Just back from Alaska, sailed out of Vancouver, roundtrip, 5/23/09, on RCCL Serenade of the Seas. Flew into Seattle, then Amtrak train to Vanc. Ended up switching from Amtrak train to bus for ride home.
Pics say a lot, so here's links to our pics:
Denise's pics, one album from start to finish (Seattle to Vancouver, cruise, and back)
Erika's pics, Skagway, drive to Carcross and Emerald Lake, saddle/paddle at Spirited Adventures:
The cruise was good, Alaska is beautiful, the Serenade is a nice ship. The D1 cabin was plenty of space for the 3 of us, although at first we did wish we had a GS (D1 did not include robes, so I guess we got them last time because of being in a GS).
I'm not sure if I'm a good person to ask about the food, because we tend to get tired of the ship food by the end of the week as it's much more rich and salty than what we're used to, so we plan to eat off ship while in ports. It's not that the ship food is bad, just seems one meal is very much like the next, and we just don't like the "ambiance" of the Windjammer for lunch/breakfast, esp since this particular cruise had some really pushy, unfriendly passengers on it ... in fact, my DH and I were seated w/ a couple for lunch one day and they wouldn't even acknowledge we were there, no eye contact and def no smile! Overall, the dining room food was good and we had a wonderful server (Hazel) and assistant, but we did really enjoy the food that was served at Portofino's during the murder mystery (Pedro and Bruno are great at Portofino's), but preferred the steak over the shrimp.
Note: this passenger group was not like past cruises where everywhere we went we met friendly people and started some lifetime friendships, I'm hoping this is unusual. Although we did meet quite a few very nice people and some we hope to stay in touch with, there was a large number of unfriendly, pushy passengers which had an impact of the feel of things on the ship for us. We know we weren't the only ones who experienced this, someone else we met wondered if it might have something to do w/ the fact there were passengers from 65 different countries so some language and cultural differences. It was strange because I'm a friendly person by nature and can normally strike up a friendly conversation pretty much with anyone, anywhere.
Our luggage got lost the first day, so we were a little stressed our first day not knowing if we were going to have to get by w/ just the clothes on our back (RCL offerred us 3 size L tshirts and some almost useless toiletry bags that had 1-use toothpaste the size of a perfume sample). Tracy who is in charge of tracking lost luggage was super nice, the other customer service people I question why they were in their positions as I didn't get the sense the really cared about the customers ... the rest of the staff were wonderful. The good thing about the lost luggage was that we needed a quiet place for some "stress" comfort food ;-) and we found the Seaview Cafe at the far aft of the ship, deck 12 the first night ... great place that felt more like a cafe at home, good food, and good servers. Our luggage showed up at just before midnight, never did find out where it had gone missing to. Lesson learned, go back to making sure I pack some essentials, plus, in a carry-on.
Alaska is gorgeous, and this was a beautiful time of the year to go while the snow was still plentiful, and lakes not fully dethawed. I would like to go back to Alaska some day, but not on a cruise.
ISP/Hoonah was nice w/ just our ship in port ... lots of whales, even swiming just yards from our ship. We went on a whale watching trip with Teckk Outfitters. The boat only holds 6 passengers, there was just the 3 of us because the other 2 didn't show up. It was great, ended up being a private excursion w/ lots of whales, and very serene. When we got back to port, Keith (owner of Teckk) asked if we'd like to go find some bears. Those of us who'd done whale watching on his 2 boats hopped into his van and off we went. He gave us a tour of Hoonah, and drop us out to a pretty area where he pointed out a couple bears that he calls Jack & Jill. Then he stopped the van and told us he could get the bears to come right to the van, but we needed to promise to stay in the van while he was gone. He grabbed a rifle from the back of the van and disappeared into the bushes. We was gone quite a while, then all of a sudden, here came the 2 bears running up the road w/ him running behind them. Then got right near the van then dashed into the bushes. On the way back to Hoonah, my DH spotted another bigger bear sitting just feet off the road ... Keith hit the brakes and went into reverse so we could all see that bear.
The original itinerary was for Tracy Arm and Sawyer glacier, but we went to Endicott Arm Fjord and Dawes Glacier instead. The cruise up the fjord was beautiful. Our Captain was great at maneuvering the ship and got us w/in I believe a few hundred yards of the glacier which was very impressive. There were quite a few seals lounging on the floating glaciers.
Skagway we rented a car through Avis and drove a little ways beyond Carcross to do the saddle/paddle with Spirited Adventures ... it was nice to have a purpose and destination for the drive, and there were spectacular views along the way ... saw 2 bears at different locations so pulled up and watched them grazing and looking for bugs under rocks just feet from our car.
Juneau: 5 ships were in port, so very crowded. Luckily we avoided the crowds with our heli-glacier excursion. Also found a cute little place called Paradise Bakery Cafe, not a tourist cafe. Then had some spare time so hired a cab w/ a driver who was a Juneau local who took us to some nice uncrowded areas/parks, as well as a little tour of the town, out to Mendenhall, across the bridge, then back to our ship ... it was worth the $55/hour, he was very knowledgeable.
While much of the ship entertainment was the standard cruise entertainment, the comedian was good and we also enjoyed the "side" entertainment that included staff karaoke, and games such as weakest link. Cruise Director, Mike, was funny. Captains reception and Meet and Mingle were both well done, and the Cruise Director, Mike, was very good and we enjoyed his sense of humor. The farewell show was really good too, with a 2 time US Olumpian who was quite funny.
We did use some of the spa facilities and treatments, although overpriced, and after a relaxing spa treatment frustrating to be hit up w/ a sales pitch. I can get a great massage from my massage therapist at home for $60, why are ship massages more than twice that? Paid for a couple spin classes in the gym, good work out but could have used a more motivational instructor ... we'd hoped for Damien who we'd met on our last cruise and was also on this cruise, but unfortunately he didn't do the either of the spin classes we signed up for. Should have more free full-length exercise classes, paid classes such as yoga, pilates, spin should be less than $12/class - maybe offer a package deal. With 3 of us attending the classes, it could add up to the cost of a good gym membership at home!
Irritating that most the seminars end with a sales pitch too.
We flew in/out from SEA-Tac, then train to Vanc, bus back. Cab from SEA-Tac to downtown was $40 ... return from downtown to SEA-Tac is $32. Really enjoyed Seattle, found it to be clean and friendly. Bus is free in the tourist/downtown area. Pikes was fun to explore, we ate on the 3rd floor of Lowell's which was good, Underground Tour, interesting but could have been done in half the time (maybe 30-45 minutes instead of 1 1/2 hours), we actually really enjoyed dinner at the Space Needle restaraunt. Had heard other people say the food is not worth the price, but since it included the ride up, the pork chops at $36 included the elev ride ($16 value), so priced well at $20 + $16 elev ride ... dinner lasted about 2 1/2 hours and 3 rotations during sunset, then we had addtl time to go out on observation deck (which we all agreed wouldn't have been worth the $16 ride).
There's no reason to get to the Amtrak station any earlier than about 6:45am for the train (and we traveled on a sold out train Memorial Day weekend). We got there at about 6:40 and only had a couple people in front of us at luggage ck-in, and were 9th in line for seat assignment (which is just that, you don't pick your seat), and seat assignment doesn't open til 7am. Train ride is scenic and relaxing, do bring a book, ipod and something to keep kids entertained. We saw flocks of Bald Eagles along the shore. Same w/ the bus, no need to get there way ahead of time, it loads 1/2 hour before leaving. We picked up food and drinks to take on the train w/ us ... glad we did as the train food smelled horrible. Cab was easily accessible at both ends.
First impression of Vancouver, after being in very clean and friendly Seattle, Vanc from train station to Ballantyne pier is not very clean and not very friendly. Our cab driver would barely answer a question (and I'm very friendly) . Cab driver got on his cell phone w/ what appeared to be a personal call in his native language the majority of the drive ... spoke English well when he got into a verbal confrontation w/ a longshoreman. The longshoreman were grumpy and complaining that they shouldn't be working because it was their lunch time. Embarkation at Ballantyne could use some improvement, learned to keep our passports out and handy since we had to show them at least 4 times from the time we were dropped w/ luggage to when we actually boarded the ship.
So this was probably WAY WAY more than you wanted to know ... I can type as fast as I talk, though, so it tends to be easy for me to go long :-)