This was our second cruise with Royal Caribbean, a previous one in 2005 to the Caribbean for our honeymoon on Explorer of the Seas. On this cruise, two of our best friends (who are husband and wife and one their second cruise...first on explorer without us) joined my wife and I. Some points for the whole cruise:
*I will say that for all the excursions talked about here, they were booked through RCCL. They seemed reasonably priced and we really enjoy the comfort of knowing the ship will wait for you if any delays should occur. We have done this in the past and will continue in the future.
*We had second seating for dinner. I really like this because we never feel rushing in port to get back to the ship and it gives us time to relax before going to dinner. We usually got snacks in the late afternoon to tide us over.
*I have heard someone else mention they thought the ship was very crowded, but we didn't feel it at all. It seemed just as wonderful as the Explorer of the Seas, but we have decided that we like the amenities so much on Serenade and Explorer, we probably won't sail a ship smaller than the Serenade in the future.
*This was our first cruise with crown and anchor coupons and we loved them. They really are a savings and we used almost every one.
*Our wine packages of 5 bottles were plenty, especially with a bottle sent to us as a gift from a friend. Each couple purchased a 5 bottle package and some nights we just shared one, and others we shared two. It allowed us to always have a white and a red at the table. Also, one of our group likes carbonated water.
They offer it, but it's a great deal. A large bottle (wine bottle size) for the table is $2.50, good value.
Pre-Night Day 1:
Our cruise was scheduled to leave Vancouver, BC on Saturday so we decided to book a pre-night on Friday. We have done this in the past and feel it just makes things more relaxed and gives you a chance to get away from "life" before you start all the fun on the cruise. Our air/transfer arrangements from Northern VA were purchased through RCCL (we enjoy the added piece of mind it's their obligation to get us there on time, etc). Our flight on Delta left Washington Dulles very early in the morning, connected in Salt Lake City, and then arrived in Vancouver around noon local time. Vancouver airport is wonderful with it's elevated walkways and artwork. We also enjoyed the FREE baggage carts to haul the mounds of luggage around. After collecting our luggage we found the RCCL representative and he directed us to the bus (full coach size) that would take us downtown to the Sutton Place Hotel. We left the airport and about 40 minutes later, after stopping at other nearby hotels like Hyatt, Sheraton, etc we were at our hotel. Check-in was very speedy and we were provided with an envelope. Inside the envelope was a welcome letter that stated we needed to have our luggage for the cruise packed and ready to go by 8:30am in our hotel room the next morning. It also said that a RCCL rep would meet us in the lobby by 10:00am and the bus would depart at 11:00am. The hotel was very nice, rooms were clean and fairly large, beds were nice. our wives enjoyed the afternoon tea the hotel offered for $20 per person while us guys explored vancouver. We found the hotel to be within walking distance of Canada Place, Gastown, the Sky Train, Top of Vancouver Restaurant, and the Steamworks Brewing Company. After he and I had a snack and beer at the brewing company, we returned to the hotel and hit the locker rooms, steam room, and eventually indoor pool at the hotel with our wives. After a nice swim it was time for dinner which we had made reservations for (made them in March for our July cruise and they were already filling up). Dinner was at the Top of Vancouver Restaurant. We left early for dinner on foot and took a slow walk to Canada Place Pier where we went out on the pier and watched the floatplanes come and go. Then we walked back inland to the restaurant. The restaurant is in a circular building and rotates 360 degrees. We made 4 laps during our meal and got to see a wonderful sunset. We also saw many sights we didn't plan on seeing, but where fun to say "you saw them" like the sports stadiums, the science museum,ski resorts in the distance, etc. Other landmarks were Canada Place Pier, the Lions Gate Bridge, and Gastown.The pricing was pretty expensive as we expected, but the food was very good for a place we really went to for the atmosphere. It was empty when we arrived for our 7:00pm reservation, but what quickly packed. As I said pricing was up there, for four of us it was about $400 (appetizers, dinner, wine, dessert). There is a separate observation deck that you can go to if you don't want to eat at the restaurant (no fee for the elevator there), I think the fee for the observation deck was $18 per adult and $13 per child. After a 20 hour day, we were ready for bed and skipped the 40ft Chocolate Buffet that the hotel serves every Friday night, although it was tempting ($20 per person I think).
Cruise Day 1:
We woke up and packed our bags excited for the cruise to start after a year of waiting. At EXACTLY 8:30am a hotel rep came and got our bags from our room. We would not see our bags again until we got on the ship (although I did spy them being loaded into a box truck out back of the hotel). We met our friends downstairs in the lobby and decided we wanted to go to Gastown for the morning. We had breakfast at the hotel buffet which was quick and good ($20 per person). After breakfast we didn't see the RCCl rep yet, but it was early, so I asked the Concierge if she was there yet and they told me she was upstairs in the ballroom. We went up there and she had her table and everything setup. She took our ID's our information and told us we were set. She asked we be back a little before 11:00am for the bus. We then headed out to Gastown for the morning. It was cool and sunny and nice to get away from the Virginia heat. We shopped at many stores, some were very touristy, but nice. We watched the steam powered clock on the corner, and took some pictures. We got back to the hotel and they had moved the RCCl rep into the lobby at the desk. There were about 15 people there for our cruise. While waiting I went to the hotel gift shop and got waters for everyone very cheap $2 a piece for large bottles.The bus was about 10 minutes, but arrived and we were all checked off as we got on. Once on the bus, we stopped at two other hotels to pick up other guests and we were off to Ballantyne Pier. On the way to the pier the RCCL rep pointed out many landmarks and facts about the city/port. When we arrived at the pier, we were directed inside where we were screened for security, then checked in and assigned our seapasses.Then we went to customs and "returned to the U.S." After customs, we got on the ship and our cruise had begun. From bus to ship was probably 30 minutes max. Once on the ship, we checked out our staterooms which were ready. We had an Ocean View on deck 4 and our friends had an interior directly across the hall from us. The new bedding was wonderful and the rooms were in perfect shape. We then explored some of the Serenade before ending up at Windjammer for lunch. I'll just say here that the food was wonderful all week at all the restaurants. After lunch we went to chops to make our reservations for Monday night. Going back to our staterooms, about half of our luggage had arrived. We changed and went to the solarium for some swimming and the hot tub. Later we changed and went up on deck for sailaway. Sailaway was smooth and on time. It was amazing to see how many cars and people stopped on the Lion's Gate bridge when we went under to watch us sail out. The rest of the day included more swimming, unpacking, dinner in the dining room (beautiful table for 4 near the window), and some casino time.
Cruise Day 2: At Sea
After waking up and having breakfast at the Windjammer, we had our first day at sea. This included the only ship shape dollars we received the whole cruise for walking on deck because the weather was so wet and cool the rest of the week. The rest of the the day we spent in the pools, casino, and other activities. My wife went to the arts and crafts classes each day and highly recommends them all, she made some really cute stuff. Dinner, then a show with the RCCL dance group before bed.
Cruise Day 3: Sitka
The weather was cloudy, but dry when we arrived in Sitka. Tenders were required so everyone had to either get a tender ticket or report to the specified area of the ship for their cruise booked excursion. All of our excursions were booked through the cruise so after breakfast the girls went to the theater to meet for their History and Nature Hike. My friend and I also reported to the theater for our sport fishing excursion. After a short wait, the excursion left on time to the tender station. We were able to ride on the top of the tender while going ashore. Before we got off the tender we saw a starfish in the water and a bald eagle on the top of a light pole.
RCCL King Salmon Sportfishing Excursion: We assembled on the dock and got on a small bus that ran us over to the harbor. There we were asked who was fishing for Salmon and who was fishing for Halibut. Everyone seemed to be assigned a boat based on how many were in each group. We were paired up with two other guys and assigned to a 29ft long boat. The captain had a large cooler of water, soda, and other drinks as well as chips and snacks. We paid our license fees (cash only remember) and while doing so another captain mentioned how windy it was. We got in the boat and left harbor, our captain told us we would be going about 11 miles out today which sounded far, but the land to the north was only about 3 miles away the whole time, so he meant directly out from the harbor. The water seemed to be pretty rough, but nobody on board had ever experienced a weak stomach so it was no big deal. When we arrived at the spot, there were many other boats nearby, both private and ship excursions, and commercial vessels (apparently they were close in to shore this day because of the weather). We stopped and the downriggers were lowered. At this point, one guy was unsure about his stomach and moved out of the cab into the stern to sit.After about 15 minutes, we did not have any bites and the boat was really rolling (5-10ft swells we were told), and he got sick. Another 20 minutes, no fish, my friend was sick. Another hour and I was sick, and another hour everyone was sick. After bobbing for 4 hours, we took a poll and decided to pack it in (one hour earlier than scheduled). Once we were underway everyone felt better. Sitting at idle just rolling was what did it and I am fairly certain that everyone (I can vouch for myself) on the boat does not usually get seasick. Once back in the harbor, the captain apologized and we left to wait for the girls to finish their excursion. In my opinion the beam (width) of the boat was pretty narrow and contributed to the rolling. I expected a larger boat (not really longer though) with a fly bridge and wider beam, I think this might have helped. When back in harbor we heard many stories of folks who hooked fish, but didn't land them. We did see one private boat come in with smaller children and 4 salmon on board. This boat was considerably wider than ours however.
RCCL History and Nature Hike Excursion: Since I wasn't on this excursion, this is all hear-say, but I'm told it was wonderful. This excursion included trips to the nearby Russia house, a hike, and a trip to the raptor center which was the highlight. Here they saw bald eagles that were injured and being cared for, but also saw wild bald eagles come "to visit" throughout the time they were there. It was very informative and educational.We met up with the girls in town and visited many of the shops, purchasing Russian dolls, cross stitch and quilting materials for gifts and lunch. After a couple of hours shopping the weather began to get worse so we decided to go back to the ship. On the tender the roof was no longer open and it was pouring rain with wind. The tender rolled pretty bad, but the crew was wonderful and got everyone on board the ship without and problem. We immediately changed into swimsuits and found spots in the solarium to have our freshly made crepes and pizza (at the snack bar), read, and look out the windows with binoculars. About an hour before the ship was set to depart, they turned her around in the harbor and we were able to see a lot of otters, eagles, and other wildlife with the binoculars on the surrounding islands. Once the last tenders were on board, we left port on time. The rest of the evening was relaxing, listening to piano in the Schooner bar, Casino, a presentation in the safari club by a professor on the glacier and formal night #1 for dinner.
Cruise Day 4:Hubbard Glacier
After waking up and going to Windjammer for breakfast, many shops opened up on deck for the day. They had fleeces, notepads, plush moose, husky, and polar bears, rainpants, binoculars, and hats for sale. We purchased a stuffed moose and husky, the moose for us, the husky for a nephew, along with some nice alaska notepads. The pricing seemed comparable to a regular store. We were so excited to see the glacier we then went to our stateroom and out on the helipad for the approach. The wind was very strong, mainly from our speed and the temperature really dropped as you approached. After standing up front for nearly an hour, we came back inside and warmed up. We then met up with our friends and headed to the helipad again as we got really close. On deck and in the solarium, the crew handed out wool blankets for everyone to use. Also, hot chocolate was being sold in many places on deck with or without liquor. The crowds were very large all around the front of the ship, but soon many folks began to get too cold or wet for their comfort and left making room for everyone else. It was cloudy and while broken up, the ice pack was impressive. You could feel the front of the ship vibrate as some of the larger pieces impacted the hull. We were told we moved as close as we could to the glacier as we could have on any other day under the best conditions. I estimate we were 100 yards at our closes point. After stopping for awhile, the captain rotated the ship clockwise 90 degrees. We found a great spot in the back corner of the bow that was under cover for viewing while everyone else stayed on the tip of the bow. This allowed us to take many photos of ourselves with a camera timer, watch the glacier and not get too wet. After some time the rain really began to pick up (waterproof jacket, pants, and a good hat..cowboy style or baseball are a must). We went back to the room as the ship was rotated another 90 degrees clockwise and then departed. As far as I could tell the port side of the ship was never directly facing the glacier, perhaps they ran out of time since the approach was so slow through the ice pack. On our way back from the glacier, a princess ship that had followed us half way to the glacier and stop, turned around and followed us back out. Also, we saw a Holland America ship go between our ship and the Princess ship on it's way to the glacier. I'm not sure how close they got. I was very impressed with the ability of our ship and our captain to get so close and so cautiously. I'm sure how close we got is very much due to the technology on the ship (Azipods, etc). After changing at the room,the rest of the day involved activities like arts and crafts, swimming, casino,and bingo.
We attended the Crown and Anchor party and enjoyed all the free drinks we wanted, met the captain, and were introduced to folks who had cruised with RCCl 45 times. One gentleman cornered the captain during the Q&A and asked him why the electrical outlets in the bathroom weren't labeled better for the different voltages. The captain handled this very well and told him he would make a note of it, but did mention that they were different socket types so you couldn't get them wrong. The man replied that apparently he had a converter (which I assume didn't contain a transformer in it) and was able to plug something into the wrong voltage. The captain apologized and did his best to answer the question. We later saw the captain talking with him in private, I assume he got a free hair dryer or whatever out of it (some folks just don't think).We also purchased day passes at the spa and sat on the thermal-lounges, in the sauna, and steam room as we watched the ice bergs go by. We considered getting the weekly pass, but were happy to just pay when we wanted it so we didn't feel pressured to "get the most of our money" on the weekly pass. When returning to our room to change for dinner, our door lock did not work with any of our cards. My wife had this happen to her when she placed her card near something magnetic and had to have it replaced. We could not believe this had happened again, especially to both cards. We went to guest services and he made us new cards and walked us to our room to try them since the crewmember suspected that the door lock had a dead battery. Sure enough, it didn't work. maintenance was called and we hung out with our friends in their room until they showed about 15 minutes later with security. Security let him in the door, and a minute later a new battery was in and the door functioned fine. After changing we had dinner at Chops which was perfect in every way. We also went to the show that evening, I can't remember the performer, but he did impressions of singers with the orchestra. He was good, although some of the songs/singers while famous, were pretty dated.
Cruise Day 5: Skagway
When we docked in Skagway there were many other ships in port (1 Princess, 2 NCL's). We walked downtown for the morning after breakfast in Windjammer and went through the shops on each side of the street. At the end of the first street we bought some fudge at Alaska fudge for later. We then continued to the end of the street to the skagway brewing company. They said they just opened and construction was being done on the rear deck, bathrooms and other areas. We had a beers and fries for a snack and bought some T-shirts. I have since realized that they were at another location in town and this is their new location. The service and food were wonderful and I would recommend you stop by for beer, lunch or more.After working our way back through town we had to skip the Red Onion Saloon because it was time for lunch and our afternoon excursion. We returned to the ship, repacked our backpacks for the excursion and had lunch.Here I am pasting an in-depth review of the excursion folks asked for on the Alaska board:
RCCL Yukon Adventure Excursion: The tour length was 6 hours I believe. We arrived in port at 7am and the tour was from 1:30pm to 7:15pm. The ship left port at 8:30pm. This was really perfect timing for Skagway. We got up, ate breakfast, then walked into town. We shopped around until noon and came back to the ship for lunch and to "refit" our backpacks with stuff we would want for the afternoon. The tour met on the pier, it left about 10 minutes late because someone showed up without their passport. It's printed all over the tickets and the tour description online so DON'T SHOW UP WITHOUT YOUR PASSPORTS. They are needed because you cross the U.S. Canadian border. Another note was Canadian citizens could not drive. I guess if your Canadian you can't drive a U.S. vehicle into Canada?
There were 4 people to each jeep. If you don't have a party of 4, you are paired up. There are many opportunities both on and off road to change drivers and seating positions. Some folks really didn't want
to drive and others really did. It's a little tight, but I'm a big guy (6'4" 250lbs) and we were able to get into our jeep with my friend who is almost my size and our wives who aren't "normal" size. The jeeps had hard tops. I thought it would have been nicer to have soft tops to put up and down (down on the trails) but after I realized we wouldn't not have done it. We were at highway speeds in cool air and rain on the road and in the middle of LOTS of dust and water on the trails. The windows were more than sufficient.After getting on the bus at the pier we went just outside of town where the jeeps were staged. We were assigned our jeeps (they are all automatics for those concerned) and off we went. Like I said earlier, they all had CB radios which was great for asking questions, for Dusty (our leader) to point out things, and to be able to deal with other situations (explaining to group why he is turning around- to see a bear, asking about our gas gauge- it was malfunctioning and said no gas but it was gassed up, etc). He also used to to explain the 4wd functionality to everyone once we got on the trail.Stops were made at the major "landmarks" like the Yukon sign, waterfalls, etc. Like I said, it was about an hour right up the highway in the jeeps, stopping at the signs, waterfalls, and a public bathroom (the girls weren't thrilled, they smelled pretty ripe, it was like an outhouse with boys and girls sides). Once we got up the highway, we stopped at Carcoss. It's very small, has a nice visitor's center. Dusty provided cheese and reindeer sausage. There is a nice shop across the street with various authentic and non-authentic items and ice cream which was great. While we weren't rushed at any of the stops, there was not much extra time and Dusty made sure we kept on schedule. If there was extra time, he was happy to stop at sights people wanted, by asking on the CB radio. If we saw bear, etc, he stopped anyway After town, we hit the trails. In the group, you had folks who had never been on a gravel road and those who had gone rock crawling with jeeps. Dusty set the pace, but made sure that everyone knew to go the speed, etc they felt comfortable with. His key was safety. Some of those not experience with off roading sounded nervous, but happy on the radio. He was very laid back about stuff and let folks tear it up all they wanted..as long as they stayed on the trail and didn't get dangerous. Others could crawl up slowly as they liked... he would pull off occasionally and wait for them and give directions to everyone else on where to go. We eventually stopped at the top of one mountain and turned around for the view. We hung out there for 10 minutes and then it was back down in the same manner. I took some videos of the off roading, here are the links. Remember, this is just the off roading and not the other part of the trip and my friends and I are pretty experienced in off roading. I would say this is an example of the wildest things got on the tour:
After off-roading, it was back to port. We cruised down the highway and it rained pretty hard. We slowed at some more waterfalls for photos, but were behind schedule so we couldn't stop. Dusty spotted a brown and black bear off the highway and turned the whole group around for another pass. He made sure folks stayed in the jeeps though (brown bears are very aggressive). We then went back through the border (folks got busted- just told not to- for taking photos of the U.S. border checkpoint, but I got away with mine We came back to town and stopped at the "office" instead of the staging area which was further in town. Then it was back on the bus and to the pier. We tipped Dusty very well and I encourage everyone else to also, it was worth every penny.
My advice points:
Clothing- Be prepared for rain of course, but you don't need the rain pants I don't think, just the jacket. Boots are good too, jeans, a fleece, etc. It does get dusty on the trail and you will get dust in your hair etc (especially if you open the windows) so a shower when you get back is a must. (Funny story- we turned on the defroster on the way back for the rain fogging up the windshield and poof! a big cloud of dust out of the vents )
Money- Bring some to tip the guide, it's the right thing to do. Also cash is easier up at the shops in the Yukon.
Camera- Anything/everything you have..bring it, great views, scenery, my videos weren't with a video camera, just my regular digital that takes videos. They turned out better, but resolution is down for web loading in the links)
Time- We didn't choose the time of the excursion, but the length of the excursion while it sounded long was perfect. It also went nice with skagway (I think a half day is all you need for seeing the town). We book all of our excursions through the cruise anyway, but it was relaxing to be going that far out of town and know the ship wouldn't leave without you.
After returning to ship, it was time to change, go to dinner and then SLEEP.
Cruise Day 6:
After waking up and having breakfast we gathered our stuff for our ALL day excursion. The rain pants and jackets didn't stay off for long, as we got off the ship it was pouring rain, although not windy. There was no time to see town as we booked the Whale Watching/Orca Point/Mendehall Glacier Excursion for the whole day. Our ship was farthest away from town because Princess had a ship there and Holland America's ship was at the pier right downtown.
RCCL Whale Watching/Orca Point/Mendehall Glacier Excursion: I will say that rain pants, hats, jackets, waterproof everything are REQUIRED for this cruise or you will be miserable as some folks were. We got on a coach bus and started through town. The bus driver was very informative and pointed out many things on our way to Auke Bay to get on. We did get to see the town on our way through. It was great to see parts of town that people lived in (you wonder what it would be like to live in a place, etc). We saw a lot of wildlife on the way out including bald eagles. When we arrived at Auke bay, there were many boats waiting to leave for whale watching. We boarded one boat and were off. The rain had slowed at this point and since it was morning word had not yet gotten around about where the whales were that day. After about 15 minutes of cruising out of harbor, we saw our first whale. The top outer deck of the boat was opened for folks to get on. It was a humpback and was surfacing quite often in shallow water. We did not see it lift it's tail, but did see it's back and head often. Many boats were around from various companies, but were all careful to not get too close. The weather began to really pick up at this point. After seeing some other whales for about an hour, we headed to Orca Point Lodge for lunch. During the cruising time I went inside the boat and was very impressed with the whole operation. The boat was a good size, bottled water, hot chocolate, and coffee were available for free. T-shirts, hats, ponchos, etc were all available for purchase. Each person was given a nice pair of Nikon binoculars when boarding (although we had our own). Someone up front answered questions, pointed out whales, and gave commentary over a microphone, but didn't talk too much and allowed everyone to enjoy the ride. Also, the bathrooms (one for men, one for women) were about as close as you can get to a normal restroom on watercraft. Very similar to those on the ship, which the girls were very happy about. When we reached Orca point lodge the rain had stopped and we were very impressed with the lodge. The lodge looked brand new, but is apparently five years old. We were told we had a little over an hour to eat and explore and warned not to cross the land bridge because the tide would come in and trap us. Lunch was ready hot off the grill. In buffet style there was grilled salmon, corn on the cob, rice pilaf, rolls, lemonade, ice tea, and grilled chicken. Lunch was very good and there was plenty of seating. After lunch some warmed up near the wood stove, others shopped at the small gift shop, and many of us explored the shore outside and took pictures. A bell was rung to signal everyone to come back to the boat to return to the harbor. Once back on the boat we returned to the harbor about 20 minutes later where our same bus driver had returned to take us to the Mendenhall Glacier. It was about a 10 minute ride to the glacier and it was spectacular. We didn't realize how close we would be to the glacier and since it was a cloudy day, it was very blue in color. The bus driver gave us the time to meet back at the bus stop and warned that everyone needed to be there so we could return to the ship on time. As we got off he handed our wristbands to get into the visitors center (which is normally $3 donation) We explored every point of the shore facing the glacier and took a lot of pictures. We went up to the visitors center to look at some models and use the restrooms and then headed down to the bus stop where the driver was waiting right on time. Everyone had managed their time well and showed up on time and we got back on the bus for our trip back to the ship. Again we went through town and arrived at the ship about 25 minutes before we were scheduled to leave port. Perhaps if we were at the downtown pier we could have spent a few minutes in the shops and hopped on the ship, but we were too far away and weren't broken hearted to not make it to the shops.The weather had really improved at this point (as we are told it does in the afternoons in Juneau) and we stood on the helipad as we sailed away. That evening we enjoyed Formal Night #2 and had lobster. After we caught the comedy show and relaxed since the next day was our last. We did attend the viewing of the midnight buffet where I was excited to purchase the Royal Caribbean cookbook and have it autographed by an executive chef. We returned later to taste, but the line was pretty long and we were very tired so as my friend put it we "didn't stand in line for food we weren't hungry for." It was time for bed.
Cruise Day 7:
Our last day involved some shopping on board, although the liquor selection wasn't as good as it was on Explorer of the Seas, so we just purchased some clothing, etc. We also attended the last bingo game in the theater. The progressive game was up to $3000.00. We did win one of the smaller games and split the pot 3 ways, but one woman won the 3K all by her self. It was then to dinner and time to start packing.
Since we had a 12:30pm flight out of Vancouver, we were called to leave the ship around 9 am. After waking up we had breakfast in the back of windjammer and enjoyed the beautiful Vancouver weather until we were called. Once called, we exited the ship, went through customs, and boarded a bus for the airport. The ride to the airport was about 30 minutes. When we got to the airport we had to pull into a parking lot and wait to be cleared to go to the airport. I think this is probably a method of regulating the traffic at the curb. Inside the airport we had no problem finding luggage carts or our bags. The delta line was the length of the airport and was about a 45 minute wait. Once through the check in it would take us another 30 minutes to pass through customs, 10 to deposit bags, then another 30 to get through security.Once through security we looked in some of the great shops and got some lunch and waited for our flight. It was very busy and something we hadn't seen on the way in since we came in on Friday and not Saturday. Once on the plane they had a warning light to take care of and we left an hour late. In Salt Lake City we made our connection barely, but our luggage did not. That would be delivered on Sunday night finally.
Overall the cruise was A+++
We booked "the next one" with our $100 deposit per stateroom while on board. We are thinking RCCL in the
Med in 2009.