researched hotel reviews on-line and selected the Sandman hotel in Vancouver. They had a Cruise and Fly package which included pickup at the airport, overnight stay and then transportation to the cruise ship the next day. Reviews were good and the Cruise and Fly package sealed the deal. BIG MISTAKE! I can not, in any way, recommend this hotel! We arrived late in the evening on Saturday. Check in took forever as there was only one person at the desk and we had to wait almost 15 minutes while she was on the phone trying to give driving directions. After finally getting checked in, we went to our rooms and I found our room was like an oven. We turned on the air then met everyone else in the hotel restaurant as we were all starving. The food was good, but the service was some of the worst I've ever experienced. My meal arrived almost 10 minutes later than everyone else's. They were nearly finished eating when I finally got it. Breakfast the next morning was the same thing! They brought my father-in-law the wrong meal to begin with and after waiting 10 minutes for them to bring the right one, we finally flagged the waitress down and asked when it would be delivered. She goes to check, comes back and says What exactly did you order? They had not even started to cook it. We didn't have time to wait, so he got a free order of toast (big deal!). On top of all that, the air-conditioning through-out the hotel is awful. Our room was an oven all night, it never cooled down. My parents and in-laws had better luck with the a/c, but not much. Their rooms were comfortable but not as cool as they would have liked. We were supposed to stay there another night when the cruise was over, but I had them cancel the reservation when I checked out. After listing off all the problems we encountered, they did give me one room free. Kudos to them for that at least.

Embarkation:
The cruise and stay package included transportation to the cruise ship. A large mini-bus picked us up and the hotel and delivered us to the cruise ship terminal. The cruise and stay package is actually something that is offered at several Vancouver hotels so it makes several stops to pick up additional passengers. It was a nice roomy bus though and we were comfortable. From previous experience, I've learned not to arrive early as you will only have to wait in line. We arrived around 1:30 pm and there was no line at all. We were checked in, through customs and on the ship by 2:15. As we walked on board we were told the rooms were not all quite ready and to please allow 15-30 minutes. So we headed to the Windjammer buffet for lunch.

Our Cabins:
As I previously mentioned, we splurged on this trip and got a larger suite. It was actually an Owners Suite on deck 10. I have to say WOW!! The cabin was awesome and my husband and I are both afraid we may never be able to go back to a smaller room. I know that most people won't ever book a room like this so I don't want to spend a lot of time on the details, but I do have to mention a little. It was over 500sq feet of pure luxury. The bathroom in this cabin was as large as one of the small cabins. It had a nice Jacuzzi tub and separate large shower. It also had a separate bidet (which we never used). There was so much storage space in the room that we didn't even use the drawers. The extra little perks you get with a suite were nice too! We had access to a special concierge lounge where you could get free drinks and appetizers. Every day something special was delivered to the room like a plate of treats (chocolate covered strawberries, cookies, etc). We also had 2 pair of slippers which we got to use and then take home with us. The suite had a surround sound system with speakers in the ceiling so the sound was awesome. Only drawback was that you couldn't turn the speakers off over the bed so that one person could watch TV in the living area and the other take a nap. Small price to pay though as it was just a real special treat to have this type of cabin!

My in-laws and parents had balcony cabins on deck 9. I felt these cabins were a bit small compared to similar cabins on other ships. The nice part was the sofa sitting area though as it is uncomfortable if you are spending any time in your cabin to have to sit on your bed the whole time. My dad liked the showers with the round enclosed doors. For regular size people these are fine but for us larger folks, there might be some problems with maneuvering and turning around!

The balconies on all the rooms were nice and private. Of course the one in our owner's suite was simply huge. It would easily hold 20 people or more. I loved sitting out there when we were in port and watching all the goings on!

I found the beds to be a little hard but that's common on all cruise ships. Another thing I don't like is that when they put the two twin beds together to form one bed, they need to come up with something that keeps the two mattresses from sliding out in the middle. We would get up in the morning and have a 3-4 inch gap between then. And if you accidentally rolled over into the gap-ouch! This is not just on this ship but all ships.

The Ship The ship is gorgeous and extremely well maintained. The staff on this ship is constantly cleaning and maintaining it. No matter where I was, I would see someone wiping something down, bussing tables, or picking up trash. It was not intrusive or anything, I just noticed them and admired how clean they keep this ship. When you got up from a table in the Windjammer, it was cleaned within minutes.

I found the layout of this ship to be great (except for the one area I mention below--the shops) and after only a day, I knew where everything was. Unlike other large mega ships where it's 2-3 days before you know how to get around! One negative is the elevators. There are only 2 sets of elevators. One located mid-ship on the left side which contained 6 lifts and the 2nd set is at the front of the ship and it has 4 lifts. There were none at the back of the ship or the right side of the ship. There was almost always a wait for an elevator and people, tired of waiting, would push their way into an already crowded elevator. For someone with mild claustrophobia, this was very uncomfortable for me! The elevators mid-ship were awesome though. Four of the lifts, on the left side, face out over the water. The view is something. When you are off the ship, you can see people riding the elevators. The other 2 mid-ship elevators face the atrium so that view is great too.

Our cabins were all located very close to the mid-ship elevators so we had easy access to all the main parts of the ship. All the main areas are located real close to the mid-ship elevators which made it easy to get where you wanted to go. I recently injured my knee so was not up to doing a whole lot of exploring but my husband and father-in-law spent quite a bit of time covering every inch of the ship. My husband liked the layout more than other ships we have traveled on. I think some of that has to do with the size-not as much walking to get from one end to the other.

We ate in the Windjammer for most breakfasts and lunches. We never had a problem finding a place to sit. I don't know if that was due to the times we ate or what, but I know other reviews have mentioned never being able to find a table. We never had that problem and I know the ship was completely full. The layout of the Windjammer buffet was great with different stations for salad bar, sandwich bar, hot food, desserts, etc. Again, rarely did we have to wait in line or experience any problem in the Windjammer. The quality of the food was consistent with other ships with some foods being outstanding (the meat sauce for the pasta was delicious) and others just
average.

We had 2nd seating in the main dining and were seated at a table for 10. There were the 6 of us and then 2 other ladies showed up only 2 of the 7 nights. No one ever sat in the other 2 seats so it was really like we had the whole big table to ourselves. I didn't see any other empty seats in the dining room. Our waiter (Almario) and assistant waiter (Dennis) were outstanding. After the first night, they called us by our names every night, remembered what each of us drank, knew who wanted coffee after dinner and never missed a beat the entire cruise. In fact, the last night they do a farewell song (kinda corny but cute). Because they had to participate in the song, Dennis was unable to bring my dad his coffee when he normally would.

When the song was over, he rushed over with a coffee cup and apologized profusely for the delay-like it was his fault! I know these guys are working this hard because they want a good tip, but you can tell when someone is really a nice guy and not just acting nice. All the staff we encountered was genuinely nice and attentive.

As for the meals in the main dining room, for the most part they were excellent. They announced on the last night of the cruise (when they bring out all of the kitchen staff and chefs) that we were the first cruise to experience all new menus and selections. My husband normally always ordered 2 entrees and except for one fish dish which had some weird green sauce on it, he found them to be excellent. I found some of the selections to be a little fancy for my taste and ordered the standard Steak a couple of the nights. The steak was perfectly cooked and wonderful. The only bad night was the shrimp and lobster night. The lobster was small and overcooked. Luckily I wasn't very hungry that night. I was disappointed that the baked Alaska was served already sliced and plated. Previous cruises they brought it out flaming. We had a couple special requests that were met with no problem at all.

We didn't use the pools but did spend time around the pool areas and the pool bar. All looked clean and nice. We didn't use the spa facilities either so I can't comment there. We made it to the casino a couple times and didn't win anything. I really found this casino to be tighter than others cruise ships I've been on where I actually walked out with more money than when I went in. Not this time.

I do have to say that I didn't much care for the layout of the shops. There was no real walkway, it was like one continuous shop. You had to walk through the shops to get to the photo gallery/art gallery area. Often the shops area would be jammed and we would have to walk out on to the deck (in the wind) to get around it. This was really the only layout problem I saw and it really was minor compared to all the other good things.

I also wanted to mention the room service. We ordered room service for breakfast on 2 occasions and lunch on 1 occasion. This ship has an interactive channel on the TV where you can place your order through the TV.

We tried it and received our lunch in 20 minutes. For the breakfast we filled out the card the night before and placed it on the door. The real nice thing was they would call us in the morning BEFORE bringing the meal to see if we were ready. I don't know if they did that for everyone or because we had a high-dollar suite? As for the quality, the lunch was a sandwich and a burger-both good. The breakfast was omelets with bacon, sausage or both and hash browns. It was served steaming hot and was good also. I wouldn't say great, just good.

Excursions:
Again, this was our 4th cruise, but was a first for my in-laws. Had it just been us, we probably would not have book any excursions as we have pretty much done and seen everything we wanted to. Since we were taking 1new eyes we booked an excursion in every port. My parents, who have been to Alaska 4 times before elected to opt out of the excursions except my mother did go on the whale watching in Juneau.

Skagway- We booked the Skagway Extravaganza I chose this excursion because it was a combination of several other single excursions. All in all it was great but very long! First we took a bus up to the summit. Beautiful scenery. The bus stops at 2 photo opportunity places. At the top we then boarded the White Pass Railway to ride the train back down to Skagway. Our bus was assigned one car on the train and we filled the train car. The benches were hard wood benches so it was a little uncomfortable, but the scenery was, again, awesome. The train does not stop until it reaches Skagway. I don't know how long it took but it seemed like a long ride.

From there we got back on the bus and were taken to Liarsville camp for a grilled salmon lunch. Gotta say the lunch was excellent. I don't even like fish but ate every bite of that salmon! After lunch we walked across the camp to see a short show which was pretty entertaining. The funniest part of the whole trip was seeing my church deacon father-in-law get sandwiched by two girls in dancehall outfits. He got into the spirit of it though and posed for several pictures. After the show everyone was walked over to 1pan for gold. I opted out and went to find a bathroom while they panned. After panning, we boarded the bus again to head back to the city where the tour was to end with a tour of the Red Onion Saloon. We had already spent close to 6 hrs on this excursion so we all opted out of the last part of the tour and elected to walk through the town before re-boarding the ship. I like Skagway a lot even though it is your typical tourist town. We had perfect, sunny weather this whole day.

Juneau- We purchased a whale watching excursion separately through our
travel agent instead of booking it through the ship. We did the ship whale watching tour and lodge visit the previous year in September and had the most awesome time. We saw tons of whales and had one come right up to our ship that time. Unfortunately, we learned that May is not the best time as the whales have just returned from Hawaii for feeding and, according to our guide, they don't do a lot of surfacing or breeching as they are focused on eating and eating. So, on this excursion we only saw about dozen whales and it was from a distance and none of them came high out of the water. One neat part was they took us by a large buoy that was crowded with sea lions. We were able to get real close and watch these cute creatures play in the water. I still recommend taking a whale watching excursion either through the ship or separately as you just never know and if you get lucky like we did last yea it's something you won't soon forget. After the excursion, we took the tram which I had never done before. The sites from up that high are breathtaking and I recommend this also although the price is a little steep at $25.00. We ended the day with a meal at the Red Dog Saloon. I don't know if we were just starving or what, but we found the lunch to be one of the best we had the whole trip. We again had perfect sunny weather the entire day.

Ketchikan- We booked one of the Totem Village excursions. I wish I could remember the exact name of it because I do not recommend it at all. We all found it to be pretty boring. I thought they would spend more time on the town tour, but they only talked about a couple of the sites in town then straight to the Totem Village. None of us enjoyed this tour at all. Part of it could have been the fact that it was lightly raining the entire time, but all in all we found it to be boring.

This cruise went to Hubbard Glacier and even though I've seen it 3 times now, it never ceases to amaze me. It's just beautiful. It helped that we had another perfect, sunny day!

Disembarkation:
Here's where I feel the biggest issues are. Getting off the ship went very smoothly. We were staying overnight in Vancouver so were one of the last groups off the ship. This was not a problem. We had to be out of our room by 8am so we waited in one of the bar areas until our color was called. By 9:30 our number was called and we then had to, again, wait for an elevator and then quickly were able to walk off the ship to the terminal. The wait to go through customs wasn't too bad. Once through customs it was on to find our luggage. This also went pretty smoothly. The terminal has an ample supply of luggage carts (like you have at airports). This was not something I've seen on other cruise so we really, really liked this!

The nightmare came once we exited the terminal. The line to get a taxi was unbelievably long and the number of taxis was miniscule. I was used to Seattle where the taxi's lined up around the block. In Vancouver there were maybe 4 at a time with several minutes in between before more showed up. There was a lot of time spent waiting for even one taxi to show up. It took over an hour of standing in line before we got a taxi. This really put a big damper on the trip. In the future, I'd recommend getting the ships airport transfer even if you are staying overnight in Vancouver. Go to the airport and catch a taxi from there or else just sit down in the pier snack area for an hour or so until the line thins out. It was a nightmare and definitely needs better coordination!

Once we finally got a taxi we had him take us to the LaQuinta hotel in Richmond. It's located about 7 miles from the airport. This hotel is not even a year old and was great. It's located in a mainly Asian neighborhood so all the closest restaurants were Asian themed. We walked about two blocks, though, to a small mall which had a restaurant called Ernies.

Had one of the best hamburgers I've ever had! The hotel provides free shuttle service to the airport so we took the shuttle to the airport the next morning and headed home.

Tips & Things to Know:

Airlines are super strict on the luggage weight. Be sure your suitcase does not weigh over 50 lbs or you will be charged a premium.

All the cabins on this ship have a hair dryer so don't bother packing one. They also have a safe.

I used to pack hangers with my clothes as they usually were not enough hangers. I've learned you can ask the cabin attendant for more and save the luggage weight.

When you fill out your breakfast card, you can write in special requests like Ketchup, or Crisp Bacon and they will fill it!

The ship offers an automatic tipping option so that you don't have to worry about counting out the right amount of cash and having the right amount of change to do it. They give you voucher to put in the envelopes instead. It's convenient, but the only problem is that you can alter the. 1suggested tips in any way. We only saw our Head Waiter once for about 30 seconds the entire cruise and I didn't feel it warranted a tip. But we did the automatic tipping so he got one. Even had I not given it to him, we were charged for it so we gave it to him. It wasn't much so no big deal. You can, as we did for our waiter and asst. waiter, add extra cash in with the voucher.

Be prepared for having your picture taken at every opportunity. Although we found that saying 'No Thanks' was okay too. We did pose for a couple family portraits on formal night but other than that, we weren't paying the high fee they charge for pictures (all ships charge the same).

Unless you have a bath/shower combination, don't count on using the shower for steaming clothes. The doors go almost to the top so not much steam escapes! I was glad I packed a light weight steamer.

I attended a couple of the art auctions and really liked it. If you like art or need any for your home, it's a good deal. I got 3 Thomas Kinkade prints for almost half of what I would have paid at home.

While many people will tell you that you don't need to pay extra for a balcony cabin, there are just as many others (like me) who will tell you that a balcony is a near must on an Alaskan cruise. If you can possibly swing it, get a balcony. There's nothing like waking up and walking out on the balcony with a cup of coffee, in your comfy jammies and seeing the sights of Alaska!


Summary:
I highly recommend this cruise and this ship. Except for the few negatives I mentioned, it was an awesome trip. I will definitely sail with RCCL again! And even though we've been to Alaska 4 times now, we have already booked another Alaskan cruise for 2006. We are going back to Princess in 2006. Not because we found any fault with RCCL, we just like to change it up! Feel free to e-mail if you have any specific questions!

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