For this cruise, I chose to go with the 7 day roundtrip from Vancouver through Hubbard Glacier on Royal Caribbeanís Serenade of the Seas. On my previous two cruises to Alaska I had gone to Glacier Bay National Park on Holland America. So this time the combination of a trip to Hubbard Glacier, as well as sailing through Misty Fjords National Monument and taking a cruise on Royal Caribbeanís Radiance Class of ships persuaded me to this particular ship and itinerary.
We were a party of six traveling together. For 3 of us, this was our 8th cruise, second with Royal Caribbean, for one it was her 4th cruise and for 2 of us it was their first cruise ever. I chose Category H oceanview cabins for us. As I have been to Alaska before, I decided to save the money on a balcony to go towards shore excursions instead. We ended up with cabins 3106, 3582 and 3584.
We departed from Los Angeles on the morning of the cruise. In the past, for Alaska cruises and other cruises, we had done the same. Unfortunately, I donít get the kind of vacation time necessary to fly in the day before a cruise. The flight I had booked on Air Canada was for us to fly from LAX to Calgary and then from Calgary to Vancouver, arriving in Vancouver around 12:30 pm. Our flight from LAX to Calgary was uneventful and pretty much on time. However, when we showed up in Calgary to transit to our flight to Vancouver, we were told that our 12:00 pm flight to Vancouver had been cancelled as well as the 1:00 pm and 2:00 pm flights due to mechanical issues. The only flight available was the 3:00 pm flight which would put us in Vancouver at 3:30 pm, which wasnít going to work. We had to work quickly and we contacted WestJet who had a flight from Calgary to Vancouver leaving at 1:00 pm arriving in Vancouver at 1:30 pm. Since we had no choice and we couldnít risk missing the cruise altogether we had to buy one way tickets from Calgary to Vancouver on WestJet. However, when we went to get a partial refund back from Air Canada for the Calgary to Vancouver portion of the trip, we were informed that since we had purchased a discounted fare, they would not be able to refund any money at all even though it was their fault that the flights were cancelled. Since I had to leave to catch my WestJet flight, I filed a complaint and certainly plan to take it up with Air Canada in the next few days.
EMBARKATION: After that hectic morning of travel we finally arrived at Vancouver International Airport at approximately 1:30 pm. Since our first point of entry into Canada was at the Calgary airport, we didnít have to go through Canadian Customs in Vancouver. As soon as we walked off our flight we went straight to baggage claim. It took about 15 minutes for our bags to arrive. Since there were 6 of us we grabbed 2 cabs and we were off to Ballentyne Pier. The trip to Ballentyne took about 30-40 minutes. We arrived at the pier around 2:30 pm and discovered that there were hardly any people there. We went through security, checked in, went through immigration and were on the ship before 3:00 pm. It was all a very smooth process.
SERENADE: The ship itself is gorgeous. Most of the ship is pretty familiar to me since I was just on Jewel of the Seas (her sister ship) about 9 months ago. It was nice to know exactly where I was and how to find my way around the ship. Of course the decoration on the ship was a bit different from Jewel. I must say that I loved the Centrum on Serenade. The large piece of art hanging from the Centrum was gorgeous. The Balinese theme of the Solarium was really nice as well, though I didnít get much a chance to enjoy the Solarium on this cruise as I found that there were just too many other activities to participate in on the cruise. I loved getting up in the morning and just wandering around Deck 12 and getting some great early morning shops. I also loved being able to jog on the treadmill in the Ship Shape center and see out the bow of the ship.
CABIN: I had cabin 3106 on Deck 3 right at midship, below the Centrum. It was an oceanview room located on the port side of the ship. I was already familiar with the room and its location, as I had cabin 3108 when I was on Jewel, which is right next to cabin 3106. Our cabin steward was ok, not great, just ok. There were days were our stateroom wasnít made up until after 11:00 am, even though we had both left our room no later than 8:00 or 8:30 am. Additionally there were a few nights were our stateroom wasnít made up yet until way after we had returned from dinner. I also never got my Crown & Anchor coupon book or gift until I had to ask for them from my cabin steward myself. However, our cabin steward was always friendly and always had a smile on her face when we saw her. We just chalked up the fact that she was slow with some stuff to her being tired and having a lot of staterooms to take care of.
FOOD: We were assigned to Table 442 for 6 people in the Reflections dining room. It is on Deck 4 right by the stairs leading up to Deck 5. In fact our table was right next to the Captainís table. However, since we had main seating, and the Captain eats at late seating, we never saw him at dinner. Our waiter was Abraham from India and Yudi from Indonesia. They were an amazing team. Out of all the cruises that I have been on, this wait staff was certainly my favorite. They were always attentive to our needs and made sure we had everything we needed. They were also very friendly on a personal level. We really got a chance to know them as people. We learned a lot about them and about their lives. It was just a great service experience this time around. As for the food, it was pretty good. The food was actually better than my first Royal Caribbean cruise on Jewel. My favorite dinner night was Italian night (Tuesday), even though I didnít order anything remotely Italian. All of the chilled fruit soups were amazingly delicious. I highly recommend trying them. The salmon dishes for dinner were good as was the lobster and shrimp dish, the desserts were pretty amazing as well. If you go to the dining room for lunch, try the Banana Caramel Split! Breakfast, everyday but one, was in the Windjammer. The Windjammer tended to be pretty busy late in the morning for breakfast and at lunch time on sea days. On port days, the Windjammer tended to be really busy during the afternoon hours when everyone was returning from their shore excursions. At times it was a bit difficult to find a table at the Windjammer.
ENTERTAINMENT: The ships entertainment was pretty good. I would say the best entertainment Iíve had on any of my cruises. The Royal Caribbean dancers and singers put on 2 shows, Vibeology and from Stage to Screen. They were both excellent. Vibeology has to be one of the best ship shows Iíve ever seen. The guest entertainers were Judy Kolba, a very funny lady, Maria Neglia, a very talented violinist, Jay Johnson, an incredible ventriloquist, and Los Diablos Gauchos, a tango couple. The first night, there was a comedian by the name of Don Barnhart, but as dinner ran long the first night, I never made it to the theater in time to see his show. Later in the week he also performed an adult comedy show which I also ended up missing.
The rest of the on board entertainment and daily activities were very good. There was always something going on around the ship and always something for everyone. The nightly musicians around the ship were very entertaining. During the day there were great activities such as the towel folding demonstration, cooking demonstration, scrapbooking classes, a back stage tour, line dancing classes, bingo, art auctions, and even a question and answer session with the Captain, Chief Engineer, Hotel Manager and Chief Environmental Officer. Of course there was also Royal Caribbeanís signature rock climbing wall as well as the miniature golf course.
PORTS: I have previously been to each of these ports of call before. This was my third trip to Juneau and Ketchikan and second trip to Skagway. I wanted to do something different than I had done previously on my other visits in each of these cities.
HUBBARD GLACIER: Although Hubbard Glacier isnít technically a port city because you canít get on or off the ship, it was certainly a main attraction. We were all worried that the weather would be horrible. Everyone had checked the internet the in the days leading up to the cruise and we were all aware that the forecasters called for bad weather, namely Alaskan liquid sunshine (rain!). On our first sea day, that certainly was the case. It was gray, overcast and raining. However, when we woke up on the second day and looked out the window we saw nothing but calm seas, clear blue sky and the sun! Captain Frank Martinsen said that this was the best weather for Hubbard Glacier that Serenade had experienced so far this season. Around lunch time we picked up our native Tlingit family to help narrate what we would be seeing. At approximately 12:30 pm, Hubbard Glacier came in to view. As we approached you could already see the massive size of the glacier from far away. The face of the glacier itself is approximately 6 miles wide! As we approached Disenchantment Bay we noticed that HALís Zuiderdam was already at the glacier and making their turn around to leave. Just as the Captain pulled the ship into position a huge chunk of ice calved off the face of the glacier. Itís incredible to hear the cracking noises of the glass and the whoosh! that it makes as the ice calves off and hits the water, then the wave that is created by the displacement of the water! As the Zuiderdam pulled out of the glacier and we pulled in, we all noticed that NCLís Norwegian Dream was pulling in right behind us as well. We were at Hubbard for close to 2 hours. The experience was incredible. I have to say that I liked Hubbard Glacier better than Glacier Bay.