I. Background Information
We're a couple in our 30's and travelled on Serenade of the Seas, 14 - night Alaska cruise in May 2008. This is our 2nd time on Royal Caribbean cruise line, but our 7th cruise overall with other cruiselines combined. The cruise ship left from San Francisco & ended in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
II. Hotel Information.
We stayed at a small boutique hotel, named the Grant Hotel right on the edge of San Francisco's Chinatown. The cost was very affordable, UNDER $85 per night, & we had a nice, quiet room, as we were one of the first to check in. The hotel even offered FREE use of their 2 Apple computers for FREE internet access, and could even print-out pages too, at a nominal charge. The hotel was also adjacent to the San Francisco Trolley cars. I enjoyed our stay at the Grant Hotel, and would certainly stay there again in the future.
III. Ship Information.
The Serenade of the Seas is 5 years old when we sailed on it in May 2008. It has a passenger capacity of 2,501 passengers, and has a size of 90,090 gross tonnage -- a large-sized ship. The ship was in very decent condition, even having not been refurbished nor remodeled yet. Most ships get refurbished around 6 years old, after entering service.
In my opinion, this ship was among the top 2 prettiest ships I've been on, in my last 7 cruises. The open - air atrium which was multi-tiered by many levels gave nice acoustics when the musicians performed daily at the base of the ship's atrium. As you'll know, there are glass elevators near the ship's centrum for which you can overlook the seas on the outer centrum elevators. This gives a unique experience. Serenade of the Seas is the NEWEST of the Radiance class ships of Royal Caribbean.
The stateroom we were in, was an interior stateroom cabin. All the furnishings worked without any problems. Good water pressure; toilets always flushed without any problems for the duration of the cruise. (I cannot say that about all my previous cruises!) There was an issue I had about some kind of metal plate BETWEEN our cabin and another cabin. It vibrated when we had rolling seas. There was nothing I, nor any staff member could do to fix this, as it was in the walls, between staterooms. It was thankfully not ringing all the time, but only in the most rolling seas.
A word of caution to those who are considering to purchase a SUITE stateroom: I visited a suite stateroom while onboard the ship. If you are TALL, you won't be able to fit yourself in to the shower tub, STANDING UP, as it's designed for short people. You step up into the tub, and you'll have a difficult time fitting in, unless you take a bath, seated in the tub. I just remembered that thought -- so a word of caution to you.
As long as I stayed in the main, formal dining room, the food was good to great, in relative comparison to some other cruises that I've taken. Now in the Windjammer buffet, the breakfasts in the morning were somewhat disappointing with particular regards to the french toast and waffle pieces. Every morning I checked, they were HARD as ROCKS!! No joke here! The other food items were in okay condition at the Windjammer buffet, but I'm a french toast/waffles kinda guy, and I'm disappointed about the rock-hard quality. See, this is the price a person pays when going up to a buffet. Food items sit around, get hard or get cold, if no one is selecting such items. This is why I stick to the formal, main dining rooms when I can. When I have early morning tour excursions, it forces me upstairs to the Windjammer, as I have to get a quick bite to eat.
Otherwise, the food in the main, formal dining rooms was really good to great during the dinner time hours. I mostly went with the chef recommendations selection annotated on the menu, and was NOT disappointed. 2 years ago when I was on the Empress of the Seas, my first Royal Caribbean cruise, the desserts back then were lacking in flavor & selection. Royal Caribbean has now addressed that issue 2 years later, and the desserts have been improved drastically, and am nicely satisfied.
Another important side note: I was always happy to make a trip to the Seaview Cafe. Now, this cafe is difficult to find for a newcomer, as it's kind of hidden away on the starboard side. But, I liked going there late at night around 10 pm to Midnight. Service was the best in there, and the food was pretty good too. Then the Solarium had a late night menu as well up to 2 AM. It's so refreshing to know that there's food available late at night, consistently, every night. I can't say that about my last Holland America cruise when everything was shut-down. So between the Solarium late night menu AND the Seaview Cafe, this provided an inviting visit to either one at nighttime. This was a nice highlight of the cruise.
There was the usual bingo & art auctions, as well as some seminars held during the daytime, a couple of which did cost extra money. I attended a FREE seminar in the fitness room that discussed how to increase your metabolism. I found it interesting enough to stay for the entire 45 minutes. I also attended "The Quest", an adult scavenger hunt which became pretty wild, as expected! It was held late at night, for adults only, near the last night of the cruise. There were also trivia games that were held daily.
Otherwise, in other areas during the day, the daytime activities came up a bit short, if you did not care for the aforementioned activities listed above. This is due to the fact that this was a cold-climate cruise going to Alaska, so not any pool activities could be offered outside, and few outdoor activities could be held on deck as the temperatures were in the 40's. A nice touch, though, was that this particular ship DID HAVE a movie theatre onboard, with stadium style seating. So this addressed a few of the daytime activities to keep some occupied while at sea.
Again, because this was a cold climate cruise to Alaska, this meant there was only one pool & one hot tub that were in a climate-controlled area called the Solarium, which has a covered top and insulated indoor pool.
I did brave the elements and went to the 2 outside hot tubs as the one and only inside hot tub was swarmed with guests.
The evening shows were pretty good, though. There was a heavy emphasis on singing entertainment. I would have enjoyed it better, if they would put a few more comedians out there on stage and a little less singing. However, the juggling show & one of the elder lady singer's incorporated some comedy in to their routines, so overall the evening shows were satisfactory to my liking. There were only 2 production shows throughout the entire 14 - night cruise.
Service was pretty good the entire cruise, and I have no complaints really at all that I can recall. In my past previous cruises I've not been able to say that! Now, that's saying something for a 14 - night cruise! The purser's desk / guest services / answered my questions, accurately, the dining room wait staff was excellent, I thought, and so too was the stateroom steward, too.
Our head waiter gave nightly briefings to us at the end of each dinner seating, telling us the following day's dining room hours and the time we'd be at port for the next day, so it was nice to be briefed at the end of each dinner.
VIII. Tour Excursions.
There was a bump in the road with 1 of my tour excursions which was ship-sponsored. It was at Icy Strait Point, (Hoonah, Alaska). It was the Spasski River Valley Wildlife & Bear Search. This particular tour excursion I do NOT recommend. In fact, I pushed hard to get my money back. The tour operator even admitted to us that they do NOT see any bears where they took us to, in the month of May. I do not know about the other months, but May they don't see any. (Then don't offer that tour in May, is my take on that.) The wildlife was very few and far between, with a few deer here and there, & only one of them seen up close. This tour was a major disappointment.
As for the other tours throughout this 14 - night cruise, I must say overall, these tours are the most expensive tours (that are ship-sponsored) I've seen in my 7 cruises that I've done. I understand from others that the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Watch was successful in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, but the cost of $199 just to see bears??? That to me is outrageously overpriced. The guests must be paying for liability insurance that the tour operator passes down to its guests.
Well let me get in to the other tours for Alaska.
-- Juneau, Alaska --
In Juneau, we did 2 ship-sponsored tours. The first was the Mendenhall Glacier & Salmon Bake. I was VERY SATISFIED with this tour excursion, except that I'd recommend other guests go to the Mendenhall Glacier on their own time & will, so you can spend as much time as you'd like. There is a wonderful waterfall next to the Mendenhall Glacier to walk out to, but we didn't get to do it because of time restraints from our tour operator.
I very thoroughly enjoyed the Gold Creek Salmon Bake. The food was EXCELLENT!! The ambience was even BETTER!!! This is still in Juneau. It's nestled in a wooded area with covered tents. This location ALSO has a really gorgeous waterfall behind the salmon bake eating area. Great photos are there for you to take advantage of....seriously!! Go do this one as I highly recommend this salmon bake, which is also sponsored by the ship.
The other tour we did in Juneau is the Mt. Roberts Tramway. Again, I highly recommend going on this skyride. Fantastic views & photo opportunities await your arrival!! If we had a sunny day, it would have been even MORE FANTASTIC!!! The scenery is just stunning.
Shopping opportunities are superb right at the dock, in walking distance. It's shop after shop after shop, all within walking distance and good prices too, at the Alaska Shirt Company.
I very much enjoyed my time in Juneau.
-- Skagway, Alaska --
In Skagway, we did another 2 tour excursions, both sponsored by the ship. The first one was the Musher's Camp & Sled Dog Experience. What a most UNIQUE experience, I must say. I'd recommend this tour, just for the unique experience. You get to visit some baby Alaskan Huskies and pet a young Alaskan Husky as well in addition to your sled dog experience. We were whisked away on a 6-seater cart with wheels, since there's no snow on the ground. We had 16 Alaskan Huskies pulling us, at a much faster speed than I thought. I'd estimate somewhere around 25 mph to 30 mph! The musher will even stop to take pictures of you seated in the 6-seater cart, with the dogs in the foreground.
The 2nd tour we selected was the White Pass Scenic Railtour. You climb from the base where the cruise ship is at, up a couple thousand feet high with the train. Along the way, you'll see waterfalls, and some snow pack (in May). If you go late in the season, you'll have a lot less snow. Here's the wonderful thing about the train. No matter what side you are seated on, (either left or right), you will be able to get to see the OTHER side, as you come back down on the same track as you went up, and you will flip sides with your counterpart on the other side of you, so that everyone gets to see BOTH sides of the train. How clever is that? And the seat backs switch so that you're always facing forward. By the time we reached the summit, it turned in to a winter wonderland of snow and snow-packed blue ice, too! Then reaching back down to the bottom where we returned to, it's all absence of snow.
-- Icy Strait Point, Alaska --
Okay for this particular port of call, we chose the Spasski River Valley Wildlife & Bear Search. And regrettably we chose this one. This tour was an absolute disaster! I'm not going to sugar-coat it, but I have only a couple photos to my name here from this tour, and it's only at the dock. I do NOT recommend this tour. The tour operator even told me that NONE of the previous tours during the morning we were there ever got to see any bear at all. Choose another tour other than this one. I'd recommend doing a whale watch tour at this port of call, as I spoke to others, and they had success seeing whales. In fact, even some of the ship's staff told me that there were 2 whale sightings near the harbor that could be seen from the ship early in the morning while we were anchored near the pier.
-- Hubbard Glacier --
Hubbard Glacier was a spectacular scene, and I enjoyed this view very much. In fact, I got to see and hear the calving, or breaking-off of ice falling into the water. It sounds like thunder, with an ice dust plume left behind. It's totally cool to see & hear such a phenomenon! Come prepared, bundled up, as it was 36 degrees F/ 2 degrees Celsius out on the decks in May 2008.
The captain circled for a few hours so that all the ship's guests could see in every angle and every direction. This is a scene you don't want to miss. Be sure you get up early enough to allow at least 1 hour's worth of time to view this spectacular scene. Again, if it was sunny, it would have been even more spectacular!! As a reminder, this is not a port of call where you get off at; instead, it's just a viewing area where you stay onboard the ship.
-- Sitka, Alaska --
Here in Sitka, Alaska, we booked only 1 tour, and it was NOT a ship sponsored tour. I forget who the tour operator was, because I just followed a recommended tour operator by our Cruise Critic forum board buddies. There really was NO tour that appealed to me by the ship's sponsored tour offerings. Anyway, we did get to see a couple of bald eagles in the trees and in motion. We seen some totem poles and we were also taken to a brown bear's artificially created habitat. The bears were in motion constantly and you could see 2 brown bears interact with each other, & playing with each other too. This was really neat to see this!! We were rained upon during the afternoon in Sitka, but still, shops were again within walking distance here and just brought an umbrella. I recommend a golf umbrella because of the wind-blown rain.
-- Ketchikan, Alaska --
In Ketchikan, Alaska we went attended 2 tours at this port. One was the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. At this show, you observe 2 different teams compete with each other, grouped in pairs, so a total of 4 people altogether competing with each other, & usually they're speed races. The guests sit in a covered & heated area of stands in the event the elements bring about rain or chilly conditions. There's sawing competitions, running across water logs, and trying to spin another partner off a log to fall in to water. This was a fairly decent show, and there's souvenir merchandise to buy in their store, if you'd care to do so.
The other 2nd tour we went on was the Rainforest Wildlife Sanctuary. Again, there was no bear to be found, but there were bear's dens and bear prints on trees marking their territories to see, along the 15 - 20 minute forest trail you walk through. We did come across reindeer, several of them up close, (in captivity), an old saw mill, owl, bald eagle, too. Then you get to witness a totem pole under construction, and see and smell the differences between yellow cedar and red cedar wood. Near the end of this tour there is a gift shop, with complimentary hot chocolate or coffee & some cookies. Due to the variety of these things, I'd say this is a recommendable tour excursion, but don't count on seeing bear. We did get to witness the Zipline or Ziprider excursions of folks sailing high above us, too.
-- Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada --
Here in Vancouver, we chose the Capilano Suspension Bridge and City Tour. The Capilano Suspension Bridge park was a very nice scenic area. The tour operator also takes you through Stanley Park, and makes a stop for you to photograph the skyline of Vancouver and a number of totem poles within Stanley Park. My favorite part of this tour was the Capilano Suspension Bridge park, whereby you can take a number of trails to keep you busy for a couple of hours. I'd like to go back, as I didn't see even half of them, but did get to see and walk through the suspension bridge. It's somewhere around 400 ft long & suspended about 250 above the ground.
-- Victoria, British Columbia, Canada --
At Victoria, British Columbia, we decided on the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus. We visited Craigdarroch Castle, the Parliament Buildings, and went inside both locations. Then we visited the Empress Hotel, and walked down from there in to the many shopping locations downwind from the Empress Hotel. We went to the petting zoo, and seen baby billy goats, and peacock spreading its feathers, among other characters. We enjoyed the view from atop the 2nd deck of the double decker bus. It took us in to the Chinatown district too. This is a great selection if you have lots of time here in the port of Victoria to do, as you do have to allow time for the next busses to arrive each time you get off, sometimes as much as 30 minutes to 45 minutes, but we accomplished a lot in this port of call.
-- Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada --
The big deal here in Prince Rupert is the Khuytzemateen Grizzly Bear Watch. However, we chose the Canadian River Float, going down a lazy river, with all kinds of mountain backdrop scenes everywhere and seen a beaver dam. These scenes made for GREAT photo opportunities as we had a completely sunny day. The drive to the Canadian River float was as eye-opening drive with lots of mountain scenes. At the end of the tour we had complementary hot chocolate along with cookies, too.
As for the ports of Seattle and Astoria, we did these ports on our own and did not purchase any tour excursions, as it was unnecessary. Everything in-town was within walking distance. I felt that the cost for Mt. St. Helens was extremely overpriced, especially in consideration that you're not taken to the volcano itself, and too, because it's dormant. I didn't go to the Boeing factory in Everett, because the tour said that cameras were not allowed, so I left that tour alone.
Frequently, there are musicians performing in the ship's centrum. The acoustics are such that you can hear the music from decks 3 up through decks 9, immediately near the centrum, so you'll always have musical entertainment going on. There wasn't a dull moment. The lounges / bars have music going all the time during the times listed in your daily planner of activities. The Vortex is a very large lounge with dance floor as well, and that's on the top deck -- I think deck 13, with scenic views over the ocean. They play disco up there during late night hours.
As for the evening shows, we had evening shows in the Tropical Theatre at the ship's forward section every night except 1 night. As said before, a lot of shows had singing artists, one was a pianist, another juggling act, a magician, a comedian on the very 1st night, 2 production shows for the 14 night cruise, and a couple of impressionists as well.
To add to this, you have a movie theatre with stadium seating that seats about 50. However, NO popcorn, so don't get too excited. Oh, and bring in your oxygen mask, too, as there's a strong smell of smoke in the theatre. This is because the casino is right next door to it. I could manage without one, but I think the smoke odor could be offensive to several folks who aren't used to second-hand smoke.
X. Tendering, Embarkation & getting OUR suitcases.
Okay, here's where the messy part comes in of the cruising experience. If it weren't for these areas of embarkation, not getting our suitcases until 10 PM at night, tendering in Sitka, and the one terrible (ship-sponsored) tour excursion in Icy Strait Point, I'd have OTHERWISE awarded my cruising experience on Serenade of the Seas a 5 - star rating --- the 1st of its kind that I would have awarded ANY of my 7 cruise experiences! Now that's saying a lot gang -- IT REALLY IS!! But because of these several problems, I'm going to have to take points away here, and lower it to a 4 - star rating.
This is my 2nd cruise with Royal Caribbean, but on both cruises -- this one included -- there's something about Royal Caribbean in that they just cannot expedite the boarding process. We waited 1 1/2 hours to get boarded, and we did NOT come early, either. This extremely lengthy boarding process happened to us in our very 1st Royal Caribbean cruise too back in 2006 with Empress of the Seas.
To complicate matters FURTHER.... we both did not get our 2nd suitcases until 10 PM at night! This is the 1st cruise of my 7 cruises that I had to come to the main formal dining room in shorts, BECAUSE I was not given my 2nd suitcase in a timely fashion. This was not confined to a single, personalized situation. The VAST majority of people I ran in to did not get their suitcase either!! WoW!
Tendering in Sitka, Alaska was also a problem, and mismanaged poorly. We had to wait about 1 hour to 75 minutes before getting back to the ship, because RCCL decided to only tender out of one bay. They should have used 2 bays, one forward and one aft, so this was poorly mismanaged costing us precious time that we could have otherwise spent visiting Sitka. Alright, I've already discussed the mishap on the ship-sponsored Icy Strait Point tour.
In this 14 - night Alaska cruise, I have deduced a selection of a 4 - Star rating overall for my shipping experience on the Serenade of the Seas. This ties my highest rating of the Crown Princess cruiseship which I also awarded a 4 - star rating in the year 2006. My lowest rating I've given in the past 4 years has been a 3 - Star rating, for reference. On Serenade of the Seas, points are awarded for the service, (overall), less the suitcase mishandling situation at the start. Points are strongly awarded for the main, formal dining room quality of food, and quality of service. Points are also awarded for cabin stateroom service, utilities in the stateroom in good, proper working order, along with evening entertainment & afternoon musicians' entertainment. And finally points are awarded for the beauty of the ship, too.
Points are subtracted for the widespread mishandling of the suitcases at the start of the cruise, and for the unusually lengthy embarkation process (1 1/2 hours for us). Points are also subtracted for the ship-sponsored tour excursion in Icy Strait Point, and for the mismanagement of the tendering processes in Sitka, Alaska, which could have been addressed properly by opening a 2nd tendering bay in the aft/stern. Read Less