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Ed Doucet

Age: 62

Occupation:Retired IT Exec.

Number of Cruises: 4

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Serenade of the Seas

Sailing Date: September 17th, 2006

Itinerary: Alaska

My wife Norma and I were in Vancouver for a three-day meeting, and we booked this particular cruise because its departure date coincided with the end of that obligation. We were accompanied by another couple, and none of us had ever been to Alaska.

For three of the travelers, this was their first visit to Vancouver, and they absolutely loved it. If you have the time, try to spend a few days before or after your cruise, visiting this remarkable city and some of the beautiful surrounding area.

Vancouver has two separate cruise ship facilities, and they are several miles apart. The preferred one is at Canada Place, right in the heart of downtown, and literally across the street from several large hotels. With the harbor and the Rockies in the background, the view from your hotel room window can be stunning. The second facility is the Ballantyne Pier, which is a short cab ride from the major hotels. It’s an excellent facility, but not nearly as impressive visually. We boarded our ship at the Ballantyne pier.

First of all, a few notes about the embarkation/disembarkation. One reads a lot of complaints about this aspect of cruising, but our experience this time was excellent. The process at both ends of the cruise, was fast, efficient, and friendly. I don’t see how it could have been any better; even the customs officials had a friendly smile and made polite conversation! We particularly appreciated the orderly boarding of the airport busses, at the end of the cruise. This was in stark contrast to the absolutely dreadful situations I have experienced in Fort Lauderdale. I’m not sure whether most of the credit should go to Royal Caribbean or to the Port of Vancouver, but it was quite a contrast.

The cruise itself was compromised by the weather, which can be an issue in that part of the world. We were told that the cruise the week before had encountered seven days of beautiful sunshine, but we experienced a lot of fog and rain. We were sailing the last cruise of the 2006 season so this did not come as a surprise to us. The up-side to all the rain is that the Hubbard Glacier was absolutely beautiful. We learned that the overcast skies give the ice a clear blue tint which shows the glacier to advantage. And, we saw lots of whales and porpoises, so maybe they were brought out by the rain. Ironically, at Ketchikan we had to cancel our planned outing to the rain forest because of the heavy rains.

When the weather is poor, most passengers want to be inside, and this puts a strain on the facilities inside the ship. At times this ship seemed really crowded, especially in the areas adjacent to the Centrum. This situation was compounded by the poor placement of some of the daily activities. For example, art auctions were staged in the Centrum, at base level. The noise from these over-amplified proceedings would carry to the common areas in the upper galleries of the Centrum – where there is an open library, and several supposedly ‘quiet areas’. A similar situation existed in the beautiful aft-lounges, where an over-amplified daily Bingo would be held next-door to the card room. Some of these areas became practically unusable during the day because of the excessive noise levels.

Otherwise, the ship-board experience was good, but not up to the standard we experienced on previous cruises with Royal Caribbean. To be fair, the Serenade of the Seas is a beautiful ship and the crew keep it spotlessly clean. Our stateroom attendants were excellent, and most of the hotel crew were friendly and helpful. But there were occasional breakdowns in service. In the dining room, for example, some tables appeared to be receiving excellent service, while some other tables (ours, for example) had inexperienced staff who simply needed more training. Embarrassingly, there seemed to be a minor mix-up of some kind at every meal. As for the food, it was probably average for this category of cruise ship.

On previous cruises, we’ve found the quality of the live entertainment to be better. This time, especially in the lounges, we encountered musicians who seemed to be terminally bored and just going through their paces. By the end of the cruise we were beginning to learn the sequence of some of their repertoires.

Would we repeat this cruise? No. Certainly the weather can play a huge factor in your enjoyment of an Alaskan cruise, but Royal Caribbean simply did not measure up to our expectations in several areas that are not really weather dependent. Fortunately, we were in the company of good friends, so we had a good time despite the spotty service by Royal Caribbean.

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