SERENADE OF THE SEAS, PACIFIC COASTAL CRUISE, MAY 21 - MAY 28, 2006
This was another great cruise vacation. I went with my wife, our 5 year-old son, our two good friends, and their 7 year-old son. We all had a great time. The cruise was a 7-day Pacific Coastal repositioning cruise, starting in San Diego and ending in Vancouver. We picked this cruise because it gave us a chance to go on a newer, Radiance-class ship, it was fairly close to home (we live in the San Francisco Bay Area), it included some unique ports-of-call, and because it was very competitively priced.
The Serenade of the Seas is the 3rd Radiance-class ship I have cruised on (the other two were the Brilliance and the Radiance). I absolutely love these ships! There is so much to do. I made use of the gym, the Solarium pool, the outdoor pool, the kids water slide, the miniature golf course, the self-leveling pool tables, the disco, and the many bars. In addition to all this, our friends also enjoyed the casino and the steam room in the spa. The kids had a fantastic time in the Ocean Adventure kids club, where they spent most evenings from 7pm - 10pm. One evening we paid the $5 per hour (charges begin after 10pm) for the kids to spend some more time at the club and allow us adults to stay out late and try out the disco.
As has always been the case with us on Royal Caribbean, the service was outstanding. Our waiter, Chip, and assistant waiter, Michelle, provided excellent dining service each night. Michelle was especially great with the kids, creating drawings for them and making toys out of paper. Our cabin steward Derickson was equally adept. Our room was always cleaned when we were out for breakfast or dinner. The towel animals entertained our son, and he made up an additional bed for our friend's son when we requested it. The only problem with service that we had on the cruise was being awakened at around 3am each night for the first 4 nights from very loud music on the TV's in the Safari Club below us. We complained during the 2nd night, but the problem persisted for 2 more nights, which we felt was pretty unacceptable. Apparently, the cleaning crew liked cranking up the music at 3am while they worked, and it took 3 nights for the Guest Relations manager to finally solve this issue. I was also disappointed that we did get any sort of formal apology for this, not that we were looking for one. But I have seen others receive chocolate covered strawberries delivered to their cabins for these types of ongoing issues.
EMBARKATION / DEBARKATION
Embarkation was slow and chaotic as there were 2 RCI ships in port in San Diego, along with the Pride Of Hawaii. It seems they were slow in debarking the previous cruise, so we had to wait about an hour in line before entering the building to check-in. Once inside, check-in went quickly and we were able to board the ship in time for lunch at the Windjammer. Debarkation was flawless. We did the Express Debarkation where we carried our own bags right off the ship. This went very quickly, including going though customs.
PORTS OF CALL
SAN DIEGO, CA
We spent a couple of days in San Diego before the cruise. We really like San Diego and have enjoyed many of its attractions. This time, we explored the coastal city of Carlsbad and took our son to Legoland, which he thoroughly enjoyed.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA
This was a funny port for us, since we live in the suburbs outside of the city. Still, we decided to do something touristy, so we booked the Alcatraz tour. We booked this tour independently, as we did with all our tours, and not through the ship. The tour included a ferry ride to and from the island and a self-paced audio tour, which was quite good. The weather was exceptional for San Francisco that day, and we really enjoyed all the views from Alcatraz.
This was our first ever visit to Astoria. There weren't any particular tours that interested us, so we decided to hike from the pier all the way up to the Astoria column. It was a pleasant walk. My wife enjoyed stopping to do some shopping in the main downtown area. The end of the walk took us though some nice forest areas. Once we got to the foot of the column, it started to pour with rain. After we walked up the 164 steps within the column, we took a couple of quick pictures in the rain before going back down to catch the bus back to the pier. We spent the rest of the afternoon avoiding the rain at the Solarium pool.
Victoria is a great city to visit and I'm glad it's included on many repositioning and Alaskan cruises. For this visit, we booked a whale watching tour with WildCat Adventures (www.wildcat-adventures.com/). Using their fast WildCat catamaran, we were whisked away to the San Juan Islands to get up close to a pod of orcas. It was very cold on the boat when we were moving, but when we stopped to observe the whales it was fine. We saw quite a few orcas, mainly just their dorsal fins. We were a bit disappointed we didn't see more than that, but nature doesn't always cooperate.
I had never heard of Nanaimo before booking this cruise, but was pleasantly surprised by it. The people in the town were very nice, and we thoroughly enjoyed our private kayaking excursion with Jan Kretz (www.adventuress.ca/). Jan specializes in kayaking trips for women, but is happy to take any group such as ours. We had such a great time kayaking around beautiful Newcastle Island and stopping on a sandy beach for lunch. The total trip took about 4 hours. Jan was great and provided us with lots of information about the local area and the wildlife.
This was a wonderful cruise. Next year, the Serenade is doing a similar cruise, sailing out of San Francisco this time. I recommend to anyone who wants to cruise on a top ship to some fun and interesting Pacific Northwest ports to book that cruise!