Occupation:Senior Project Manager
Number of Cruises: 14+
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Serenade of the Seas
Sailing Date: June 26th, 2005
What a great trip! Since I was a child, my father and I always talked about visiting Alaska but never really did anything about making it happen. However, when he started talking about retiring and I found myself hitting "the big 4-0", I realized it was time to take action.
I am an experienced cruier but my father was a first-timer. I was concerned that he would get bored or that a cruise to America's last frontier would be too glitzy for him. Not the case at all. Because the ship is almost always providing beautiful views of the landscape, there was more of a wilderness feeling to our trip than a Vegas showroom feeling some ships can give.
The best tip I can give any potential Alaska cruiser is to spend the extra money for a balcony/veranda. It is worth it. Oceanview would be okay but I really recommend that you have the ability to go outside and experience the sights. Your photos will be better, you'll avoid battling with other passengers to get a good position on the rail on the deck, and you're protected from the weather (warmer and less windy). And, because it never really got truly dark, there's always something to see from your room.
The scenery the first day was breathtaking. Virgin forests growing out of steep rock mountains dotted with an occasional secluded cabin at the shore line. My dad and I did lots of daydreaming about what that lifestyle had to be like.
The day we were to cruise Hubbard Glacier was overcast and a bit drizzly. However, this is the best way to see the glacier for two reasons...first, the glacier simply appears out of the fog out of no where like a ghost. You could hear the whole ship gasp as it came into view. It was pretty neat. Also, the glacial ice's color is more vibrantly blue with indirect sunlight. The glacier was huge. There was another cruise ship in the bay viewing the glacier before us and in comparison, it looked like a child's toy. My dad and I were facinated by the calving of the glacier. The closest ships can get is about 0.25 - 0.5 miles away. It feels like you're pretty close until it calves...you see a huge splash of the ice crashing into the sea but then you hear the thunder of the impact. There is a delay in the sound reaching the viewer. It was very cool. Another tip is to bring or rent binoculars. Without them, I couldn't have viewed the harbor seals that rest on the pieces of ice floating down stream from the glacier. I used them daily. Also, a zoom lens for cameras is a must!
In Skagway, my dad and I took the Eagle Preserve Quest excursion. What a great way to spend the day. We took a big, comfortable ferry from Skagway to Haines. We had a local native give us an introduction to the local culture of the indians on the way. Very informative. No animal life spotted but lots of beautiful glacier waterfalls and stream coming down the face of the mountains. Once in Haines, we transferred to a tour bus to the Eagle Preserve. Again, no animals but a great local native continued our overview of their way of life. Once at the river, we had lunch and boarded open air 16-person John boats. We spent about 2-2.5 hours on the river going up and down a maze of channels in search of eagles. We saw a lot of them. We also saw a 1200 pound eagles' nest. Imagine a nest the size of a VW suspended in a tree. Again, the scenery was breathtaking. There were two places in particular that gave us a great panoramic view of the Chilkoot mountain range.
In Juneau, dad and I went our separate ways. He did the Fly In Fly-fishing excursion and said he really enjoyed it. (He had to book that excursion months in advance because of the limited participation available.) I opted for the whale watching, Mendenhall Glacier, and Orca Point Lodge excursion. This was the high point of the trip for me. We were witness to not one but two breaches by a humpback whale. One breach was about 24 foot off the side of the boat. He breached so close to the boat that his splash got some of us wet. It was simply unbelievable! Orca Point Lodge was a complete waste of time. It's simply a cafeteria built on a lake. Very disappointing. I beach-combed rather than ate. I found evidence of sea otters on the beach. Mendenhall Glacier was pretty neat (not as impressive as Hubbard) but because we were running late, we didn't have time to make the climb to the visitor's center. (There are elevators or a twisting walking path.) There was a nice viewing platform off of the parking lot so it wasn't too disappointing.
Unfortunately I injured my back somehow during the trip and by the time we docked in Ketchican, I had to take the day off and spent it in bed to try to recouperate. Didn't see anything but my cabin's ceiling. :)
The Serenade itself is a beautiful boat. Some cruise ships have furniture in commom areas that is attractive but not comfortable (too small for some "queen sized" bodies) but I was very comfortable everywhere. There are great bronze statues at the pools (one of a fat man with an inner tube and bathing cap climbing into the pool, the other of a panther lounging on the pool edge dangling two paws in the water). We really enjoyed that.
The food was standard cruise ship faire. Not bad but not great.
A minor criticism I have is that the Solarium (the indoor pool under the glass dome) is advertised as adults only however, they give "family time" from Noon to 4pm daily. I heard several people complaining about that, too. It was hard to enjoy the environment because of the yelling and running.
My cabin steward and our dining staff were great. No complaints at all.
My dad and I were beat by the time dinner was over (we had second seating) so we didn't see any of the shows.
There was a guitarist on the boat, Ramon, who was amazing. Rock, Salsa, classical, Flamenco, you name it. He was great. He appeared in the dining room one night which was a great treat. No singing, no big show, just a talented man with a guitar doing what he obviously loves to do.
And, if you fly, I highly recommend spending the $15 for the Onboard Baggage Check In. You get to bypass customs. Your luggage is sent directly from the boat to your final destination. It was so convenient. No shlepping bags around (until you get to your home airport, of course!)
If you decide to go, I'm sure you'll enjoy yourself.