As a first time cruiser, I agonized over which cruise to take, which ship, which itinerary - all of it. I knew I wanted to go to Alaska, and I had a relatively narrow window for my departure time - early May. After many hours spent on Cruise Critic reading both CC and member reviews, I honed my choices down to two: Norwegian sailing out of Seattle for a 7-day cruise, or Royal Caribbean sailing out of San Francisco on a 14-day cruise. What ultimately decided me on Royal Caribbean was convenience, cost, and reviews of the ship - the Serenade of the Seas. As I live in the SF Bay area, getting to the ship would be no problem. And it was only a few hundred dollars more for a 14-day cruise than for Norwegian's 7-day cruise. Also, I had heard that the bathrooms on Norwegian are even tinier than those on RCCL.
The literature I received made it clear that I shouldn't arrive at the pier before 1 PM, but I was too excited to wait. I got there at 10:30 AM. I was able to quickly get my luggage taken by a porter, and went to look for the line. At 10:30, it was already substantial. As I am partially disabled (I walk with a cane due to bad arthritis), I was allowed to go into the terminal and sit down rather than wait standing up. Good thing too, as no one was allowed on the ship until after 1 PM. We later discovered that the ship was undergoing a deep clean due to an outbreak of the Norwalk virus on the previous leg of its journey from the Caribbean to its summer home in Alaska. But more on the virus later. Finally, I was in, and based on what I had read on CC, my first action as to go directly to Chops and Portofino, the 'specialty' restaurants on board, and make my reservations. I needn't have rushed - reservations were generally available throughout the cruise. Then it was up to the Windjammer buffet for lunch, as we were told we couldn't get into our cabins until 2 PM.