Alaska Review w/ pics and tips! 7/11 - 18/2009
Just returned from a fabulous cruise onboard the Serenade of the Seas to Alaska. It was really spectacular!
The following is my review with pictures and tips.
Cast of characters: Me, DH, DD (21) and DS (17)
Friday July 10th
Flew AirCanada from Boston to Vancouver with a connecting flight in Toronto.
AirCanada was terrible. On the first leg of the flight, they sold the same seat to two different passengers which created a delay of over an hour and resulted in us missing our connecting flight in Toronto. The connecting flight was also delayed over an hour due to a mechanical issue -- they needed a filter but didn't have one. Which brings us to TIP #1...
TIP #1: A: If at all possible, fly in a day early to avoid risking missing the ship due to flight delays.
TIP #1: B: DO NOT fly AirCanada. The staff was incompetent and unhelpful.
We arrived in Vancouver to beautiful weather that was a welcome change after suffering through a month of rain in Boston.
Grabbed a limo from LimoJet Gold -- now called Highliner --- at the airport for $41 CAD. They provided excellent service. We stayed at Carmana Plaza where we had a great 2 bedroom suite with two full baths for less than the costs of two rooms at the local hotels.
We then headed out on foot to Gastown. Had a beer at Steamworks Brewing Co. -- great -- saw the Steam Clock -- fun -- and then met my sister and her hubby at the Old Spaghetti factory for dinner -- great, reasonable restaurant for families.
TIP #2: Try to be at the clock on the hour/half/quarter hour as it plays a little tune which is fun.
Next up: Boarding the Serenade!!!
Saturday July 11th
Onboard the Serenade!!!
My sister drove from Idaho to Vancouver so they picked us up and took us to Ballentyne Pier.
After dropping us and the luggage off, the husbands left the truck at CruisePark (about $130 CAD) and took the free shuttle back to the pier (about 30 - 45 min).
Embarkment was the ususal waiting. We were onboard by 1 pm.
We had connecting cabins on Deck 7. These are the cabins with the lifeboat covers right outside the balconies which wasn't really an issue until glacier day when it was hard to see some of the icebergs. But I would book them again as that was the only issue. I spent a good chunk of time out on the balcony throughout the cruise.
After MusterDrill, we grabbed a Drink of the Day (Anchors Aweigh $5.95 US -- just ok) and said Farewell to Vancouver.
There were people waving from the Lions Gate bridge which brings us to TIP #3.
TIP #3: Be on deck when the ship goes under the Lions Gate bridge. It's an awe inspiring sight and is a great way to start your cruise!
Sunday July 12th
Cruising the Inside Passage
Beautiful sunset picture from Day 1 I will share since we didn't get any pictures on Day 2.
Woke up to gray skies, chilly temps and slightly rough seas. A drastic change from Day 1 but don't worry -- this wouldn't last. The fog was thick. As a matter of fact, the ship's fog horn is what woke me at 6 am. Since we really couldn't see the scenery, we used the day to relax and explore the ship.
We attended the ship's Naturalist Lecture on Alaska bears which was informative but left me confused as the lecturer was scheduled to give talks on Financial Planning and then Relationship Communication later in the week. She was a Naturalist/Financial Planner/Therapist all rolled into one!
We attended the Meet and Mingle at 1pm which was fun! I had never attended one before and my family was ready to bolt at any minute but we had a good turnout, Marianna of the cruise staff was great at getting things rolling and answered all of our questions. It was nice to meet my fellow Roll Call members (who we would run into only once or twice for the rest of the week!) and my family ended up staying for the entire meet. I would definitely attend again.
Which brings us to TIP #4...
TIP #4 Attend the M&M. There is a crew member there that you can ask all those silly questions you have but were too afraid to ask, you'll meet some nice people, it takes less than an hour. You'll be glad you did. Trust me.
Rest of the day was spent relaxing in the hot tub, napping on a lounge chair in the Solarium, and playing pool on the nifty self-righting pools tables. We used the pool tables a lot on this cruise. Drink of the Day = Northern Lights -- just ok.
In the evening, we spotted a rare Alaskan elephant on Deck 7.
Monday July 13th
Icy Strait Point
I was really looking forward to this day!! We had a private whale watch excursion with FISHES planned for 11 am. The sun was shining, the sky was clear and it was actually warm enough for shorts.
Since this is a tender port, you should give yourself extra time to get off ship as the lines can get long. However, even this didn't keep us from almost missing our excursion.
My daughter and I were turned away from the tender b/c RCI had replaced our SeaPass but never informed us. The rest of my family went ashore but we had to race to Guest relations to get a new SeaPass then try to get back onto a tender.
When we finally made it across, Floyd of FISHES was waiting in the parking lot with another family who were eager to scoop up our spot had we not shown up (and then lost our deposit). But we made it just a few minutes late and Floyd drove us to his boat in Hoonah where he also lives.
We were enjoying Floyd so much that we barely remembered to take pictures but we did see a Grizzly on shore, sea lions, eagles, salmon and hump back whales. Floyd has a hydrophone that picks up whale noises and is incredible!! When we weren't watching whales, we were listening to them. They can be very noisy!!
We had Floyd drop us off at The Office where we hoped to get some lunch but it was packed so we walked the mile to ISP.
Still walking to ISP...
We ate at the little snack bar at ISP where they have surprisingly good burgers and a great pitcher of Alaskan beer. Went to toss a woodchip into the bonfire but it had gone out and the attendant was gone. Watched the zipline riders come to a frightening stop at the end of the zip line. Then caught one of the last tenders back to ship. Not much else happening in ISP except some shopping which brings us to TIP #5.
TIP #5: Plan an excursion for Icy Strait Point. There is not much to do here and seeing it will take less than an hour. There is a shuttle to Hoonah where there is even less to do. ISP is prime whale watch country so you would be wise to do your whale watching here.[/img]
Tuesday July 14th
Endicott Arm Ford
Our itinerary was to go to Tracy Arm Ford but I think the ice has been slow to melt this year due to a harsh winter so we went to Endicott Arm Ford instead.
Endicott Arm Ford was amazing!! The day was bright and sunny. The sun was blaring hot on our balcony where we stayed for the entire time b/c we really had a great view and it was so relaxing just sitting there seeing the incredible sights.
We grabbed some cocoa w/ Baileys and settled in for things we had never seen before and might never see again...
Slowly as you enter the ford, you begin to see chunks of ice floating beside the ship.
Then the ship is surrounded by ice
And the Glacier is in view!
The Captain turned the ship so all sides had great viewing
We got much closer than I thought we could/would. Much closer than these pictures make it seem. We saw one medium sized calving and about 3-4 small calvings. Even though these weren't large, you could still hear the "white thunder" that they caused.
The ice bergs in the ford were now quite large
They had a beautiful blue tint to them due to the refraction of the light
And there were a lot of seals resting on the larger pieces
Endicott Arm Ford cont.
Several crew members where lowered into a rescue boat to retrieve a chunk of ice which was to be made into an ice sculpture but turned out to be too brittle so it was left on the pool deck for passengers to touch.
Several teens had an impromptu contest to see who could keep their hand on the ice the longest. It was pretty funny to watch.
We spent the rest of the day in the hot tub with a Drink of the Day (Iceberg Cocktail -- just ok).
That night we saw one of the funniest comedians I have ever seen -- Jonathan Clark, a vocal impressionist who had me laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes. The kids didn't always know the celebrity he was impersonating but they got enough to think he was very very funny. (I knew them all which apparently makes me "old".)
Which brings us to TIP # 6
TIP # 6
Go see Jonathan Clark.
Wednesday July 15th
The day was mild and only slightly cloudy -- most of the clouds were way way up in the mountains. Down below in Skagway it was only partly cloudy. Perfect.
The plan: roam around Skagway until our 11:45 Helo/Dog Sled excursion then eat lunch and ride train @ 4:00.
What really happened....
We got off ship around 9 am and wandered around Skagway which wasn't too crowded at that hour but got progressively more crowded as time went by. There were 3 ships in port that day, I believe. There is a shuttle to town which you should take as it's a lot of walking for one day.
Skagway is mostly shopping which we are not really into but we did find a great bakery run by a local woman -- the Lemon Rose -- which had chocolate chips cookies straight from the oven and were delicious. We bought a bunch.
Now it was really crowded in town.
We headed to the excursion meeting place.
But the Helo/Dog Sled was cancelled due the heavy cloud cover!!!!!
The excursion staff were excellent and saved the day!!!!
They offered us a Helo/Glacier tour instead but it was leaving at 4:15pm -- when we were scheduled to be on the train. No problem!!! They switched our train time to 12:45 and booked us on the 4:15 Helo/Glacier tour. Our vacation was saved!!!
So we got in what we thought was the line for the train but were promptly told by the many many other passengers that this was the beginning of the line not the end. So we went to the other end of the line and were told this was not the end but the beginning. ????? A kind staffer informed us that they were all wrong, there is no line just a length of people waiting to board per car. So we hopped into an empty section. When then allowed boarding, it was mayhem -- people pushing, shoving. The train was very crowded -- several families couldn't sit together even on the same car!
The train ride began and once everyone settled down, it was enjoyable. The sights were really something. But the platform was never empty and often crowded.
Would I do it again? Probably not. I fell alseep on the way back.
TIP # 7
Take the last train ride of the day. Yes, it gets back around 7 pm and you may have to eat at the buffet but the late train was much much less crowded and you'll enjoy it more. Especially if you are a train nut like DH and wanted to get those amazing pictures. Really.
Immediatley after disembarking the train we had to run over to the excrusion meeting place for our Glacier tour. This turned out to be fantastic!!
After brief instrustions and donning some very ugly boots that go over your sneakers, we headed out to the helicopters. (By the way, they do this all by weight so be prepared to to fess up ).
What an amazing flight!!! We flew over glaciers, waterfalls, mountains and lakes. Simply amazing.
This alone was worth the fare but there was more to come!
Up ahead ---- Glacier Camp!
Skagway and Glacier Tour cont...
That's it up ahead. See it?
They looked like tiny dots from the air.
Once we landed, the Tour Guide, Jason, herded us into a safe spot and gave out general safety instructions. Two cameras had fallen down crevasses that day so make sure you keep the strap around your neck!
Jason was excellent -- funny, informative and handled a 5 year boy who was bent on either destruction and/or injury with grace and ease.
We drank a bit of glacier water -- very cold -- saw many crevasses and many many bolders which surprised me.
It was a bit more than chilly on the glacier. We had sweatshirts, hats and gloves and were fine except for our cheeks. I am sure on a colder day you would need more than a sweatshirt.
And now TIP # 8
TIP # 8: Always have an alternative plan especially for excursions and especially for excursions that get cancelled a lot like the Dog Sled excursion. We ended up having a great time with the arrangements that the staff provided but I am sure that it's not always that easy to rearrange these things and you should have an idea of what you would be willing to do instead if you excursion gets cancelled.
Thursday July 16th
Juneau dawned just like yesterday only a bit more cloudy and slightly cooler. Still great weather for Alaska, though.
We had an early excursion then planned to tour Juneau.
Today we are doing the Alaskan Canopy Zipline !! Fun !!
A tour bus took us to the boat where fishermen were getting ice.
We rode across the channel
We landed at the meeting place (yes, it lands on the rocks, not a dock and you hop down from the boat)
After instructions and getting suited up in our gear (again by weight -- yikes!) we ride up the mountain a ways in the Jurassic Park type of vehicle. I think they called it a Mog.
Then you hike about 5 min up a very steep incline to the first platform
The idea is to get up to this...
Okay... so.. here we go.
Right hand brakes, left hand steers
Wow!!! What fun! It was easy once you got the hang of it. We even made it across the suspension bridge! Our guides Kyle and Lynn were awesome! They trained us well and put us at ease! Plus they were very entertaining. Lynn had a grizzly break in through her kitchen window and eat her mother's pie, then he came back a few days later through the back door!! Needles to say, that bear will be relocated.
Back to the lodge to drop off equipment and then back to Juneau
It was packed with tourists! I believe there were 4 ships in port that day. The area of Juneau near the docks is very touristy w/ lots of touristy shopping. I had enough after about 30 minutes. It reminded me of Nassau, only colder. We headed for the fringes of the city to get away from the crowds.
We toured the capital bldg. No crowds there ! LOL This was free and I guess it was interesting if you are into that sort of stuff.
We walked around some more until we came to our destination!
This is a local place that Kyle and Lynn had recommended as a great place to get lunch. It's inside the big blue bldg on the water -- you can't miss it. Away from the crowds. Great view of the water, seaplanes taking off and landing, great burgers and chicken sandwiches and it's a brewery, too. Try the limited edition Raspberry Beer --- really good --- or if you don't like fruit in your beer, get the White Beer -- also really good.
My sister and her husb ate at the Twisted Fish right as you leave the docks and enter Juneau --- tourist trap --- she said it wasn't that good and very crowded.
And then we walked back to the ship since we had all aboard at 2:30 pm.
Walking was a mistake. It's a very long walk back to the RCL dock and mostly uphill which leads us to TIP #9.
TIP # 9: Take the shuttle to and from Juneau if you don't have excursion transport. This walk will make you not care if you miss the ship.
TIP # 10: Always ask the locals for advice on where to go, what to see, and where to eat. They know all the good places and are usually pleased to be able to share some of their secrets. We were never given bad advice.
That night we saw the Liar's Club Game Show. It was really not good. Really. Skip it and go to the casino instead.
This is how low the clouds were in Juneau..
Here are local wildlife trying to eat your breakfast when you are not looking...
Next up is... Oh No! The Last Day!
Friday July 17th
Wouldn't you know it! Another gray and cloudy day. Both of our sea days coming and going were not great. But we were fortunate to have fantastic weather for the rest of the cruise so I am not complaining.
We slept late roamed around the ship. You might have noticed that I stopped getting the Drink of the Day. That's b/c they weren't very good. They were strong -- but bitter and not something that makes you say, "I'll have another one of those!" But today I discovered the Sparkling Asian Pear in the Sports Bar. Yummy! Rum, Sprite and Sweet & Sour mix. Try one!
That night we went to dinner to say goodbye to our servers, saw juggler Charlie Peachock who was awesome! Very funny and well worth seeing!
Then we went to Quest.....
We had never been to Quest before...
I understand that I am not supposed to give too much away.
However I do feel obligated to tell all newbies like ourselves not to sit in the very front seats if you are shy or do not intend to participate.
And so now... TIP # 11
TIP # 11: Wear clean underwear on the last sea day.
Saturday July 18th
Back in Vancouver
We arrived back in Vancouver to another beautiful day.
Before we disembark the Serenade, I have to mention our awesome Room Steward, Christine, who took very good care of us, kept us laughing and is someone our family will never forget. We miss her already.
My BIL took shuttle back to Cruise park to get truck and then dropped us off at our hotel, Times Square Suites, where we had another 2 bedroom suite.
And a really nice rooftop deck
We dropped off our luggage, scooted out the back entrance to the bike rental place because today we are going to bike Stanley Park!!!
TIP # 12: If you are staying in Vancouver after the cruise, see if your hotel will let you drop off your luggage early so you can tour the city
I really really enjoyed this. It was mostly level bike paths along the shore with beautiful scenery. If you are physically capable, I highly recommend biking Stanley Park.
It's about 8 miles of biking.
They have bikes for kids and bikes for two.
You can also take the free shuttle around the park.
TIP # 13: Try to avoid eating at the Boathouse which has great views and good food but is way, wayyy over priced. I liked it but didn't think it was worth what we paid for it
After lunch we took a cab (about $17 CAD) to Capilano Suspension Bridge.
Kids will love this place. It's all outdoors and has fun boardwalks high up in the trees.
We ended up paying $99 US for the four of us --- Ask for the US exchange rate if you are paying in US cash!
This was fun, could get crowded but if you wait a minute to cross, the crowds died down.
This is the Tree Top Adventure.
But now it was getting dark in Vancouver.
Time to end our vacation because we have to catch our flight on AirCanada tomorrow which was --- (wait for it) ---- (you've probably guessed it already) --- delayed.
Mechanical trouble again. They couldn't fix the problem so we had to wait while they got another plane. That only took several hours.
Please refer back to TIP # 1B.
Despite this, we still loved this trip ! What a great vacation! We can't wait to go back again and see the ports on other itineraries and hopefully get to go dog sledding.
Your excursions were made thru the ship?
What a wonderful trip, enjoyed the pics and tips as well. Sure makes me want to do that one.
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