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A 99 Day Journey to Alaska (Serenade by the Sea) with a Teen and Young Adult (over 21)


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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Italy52 said:

BTW, does your Juneau whale watching vendor begin with a "J"?

Yes. I am very much looking forward to it!

Edited by Travel R
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24 minutes ago, Ferry_Watcher said:

OP, are you flying directly into Vancouver?

We have a stopover in Toronto (if I remember correctly).

 

But you bring up something that already has me very, very stressed.

 

I would never in a million years tell my worst enemy to fly in for a cruise the morning of the departure of that cruise.  However, my daughter is graduating two days prior to the cruise, and due to graduation parties, etc. the day before we are going against my best judgement and flying in the morning of departure.

 

Yes, yes, I know.

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1 hour ago, John&LaLa said:

Can you imagine what this would be like for someone booking the uocoming world cruise😳

 

All I can say is "WOW" - a world tour is going to be beyond Amazing!!!

 

I would love to read your journal and review of that adventure.

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Since you are so detail orientated, just checking that you all have current passports.  Due to your international flight (DC to Vancouver), that none of the passports will be expiring 6 months or less from the date of your return flight?

It wouldn't matter for getting on the ship, but you could be stopped getting on the flight to Canada.  Folks will argue about this, but better to be safe than sorry. 

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2 hours ago, Travel R said:

Yes. I am very much looking forward to it!

Have used this vendor many times and have never been disappointed --- enjoy! 

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Posted (edited)
10 hours ago, Ferry_Watcher said:

Since you are so detail orientated, just checking that you all have current passports.  Due to your international flight (DC to Vancouver), that none of the passports will be expiring 6 months or less from the date of your return flight?

It wouldn't matter for getting on the ship, but you could be stopped getting on the flight to Canada.  Folks will argue about this, but better to be safe than sorry. 

Thanks. My DW had brought this up and checked the expiration dates a few months ago (I know ours were okay, but wanted to check our daughters, which have different expiration dates). I believe she looked at them and they were okay b/c they have not needed to apply for new ones.

 

When I lived in Michigan years ago I could drive back and forth to Canada on a whim; although I understand the reason, it's kind of sad that a passport is now needed. It would have been nice if the new Real ID Driver's Licenses could be used for these border crossings.

Edited by Travel R
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Posted (edited)

June 30, 2021 [Part II]

 

READER’S NOTE: Although this begins as a discussion of a cruise on another line, it soon becomes a story about RCI and the Serenade of the Seas.

The Decision

 After discussing the two possible itineraries (which included the findings of my research, the pros and cons, and even reading responses I received from questions asked on these boards) the final vote determined that we would be cruising on the Norwegian Bliss. 

 

It is not the ship, per se, that won the votes of my DD’s, it was the demographics that would be on a big and new ship with the bells and whistles.  There would be a lot more people in their age ranges on the Bliss as opposed to Princess (especially for an Alaskan itinerary). My DW voted in favor of my DDs having an enjoyable vacation.

 

Although my family understands that they will be seeing (IMHO) the lesser of the glacier views, my DDs decided that the potential for them to have fun (socially) would be much greater on the Bliss compared to the Grand Princess. So, it was the Ship that won over the Itinerary.  To be fair, although mom and dad are paying for it, it is a family vacation, and want to ensure that everyone is happy. As I have said before, I am very fortunate to be able to do something like this – afford an Alaskan cruise (and luckily, my kids do appreciate it as well and do not take it for granted). They are also both graduating this year, and in part, this is also their graduation presents. At the end of the day, we are still on an Alaskan family vacation!

 

As a consequence of this decision, if my DW likes what she sees, a trip to Alaska (with just myself and my DW) will be placed on our to-do list for the future.  However, instead of a cruise, it will most likely be a land trip beginning in Anchorage which will highlight visitations to the many of the National Parks further inland. It will be partially by car and partially by train, and partially by air/sea, but we have lots of time to think about another Alaskan vacation (a few other vacations still in the que before that).

Booking an Alaskan Cruise

 After we made our decision, I booked the cruise.

 

This was probably the quickest we have ever gone from “Lets do it” to booking (under 48 hours). I think it was destined to happen after postponing our Italy by car w/cruise to Greece vacation. We all wanted to get away, we all love cruises, and my kid’s graduations were just the right excuse.

 

[PLANNING NOTE: Although I would not hesitate to book a cruise to the Caribbean or Mexico within 48 hours, I do not think it was wise to do so for my first Alaskan cruise. More research needs to be performed when going to the 50th state.]

 

Because I was reserving two different rooms for my family as well as air, I decided to book the trip by calling NCL itself (although I had already looked at their inventory and helped out the rep with what I had found). I wanted to ensure that the rooms were as close together as possible, and that we were also on the same flight. It would not have been as easy to coordinate myself via the internet. 

Note on my Use of Travel Agents

 

I have not used an actual travel agent (TA) for years for cruises. The reason being that with a TA you do not have the control over your reservation – everything (including minor changes) must be done through them. It is just easier to be able to do it yourself.  Interestingly, for the first time in at least three decades, I used a travel agent (a friend) book a short vacation to Las Vegas last year. I had been very busy at work with no time to do any research myself and decided to go that route – she got us a great deal on the flight and hotel. If I need to book a personal trip, and have no time to plan, I will not hesitate using her again (if I did not have the time to plan myself).

 

I know that there can sometimes be a benefit to using a TA to book a cruise, like some extra OBC (on board credit) or other perks, I just do not like giving away my freedom of quick choice. It’s a personal choice.

Cabin Location

 

I found the process of planning the cruise through the NCL Rep to be fairly easy and a smooth transaction.  They already had my information in their system, so the process was made even easier.

 

The NCL representative located two cabins (a Balcony (12806) and an Inside) that were in the vicinity of each other.  [Note - The Bliss is constructed with a wall between the outside and inside rooms, so there are really no rooms “across” from each other.  Due to our stateroom being at the end of the hall, we would have decent access to their room (we could walk straight to the corridor where their cabin was located – and only a few doors down). Yes, being at the end of the hallway with through-access to the other side is not optimal due to possible foot traffic, but it is not at the crossroads for the stairs or elevator, which would have a lot more. Watching a video of the stateroom next to me (12808), which provided a view outside of the room (which happened to be Juneau), it seems to be in a decent spot view-wise.  Reviewing the deck maps for the 11th and 13th decks, there are rooms above and below us, so no worries about being underneath a noisy disco or such.

[See attached deck layout]

 

Booking Fees (Cruise and Airfare)

 

Earlier in the day I had performed a partial reservation for both cabins online and priced them out.  However, the total price came out to be a bit more than the amount generated online. In reviewing the bill, I determined where the discrepancy was coming from. This was due to various fees and taxes that were not included.

 

We took part of their current NCL promotion, which included:

  • 30% off the cabin price
  • Four perks (shore excursion discount, meal specialty dining package, Internet 250 min. package, premium beverage package), and
  • BOGO airfare.

It is important to note that with NCL, “Free” is not always “free.” Having travelled with them before, I was aware of this, so not really complaining (yet), but want to make sure readers new to NCL know this beforehand, especially before deciding to choose a cruise based on cost.

 

  • Government Tax & Port Fees – No surprise here. This was included online, and pretty much all cruise lines include this in their online totals. Different ports around the world have different fees. Some are much higher than others.
  • Travel Protection – This was added to our bill. You have the option to decline it if you want. The last time I think I got my own since it was cheaper and included more.  However, I need to do some research – I believe the reason I did not use it was because we did not use their air option. This time we are. However, this is a significant increase from the online price ($140 x4).
  • Dining Service Charge – Because the promotion comes with credit towards “premium” dining, that’s another $15.80 x4. Basically, you are paying tax on the amount of the credit you are receiving for this free offer.
  • Beverage Service Charge – This is the tax on the free drinks they estimate that you will drink as part of their “open bar” perk (as part of the promotion). Get this - $138.60 /pp for the alcohol offer (my younger daughter is only getting sodas so only $11). With my lightweight drinking family, they are making money off us.
  • Airfare – The price quoted on the bill is almost $200 higher than what was estimated online (for the first two passengers).
  • Air Taxes – Since my family is in two different cabins, they cannot ensure that we would be flying together, so they charged us a tax of $25 to keep up on the same flights. To be honest, I was not expecting this at all.
  • Transfer – There is a $50 transfer cost per person, which is the transportation to and from the airport and seaport. This is not included online.

At the end of the day, all of the above extra charges add up. If you have read the above list you will not be turned away by the final sticker shock when you receive the final price tag yourself. Unfortunately, there are other costs that are optional, once on the cruise (pre/post hotels, photos, excursions, non-included entertainment, souvenirs, etc.). NCL is notorious (IMHO) is for the upsell (they are a for-profit corporation trying to make a profit – so all the power to them), just ignore it, say “no thank you” and move on, or to ensure a particular worker does not bother you again, point down at their pants, say “your zipper’s open” and walk away (they will not bother you again for the rest of the cruise). I will get to all of this in due time.

 

Having sailed with NCL before, if I did not think the final cost even with all these extras would be worth it, I would not have booked it.

Not on the Serenade of the Seas . . .  Yet

 

Our story has so far taken us in the direction of an Alaskan Cruise upon the Bliss, which we were okay with; but after two more posts, you will see why we switched to the Serenade. However, I hope some of the info in the last two posts has been helpful in seeing how and why someone else decides upon an itinerary or cruise ship. There were a number of people on one thread that stated bluntly that we had made the wrong decision (citing the lack of the Glacier National Park) and continued to do so in our choice of the itinerary on the Serenade). I get it, GNP is an amazing place, but as I have stated a few times, the particular ship that would have taken us there in the short window we had to travel would not have been the right choice for my family. We have been to Rome and not seen the Sistine Chapel, but we are going back in two years. In due time, I will return to Alaska. But this time I want to ensure that everyone in the family will enjoy their vacation - and to them, it is not seeing glaciers that is important.

NCLCabins.png

Edited by Travel R
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I’m a planner, one who is hoping to soon be planning an Alaska cruise. I am really enjoying following you and your family through the process of planning your Alaska cruise. I’ll definitely keep following along! 😎😀

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July 1, 2021

 

READER’S NOTE: Although this begins as a discussion of a cruise on another line, it soon becomes a story about RCI and the Serenade of the Seas.

No Buyer’s Remorse (After Booking a Cruise)

 

On the day after making such a large purchase one may have buyer’s remorse. I have none, well maybe a little – would have liked to see more glaciers. However, I am very excited about this upcoming vacation that is not going to happen for almost an entire year.

 

I’ve been working for most of the day so far, so only have conducted minimal research.  I made a few posts on Cruise Critic, and last night I created a thread for this cruise on the Roll Call. Although the sailing is not for another year, I am surprised that no one has begun one as of yet (yes, I look to ensure that one did not already exist).

Next Steps After Booking an Alaskan Cruise

 

Now the real research begins for both the ship and the ports.  I want to know everything there is about both in order to make plans that will be most beneficial to me and my family.  Specifically, the research and next steps will include:

  • The Bliss – I am going to find out everything the ship has to offer and create my own cheat sheet that will provide me with a glimpse of where everything is, a description of each, the times they are open, and tips (if any), as well as general tips for the ship (e.g., “secret” passage ways between venues or less-crowded areas to chill). Since we have credits for premium dining, I am going to research which venues would be best for us. [Tease: Of course, I will be doing this for the Serenade, as I have done for each of the last vessels we have travelled.]
  • Ports & Excursions – Although all the excursions for the ship are not usually posted yet (they are still in negotiations with the vendor tour companies), I am going to begin to do my research now.  I want to find out as much about the port to see what would be the best bang for our time (as a family), which will include deciding if we should see a port DIY (Do It Yourself), or pay for tour services/excursions available thru the cruise line as well as third party vendors. This would also include looking at pre- and post- cruise options in Seattle. [The last few cruises have been a combination of DIY, 3rd Parties, via the cruise, so I expect this to do the same.  Each have their own benefits and pitfalls, and circumstances will require one over the other - e.g., you can tour the Coliseum in Rome DIY, but if you want to go down under the arena, you can only gain access via a tour.]
  • History – As an amateur historian, I will also be reading a lot of literature on each of the areas we are going to visit; with some additional historical research on the State of Alaska as a whole. Besides books and the Internet, I will conduct monthly searches on my cable services for any programs about any of the places on my cruise. I am sure I can find an episode on the Bliss if I look hard enough.
  • Shopping – Maybe a little too early now, but I will begin looking at the packing list from our last vacation and see what needs to be modified. It is a very comprehensive packing list I began years ago and had continued to evolve throughout the years. On our trip to the Baltics, with the exception of two pairs of shorts (the temp was a lot cooler than expected), and emergency OTC medication (e.g., sea-sick pills), I managed to use every single item I took - I am proud to say say that I did not overpack. Yes - I will be providing a copy of this packing list at a later time.
  • Final Payment Date – there are a few items that need to be researched by the final payment date (besides the payment), such as determining if we will take NCL’s travel insurance (or not).

As I continue to perform research, I will compile the data gathered into a master document. When I finally post the information, it will be compiled into a neat and easy-to-use format, which I will post on Cruise Critic, which will hopefully be beneficial to others.

 

Only two more posts until we "jump ship" to the Serenade of the Seas.

  • What were the circumstances surrounding the changing of ships / cruise lines?
  • Did we make the right choice?
  • Was it easy to switch?
  • How did the change affect the itinerary?
  • Will the caped crusaders evade the clutches of the Penguin?
  • Stay tuned, only one more exciting episode until these secrets are revealed, and more!
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July 2, 2021

 

READER’S NOTE: Although this begins as a discussion of a cruise on another line, it soon becomes a story about RCI and the Serenade of the Seas.

 

Alaska = Expensive!!!!!

 

I am still performing research on both the ship and the ports.  This cruise was expensive enough along with airfare across the country, but many of the excursions that look really cool are not cheap.  For instance, a helicopter ride on top of the Mendenhall glacier is in the neighborhood of $400 (after taxes) plus tip [4 members of the family is 4 x $400 = $1600]. Although it would be an amazing experience, $1600 for one excursion is kind of steep. One $1600 excursion is possible, maybe if everyone (i.e., the DW) is set on doing it - but this would mean DIY for both of the other ports (and Seattle). If you want an ice landing tour that also includes dog sledding – that could set you back $600 - $700 per person ($2400 - $2800 for the four of us). All the power to those that can afford it. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I do not need to concern myself about it – one of the members of my family has “height issues” and would not be able to handle a helicopter, in a similar fashion the tram up the mountain in Juneau is also off limits – however, they are okay on a large airplane. We have all been dogsledding before in Finland and I have taken a helicopter tour over Niagara Falls. If I wanted, I could literarily fly round trip to Iceland, take a tour on top of a glacier, and spend 2 days with food and lodging for less than this one excursion.  [If I ever get back to Alaska with just my DW, and it is just the two of us, a helicopter ride may be an option.]

 

As usual, we will figure the best excursions that would be of greatest interest to my family as a whole, then we will vote on them as a family.  The excursions may be a combination of ship’s excursions, 3rd party excursions, and DIY tours of the ports (and there also may be some “free” walking tours of a few of the ports [tour guides that work for the tips]).

Cruise Ship Reviews

 

One of the places I begin my research on cruise ships is with reviews on Cruise Critic (of course).  Although I have found that many people that have a gripe will complain more online compared to those that are satisfied, there are lots of little tidbits of information one may learn (even from negative reviews), including useful hints and tips with specific aspect of a ship, or the ports.

 

A lot of the negative reviews I read could have been prevented if the person posting would have done their homework before going on the cruise.  If the ship does not offer a service, specific food, venue, etc., and the person was really looking forward to it, then maybe they should have done some (usually very quick) research to ensure that the ship had it BEFORE booking the cruise. If not, then live with it – you cannot complain afterwards. In addition, a lot of people complain about things that could have been made better IF they went to the steward or customer service, etc. to correct the issues. I find it interesting when they also state that they have been on many cruises before – I think to myself, no you haven’t, or you should have known (especially if it is obvious).

 

Some hints and tips for the Bliss that come to mind in my recent perusing of the reviews:

 

  • For the Go Karts: closed toe footwear is required.  People were complaining that they could not ride b/c they had open-toe footwear. [A little research/reading beforehand would have resolved that]
  • You can order two appetizers in specialty restaurants (and two desserts), but only one entrée – unless the venue was ala carte. [Which someone like me would be interested in]
  • Cavern Club – need to get online to wait at least 30 minutes (if not 45) before the doors open. Note that the doors open 45 minutes before the show begins, so you could be waiting 1 ½ hours. [Research into some of the events/activities is key to find out the most strategic means for getting a seat/good spot. In this case, unless you are getting pre-reserved seats for being in a suite, it is a lot of time (for us in lesser cabins) to be spending on line waiting for a venue while on a vacation. Although (IMHO) worth complaining about, it should not be something that ruined your entire cruise vacation.]

 

Next Stop: Serenade of the Seas . . . . .

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Posted (edited)

[Today]

 

With just over 90 days until the cruise I am going to focus my attention on finding and booking a hotel in Vancouver [the one major thing I have not yet performed]. The fuel shortage should not affect the hotel rates, but glad I booked my flight when I did, the airline industry is bumping up their prices.

 

Any suggestions for Vancouver hotels would be appreciated.  We will be staying one night post cruise, so approximation to port is not as important as being near the major "attractions."

 

Although I had assigned my DDs the task of researching things to do in Vancouver, one is graduating in a month and a half, and the other does not graduate until a day before we cruise, so I will relieve them of that duty and perform the research (when I have time). My older DD is a lot like tree, and enjoys the planning, but she has a lot more important things to think about - my younger DD does not really care for the planning part, she just wants to be on a cruise and it does not matter where it is going - in the past she would have been okay not getting off the ship. It has been a few years, and she is more mature, so maybe adventuring off the ship will have more significance. Although she was 8 or 9 at the time, in response to a question about enjoying her day after doing a tour that took us throughout Barcelona, she responded "it was just a lot of old buildings."

 

Question: I just added another item on my To Do list for this trip.  In Ketchikan, our excursion will be over at 7 (?back to the port at 7, and ship does not leave until 10), I was thinking about having dinner in port (our last in Alaska). Any suggestions for a place to eat dinner in Ketchikan?

 

A little later today I will publish the next post in which we jump ship to the Serenade of the Seas.

 

 

 

Edited by Travel R
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Posted (edited)

July 3, 2021

Serenade of the Seas ???

 

Oh, oh.

 

During my research last night I saw a post on CruiseCritic about the NCL itineraries for Alaska, specifically for Endicott Arm / Dawes Glacier.  The glacier viewing and Juneau appeared on the same day, with Juneau having a 7 AM arrival time and leaving at 1:30. The person was asking about the timing of when the ship was going to see/sail them. Simple and straight-forward question.  The opinion of a veteran cruiser stated that the glacier sailing would begin after Juneau.

 

Being a Doubting Thomas, I decided to contact NCL myself.  I reached out via the Chat functionality on the NCL.com website and asked specifically when my cruise was going to see Endicott Arm / Dawes Glacier.  The answer from the NCL Rep was as follows (copied directly from the transcript, so it is their exact words):

 

"Based on the itinerary, it looks like you will depart from Ketchikan at 3 pm and will arrive at the endicott arm dawes glacier around midnight on 06/28/22, then dock in Juneau on the 28th by 7 am."

 

Through independent research I read that the government is strict as to the number of ships allowed to sail the Arm (and for that matter all other glaciers), and provides each ship a specific time to enter and a window of time in which they are to leave.  It is possible that this ship received the short straw for the day and was provided with a midnight entrance (if I am figuring this out correctly, it would, mean that the viewing of the Dawes Glacier would have been somewhere during the 2 o’clock hour. Although there may be some twilight to see the glacier, it would be far from ideal.  However, the NCL representative I communicated may have received and communicated the incorrect answer to me.

 

If the NCL Agent was incorrect, it lost them a sale.  After speaking to my family, and finding another ship sailing the following day (with a different itinerary), we began considering cancelling the Bliss booking a 7 Day cruise on Serenade of the Sea (Royal Caribbean).  With 96 hours of research, I was confident in my decision to suggest an alternative to my family; although I would have been okay with the Bliss itinerary if I did not believe it was going to see the glacier in the wee hours of the morning.

 

Note – I did take another look at the Grand Princess, and even called one of their reps. It was a Southbound and there were no balconies available on the Port side (which would have faced land for most of the voyage – my preference) and even more important for us: there were no inside cabins (for our daughters) on either side of the ship close to the available balconies.  As discussed in an earlier post, it would also have constituted a much older demographic which would not have been as conducive to my daughters for having a social life during this cruise.  For their age groups, having other the same age is extremely important. [So there will be no head to head comparison between the Serenade and the Grand Princess.]

 

To tell ya the truth, it was really only me that was concerned. My DD's didn't care about the itinerary as long as they were going on a cruise, and my DW will go along with whatever I decide (when it comes to vacation planning).

Bliss vs. Serenade of the Seas Comparison

Faced with having to make a decision, we performed a comparison of these two options that lay before us.

 

  • Ship:  This is the major negative if we switch.  The NCL Bliss is an almost-new mega ship with all the bells and whistles that come with it (which is why the Bliss originally won over the Grand Princess).  As such, the demographic probably also has more kids and young adults within both of my daughter’s age range. Another positive for the Bliss is that it allows a refundable cancellation (not for Serenade). On the other hand, my daughters have enjoyed their few times on RCI ships, and even though this ship is older and smaller than the Bliss, Royal Caribbean would still have a demographic closer to what they are looking for (especially for my older DD). Another positive going for the Serenade, is that because it is smaller, (from what I have read) it is a better choice for glacier viewing, and it has an enclosed adult pool. [Point = Bliss]
  • Itinerary: The Hubbard Glacier is a big “value add,” in addition to the fact that we know that the Sawyer Glacier will be seen during daylight, which may be the deal breaker, but a side-by-side breakdown of the itineraries is as follows:
  1. Starting/Ending PortSeattle is an amazing city to visit, but I read that Vancouver is beautiful.  Starting in Vancouver I miss out on visiting my 46th state, but Seattle is a more likely city to visit at some point in the future. Beginning in Vancouver also means seeing less open water. [Tie]
  2. Inside Passage & Sea Days Bliss has two full “Sea Days” (it needs to first travel north after leaving Seattle), the Serenade leaving from Vancouver allows for the first technical “Sea Day” to be through the Inside Passage. [Point = Serenade]
  3. Endicott Arm / Dawes Glacier vs. Tracy Arm / Sawyer Glacier – From my reading (and I know it is all subjective), I have heard that Dawes Glacier is nicer than Sawyer, but the Tracy Arm is nicer than Endicott. [Tie]
  4. Juneau and Ketchikan Both ships stop at these ports, with the only difference being 6.5 hours in Juneau for the Bliss and 8 hours for the Serenade, allowing more time to take part in an excursion, plus see Mendenhall Glacier (both are in Ketchikan for 8 hours). [Point –slight edge (1/2 point) to Serenade]
  5. Icy Strait Point vs. Sitka – Although I like the fact that Sitka is an actual town (Ice Straight is not), I have not performed enough research on either port yet to make an informed determination. Icy Strait is a tender port (boo), and although Sitka is not, it is still a few minutes from the main/downtown area (12-15 minute shuttle, which you probably have to wait another 15 minutes to board) [Tie]
  6. Hubbard Glacier – There is no 1:1 parallel between the two cruises on this point.  Besides being able to see this glacier (not on the Bliss itinerary), it is its own separate day (Endicott/Dawes and Juneau are on the same day for the Bliss) – which also allows for more northerly cruising. Whereas the Bliss gets the point on the ship (above), the Serenade takes the point for this portion of the itinerary [Point = Serenade]
  7. Total: In a pro vs con comparison, the Serenade outscores Bliss 2.5 to 1 with 2 ties. Although the following reviews did not factor into the above comparison, the Cruise Critic reviewers favor the Serenade.  For the Bliss, the average review score was 3.5 with an Editor score of 4.  For the Serenade, the average review was a 4.0 with an Editor score of 4.5 (with 12 CC awards); which also gives an edge to the Serenade.
  • Past ExperienceMy family has been on both cruise lines beforehand.  My DW and I have been on Royal Caribbean on four previous cruises. Although we enjoyed our last NCL cruise (Getaway), my daughters (much younger at the time) really enjoyed their cruise on RCI. NCL gets the edge over RCI by my family, although for me personally, it is a tie.
  • Cost Always a big factor.  RCI is/was having a flash sale – 60% off the second passenger.  Between this saving and a few perks that come with Crown and Anchor (RCI’s loyalty program), the cost (with airfare) is a less than the cost of the NCL cruise with their amazing deal (which by the way, was pretty much extended as soon as the one I booked was over. My DD (now 21) was never given her own C&A account, so while we were booking this cruise the Rep signed her up (he also added my DD 16), so that they will receive the same level as us and the same additional discounts for their room. Not that it factors into the budget, but another benefit if we go on the Serenade is that with the current RCI promotion we would also receive double loyalty points (bringing us closer to the next loyalty level).
  • Value-wise, the amount of the perks from NCL do not compare/add up to the amount saved from the 60% off offer from RCI. But here are some other value-factors we have considered:

----------> No loss on the internet package – never had Internet on a cruise before (including European), and there will be Internet at the Alaskan ports (as long as we use our phones in port). I would personally rather my family stay off of phones while on vacation.

----------> Beverage package – The taxes paid on the packages would have far exceeded what we would normally spend on alcohol ala carte. I unfortunately cannot drink alcohol – although I thought maybe I would get a few foo-foo fruity non-alcoholic drinks/mocktails, but no big loss; and my DW and DD21 are lightweights. [I have never understood paying taxes to a server on something free.] We would still get the soda package on the Serenade.

----------> Shore excursions – As past experience has shown, I tend to go with the 3rd party vendors rather than the ship excursions, so not sure how much of this credit I will be using. [I had this perk on the Baltic Cruise and I only made use of it once out of 6 or 7 ports.]

----------> Specialty dining – Hmmm. If I had the perk, I would used.  But without such a perk we will probably not be going to any specialty dining venues on the Serenade. I know many of you would disagree, but as per our past experiences, we never thought the specialty dining to be that great; the food was just good, but not worth paying the upcharge (but if free/part of a package, I would take it). I do not think we are missing out much on this (although I would have liked to at least try the Q Steakhouse).

  • Graduation – We booked both cruises over the phone.  The NCL rep never asked us if it was a special occasion – when getting an estimate on the cruise, the RCI Rep did ask. When we said it was for our daughter’s graduations, he asked us if we wanted them (RCI) to do something for this occasion. Although my daughters in the background said no, we said yes. [It would cost us nothing.] It might only be our waiter bring them a cake and sing to them at the end of dinner one night, but it was a very nice gesture on the part of RCI.

As of now there is a lot to ponder (I am writing this after the fact, so I already know the outcome). But it comes down to choosing between a newer ship with the bells and whistles and probably a younger demographic against an older ship with IMO a better itinerary (although the demographic should still be accommodating to my DDs).

 

My older daughter was working late this evening, so we did not get a chance to talk to her about this. Tomorrow we will discuss this as a family.

 

Questions for you (the reader) to ponder:

 

  • Did I miss any factors of comparison that you would you have considered?
  • If this was you, would you have considered jumping ship? [at this point I did not know that the NCL agent was incorrect with the time to view the glacier]

 

Yeah, I know . . . . first world problems.

Edited by Travel R
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Wow!! So much research.  We were on the Serenade of the Seas on our first Alaska cruise back in 2007.  It is an older and smaller ship but it is all glass so you can sit in the schooner bar and see the scenery  We've never cruised NCL but since Alaska is so port intensive we wouldn't have time to do much on board.  We are on the Serenade again this Sept back to our 3rd trip to Alaska.  Super excited to cruise with friends on their first Alaska trip and our first cruise in a grand suite.  Have a great time and I'm biased but I think you made the right choice.

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Posted (edited)

I’ve caught  up on your thread during a wakeful night.  As a planner myself, I’m really enjoying your story. I’ve done 3 Alaskan cruises—one on Princess and two on Royal. While Princess had more Alaskan content onboard—speakers, puppies, crab legs—I didn’t find it added that much difference in my cruise enjoyment. Royal tends to have longer port times which is very important to me. I also preferred sailing down the fiords on Royal in absolute silence rather than the narration Princess provides in Glacier Bay. 
 

For Vancouver, look at hotels near Hornsby Street in the lower part of downtown. It’s walking distance to the ferry to the Granville Island Market, the port (not with luggage), museums and has some trendy restaurants south of it in converted warehouses (I’m sorry I don’t recall the name). There’s a Residence Inn on Hornsby with a Holiday Inn and Sheraton nearby.  I would book sooner rather than later as prices will just keep going up. 
 

I’ve only cruised into Vancouver not out of it (2 departures canceled due to Covid),  but I believe you go through US Immigration for Alaska after checking in for your cruise at Canada Place. The time needed for boarding is therefore quite a bit longer. Just something to further research and take into account for scheduling. 

Edited by JoyMouse
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15 hours ago, flpenguin said:

Have a great time and I'm biased but I think you made the right choice.

Thank you!

 

 

15 hours ago, flpenguin said:

since Alaska is so port intensive we wouldn't have time to do much on board

 

That is an interesting thought.  I never thought about this as being port intensive, especially this itinerary.  This will be a 7 day itinerary with "only" 3 ports of call. Although those three days will be packed with stuff to do off-ship, there will still be plenty of time onboard.

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7 minutes ago, JoyMouse said:

I’ve caught  up on your thread during a wakeful night.  As a planner myself, I’m really enjoying your story. I’ve done 3 Alaskan cruises—one on Princess and two on Royal. While Princess had more Alaskan content onboard—speakers, puppies, crab legs—I didn’t find it added that much difference in my cruise enjoyment. Royal tends to have longer port times which is very important to me. I also preferred sailing down the fiords on Royal in absolute silence rather than the narration Princess provides in Glacier Bay. 
 

For Vancouver, look at hotels near Hornsby Street in the lower part of downtown. It’s walking distance to the ferry to the Granville Island Market, the port (not with luggage), museums and has some trendy restaurants south of it in converted warehouses (I’m sorry I don’t recall the name). There’s a Residence Inn on Hornsby with a Holiday Inn and Sheraton nearby.  I would book sooner rather than later as prices will just keep going up. 
 

I’ve only cruised into Vancouver not out of it (2 departures canceled due to Covid),  but I believe you go through US Immigration for Alaska after checking in for your cruise at Canada Place. The time needed for boarding is therefore quite a bit longer. Just something to further research and take into account for scheduling. 

Thank you - very helpful!

 

 

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I believe Icy Straight Point has a dock. We were there on the Radiance in 2018. . I’m sure we did NOT tender.  
 

Have a wonderful trip. We loved it!

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On 3/26/2022 at 7:48 AM, loug1601 said:

I believe Icy Straight Point has a dock. We were there on the Radiance in 2018. . I’m sure we did NOT tender.  
 

Have a wonderful trip. We loved it!

Thank you, I stand corrected.  NCL (and I am guessing other cruises lines) have been docking since 2016.  Although moot for my cruise, it is good for others reading this thread to be be informed.

 

Although I have not been on a cruise that has tendered in a number of years, I never remember it being a pleasant experience. I did not mind the tender/boat ride itself, it was more of the lines waiting to get on the next tender and the time taken to get to the port - wasting valuable time which could be used exploring the port.

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[Today] 

 

I had a great weekend up in Rhode Island, so was not online very much, so have not had a chance to post here or to do very much research. Of course I did some research on my phone while in the hotel room, as well as brought along (and read a few chapters in) a short book on Alaska entitled "The Great Book of Alaska." It's not a bad book with some interesting facts, although I have been performing research long enough that much of the information has already been gathered.

 

I talked to the family this weekend about the upcoming cruise regarding a few items including sending them some links to things to do in Vancouver and waiting for their responses (hopefully by tonight). I did not create a listing (as I had for the Alaskan ports), but sent them links to two websites that list "things to do in Vancouver. One was a site a like that lists and discusses the "25 Best Things to Do in Vancouver" to ensure that they are aware of all of the top attractions available. However, knowing my family who also sometimes enjoys the non-so-usual, I have also sent them a link to a site listing "Cool and Unusual Things to Do in Vancouver."  A few of these may not be the usual "Must-Do" attractions, but that is okay with us.

 

Once I get Vancouver settled, I will begin my research in earnest about the ship itself - the Serenade of the Seas. I like to look at where every place of interest on the ship lays - and will also figure out the times for each venue, etc.  Part of the research is going into some of these posts and the reviews to see if I can find any hints and tricks about the ship (e.g., best place to watch glaciers, best way to get to a venue (e.g., secret staircases), most serene/quite spot, etc.). When I did the "All Things Legend of the Seas" a few years ago (link in signature below) it was a big hit - it was soon after a refurbishing, but I was also able to consolidate multiple similar threads on the topic into one thread.  I plan on doing the same.

 

I will post the next entry shortly about booking the Serenade of the Seas  . . . .

 

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Posted (edited)

July 4, 2021

Booking the Serenade of the Seas (or to State this Differently . . . . the Serenade of the Seas Won)

 

Happy Independence Day!

 

I cooked-up a big breakfast this morning with pancakes, turkey bacon, home fries, etc. and we all sat down to eat and to discuss our 2022 vacation.

 

The discussion was not very lengthy, especially after I told them the alternate ship was on Royal Caribbean (they like RCI), and they knew I would be happy with the more glacier-focused itinerary. However, we did go over all of the pros and cons of each (as highlighted in the previous post.

 

So, as soon as breakfast was over, we called RCI, and after discussing the costs and some of the discounts we would be receiving with the Representative (Josh – who was really helpful), we went ahead and booked it. [We placed the Rep on speakerphone so everyone could be a part of the conversation.] By the end of the phone call we had reserved two cabins; one a balcony, and one inside. The cabins are not as close to each other as the Bliss, but still “close enough,” and we took a cabin on the hump looking forward (which I am a big fan of, and also has a slightly larger balcony). [We trust our daughters implicitly, and our DD21 is already living on her own (off campus), but as parents you always want to watch out for them – especially with a DD17 aboard a floating city. I guess the protective nature of a parent never ends, even when the "kids" get older.]

 

Although I was okay with the Bliss itinerary, I am happy we switched. From what I have researched so far, it is a “better” itinerary (which is subjective). The Serenade will constitute a slightly older demographic than the Bliss, but will still be a lot closer to their ages than Princess. I understand that people go on Alaskan cruises for the glaciers, but when I go on vacations (anywhere) with the family it is for the enjoyment of all. Seeing “better” glaciers is nice, but the entire family enjoying themselves is the goal. [I still feel like I have to defend my choice of not going on an itinerary with that includes Glacier National Park. There were some people on the Alaska thread that were pretty brutal in their assessment of my decision, which is why I continue to express this sentiment. Although they mean well, I think it literally gets them mad that I am not following their opinion.]

 

Note: Interesting to note that my DDs were both younger teens or teen/tweens, and knowing my kids, I believe the Bliss would have been the better ship for a family vacation for us regardless of the itinerary or what/how many glaciers there were to see. That would really get some of these “Go Glacier National Park or Go Home” cheerleaders banging their heads. However, I have not yet been on an Alaskan cruise, so we will see if I would reevaluate that statement after I have returned. My favorite answer to the question, is Glacier Bay a “must,” the person answered:

 

Holland America has RTs from Seattle that visit Glacier Bay, other than that there is Sawyer & Hubbard Glacier. Hubbard is so big, you can watch caving with the naked eye. I do 2nd Cranachins rec of HALs cruisetours. IMO- GB isnt a 'must' but if its not much trouble probably the best of the 3. If you want my 'must see' it would be a stop in Sitka.

 

Interesting note on the Hubbard Glacier.  A few years ago (1986, and again in 2002) the area around the Hubbard Glacier had flooded, froze, and blocked off access, and scientists predict that it will happen again – and may become permanent. If we ever go to Alaska again, it may be possible that we would not be able to see Hubbard, but Glacier Bay will still be visible/visitable.

 

I am very fortunate to even be able to take my entire family on an Alaskan cruise – whatever we see.

 

[See attached, but also re-typed below]

 

The new itinerary is as follows:

 

June 26, Sun – Vancouver (Departs: 5 pm)

June 27, Mon – Inside Passage [Sea Day]

June 28, Tue – Sitka (8-5)

June 29, Wed – Tracy Arm Fjord [Sawyer Glacier] (5-9) & Juneau [Mendenhall Glacier?] (12-8)

June 30, Thu – Hubbard Glacier (11-2) [Sea Day]

July 1, Fri – Ketchikan (2-10)

July 2, Sat – [Sea Day]

July 3, Sun – Vancouver (Arrive: 7am)

 

Now I am really, really psyched!

 

With this itinerary change my research on the Serenade of the Seas and the new itinerary begins mostly anew. Luckily, the research into Ketchikan and Juneau are not wasted, and had yet performed much research on Icy Point (there is not much about the port itself, except that there are a lot of excursions leaving from it, but not much to see in the port itself).

 

Some will call me crazy, but the historians and planner out there will understand.  Not that I am saying that there is no history, but with the exception of Sitka, only two of the three ports having limited history (compared to some of the European ports), it seems like most of my research will go into the excursions instead of the port’s history. I get it, we are going there for the nature – which is something that I absolutely love, but the historical researcher part of my brain is going to be looking for more data to process; but I just love history. [Added today: In hindsight, there is a lot more history than meets the eye, especially when taking in the history of the state as a whole and the history of the indigenous people.]

 

We have not booked anything for Vancouver yet, but if we (most likely) arrive a day early or leave a day late, I would most likely conduct one of my famous DIY walking tours and visit a few of the attractions the city has to offer.

itin.PNG

Edited by Travel R
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Posted (edited)

[Today]

 

Cruise Mode

There comes a time before every cruise that I go into what I like to call “Cruise Mode.” Although planning begins for many of the cruises I take a year in advance, it is the weeks or months prior that cruising begins finding its way into my daily routine.

 

For instance, in the morning I usually check my email, news (lately, checking on the Ukraine situation first), and then get to work.  Whereas in months past, I would eventually find my way onto Cruise Critic (CC) during my lunch break or during down time, it has become part of my morning routine. I look at the Alaskan and RCI boards, then the threads in which I am active (such as this one). 

 

Alaskan news has also become a part of my morning news feed as well as a general cruise news search.  It is also amazing that cruise topics subconsciously find its way into the most innocuous discussions with family (and sometimes with friends). Thoughts, and even dreams, also continue to shift towards the Northern Seas.

 

Our Alaskan Cruise is Three Months out, and I am definitely in Cruise Mode.

Russia & Ukraine

Being in cruise mode I am thinking about how world events are or may affect cruising.

 

The stop in St. Petersburg was one of the highlights of our Baltic Cruise.  It is a shame what is going out – I am sure that many people are extremely disappointed (at a very minimum) that Baltic cruises this year will be skipping that port (even if being replaced by others).  Our cruise would have still been memorable – Copenhagen was an amazing city, all the ports had something to see and do. The stop in Germany was probably our least favorite, but Estonia was the hidden gem of the cruise [Estonia, a former Soviet Bloc nation, has expressed concerns about Russia turning its eyes on them.].

 

Note that I have read a few posts where members have stated that even if everything is resolved, cruise lines should not go back to Russia.  I disagree.  The Russian people are good people – do not confuse the government with its population.  This is going to hurt a lot of people in St. Pete that count on tourist dollars even if it does provide some revenues to the government.

 

Although I do not think much will be made of it, I have thought about how this will affect my Alaskan cruise.  Although the words of one mid-level Russian politician about taking back Alaska is to be taken lightly, one can speculate what will happen if the conflict escalates.  Russia, as you know, is very close to Alaska. How close to you ask?  Although Palin is misquoted about seeing Russia from her house (in Wasilla, Alaska, which is north of Anchorage, would be too far to see any hint of Russia), the mainland of the US and Russia is approximately 55 miles apart.  However, there are two islands, Big Diomede (owned by Russia) and Little Diomede (owned by USA) which are only 2.5 miles apart, and during a good cold freeze, it is possible to walk from one island to the other.

 

Being so close does make it a threat if hostilities between the US and USSR heat up. However, it is also speculation, and should not affect cruising in Alaska.

 

Prayers to the people of Ukraine. 

 

Matching Shirts for Family

To turn the discussion to something a little lighter . . . . we have had a tradition of getting matching shirts on our vacations that have some milestone significance.  Yes, we are “those people” that get the matching shirts.

 

This Alaskan cruise will be in celebration of our daughter’s graduations from High School and College, big milestones for each. Although it is usually my DW that brings up and runs with this idea, being in cruise mode, it happened to have come out of my mouth this morning.  However, she will run with it – creating the right design and ordering the shirts – usually sweatshirts. [My DW is not a planner, but this is something she enjoys.]

 

It is a fun thing to do (although some people do give strange looks, most people do enjoy seeing it), so why not, and every time I wear one of those older sweatshirts, it is a reminder of a prior vacation (it is not just for cruises) and the fun and memories we had. It is cold here in the NE this morning, so I happened to (coincidently) put on the shirt from our Baltic trip – which is what spurred me to asking my DW if we were ordering shirts for the cruise this morning.

 

Does anyone else have a similar a tradition/custom?

Edited by Travel R
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We have done matching shirts in the past-not all cruises.  We all had Reeses peanut butter shirts-orange and wore them on more than one cruise.  People would make comments thru out the who cruise about them.  We have done hawaiian shirts too.  Our favorite was on a Bermuda cruise.  My daughter designed the shirt and we did DIY iron on transfers.  We got so many compliments on them we could have sold them and paid for our cruise. It said we survived the bermuda triangle on Friday the 13th during a full moon.

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