TRIP REPORT - Vancouver & Alaska Cruise

Aug 7th, 2004, 01:48 PM
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Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 126
TRIP REPORT - Vancouver & Alaska Cruise

This is a very long review and I hope it will help others. I did not include our 3 extra days in Vancouver but will post it separately sometime soon.

FLYING INTO VANCOUVER/GETTING TO HOTEL We flew into Vancouver on a non-stop flight from Newark, NJ. The best move we made was taking a non-stop into Vancouver versus into Seattle as we heard many complaints over the extra time up to 4 hrs by bus which can be an awful way to save a few dollars.
We arrived in Vancouver at 11:00am. Once we were off the plane, the wait to get through customs was over an hour as Saturday is the busiest day of the week. We did play a game which helped us pass the time. Someone think of a movie title and the last letter of the title is where the next title comes from. It was fun and helped us forget about the lines! Once out of customs getting our bags was right behind the customs booths and since the wait was so long, gathering your bags is stress free! As there were four adults we had a lot of luggage and invested in using a porter (this really helped after we got off the ship as I will explain later). Once outside of the baggage claim is where all of the cruise line representatives are waiting to assist you if you are going directly on a cruise. Off to the right side was a booth which mentioned the fast limo to downtown for $41 CDN plus tip. After researching, this was our best option since we had four adults. The limo company LimoJet Gold is the only company allowed in the airport area and reservations are not required. We purchased a return trip as well upon our arrival to save time. The trip to our downtown hotel, The Hyatt only took 20 minutes.

CHECKING INTO THE HOTEL/HAVING LUNCH - I had booked the Hyatt on with a rate of $75(US including fees) per room for three rooms for the Saturday night. We arrived at the hotel around Noon and were told that our three connecting rooms (as one was a junior suite) would not be ready until 4pm. My husband and I were traveling with two seniors so we tried to save them excess walking when ever possible. Some of the choices we made I normally would not have made but in the end everything was fine. Everyone was starved so we tried out the hotel?s restaurant The Mosaic Bar and Grill. A limited menu and the sandwiches were priced around $10-15 CDN. Everyone was a bit surprised at that, however the portions were very large and all of our sandwiches were delicious!

TAKING A VANCOUVER CITY TOUR After our meal we waited in the lobby as we had booked a city tour at 2pm since we figured we would not be allowed in our rooms. The city tour was through Land Sea Tours ( as this was the most comprehensive city tour for $49 CDN per adult. Most tour companies offered a pre or post tour after the cruise and they will pick you up with your luggage and take it and you to the ship after the cruise. This Saturday was the hottest day of the year at 89 and while the bus was small the driver would turn off the air, as we made stops and it was just overwhelming at times. We did not feel there was enough time at Queen Elisabeth Park which was why we chose this tour in the first place. But this is the problem when you take a guided tour as if we were on our own we would have walked, taken taxis etc but the elders wanted no part of that? The tour ended around 6pm and we were finally allowed to check in to our rooms. The hotel was sold out so I had no idea how the rooms would be but they gave us three adjoining non smoking rooms, one was a KING with a balcony which connect with a long hallway (great place to store all of our luggage). This attached to a Murphy bed room which had a couch and chairs and had its own bathroom and the third room had two QUEEN beds, and all were non-smoking. So for the price of $225 we felt this was a great deal!

DINNER AT THE HOTEL. We had dinner at the Mosaic Bar and Grill, again a small menu but the choices were all great and even the portions were big as well. (We purchased The Entertainment Guide for Vancouver) there was a buy one dinner entrée get one free coupon which helped us save over $50 as we had two books. The bellmen also gave us a coupon for a free app or dessert when you buy an entrée. Since we were all jetlagged I did not mind having dinner in the hotel.

GETTING TO BALLANYNE PIER - The next morning we had breakfast again in the dining room, they had a nice selection with either a full breakfast buffet for $19CDN or ordering off a menu a la carte. We decided to head to the pier around 10am. The Hyatt arranged for a van taxi and we fit 4 adults and 12 pieces of luggage in one taxi. The ride took 15 minutes to Ballantyne Pier for our cruise to Alaska using Serenade of the Seas on Royal Caribbean, and the cost with tip was $15CDN. If your ship leaves out of Canada Place the ride from the Hyatt is less than 5 minutes and the cost is $5CDN.

GETTING ON THE SHIP & WHERE IS MY LUGGAGE - The customs line did not open until 11am. We sat around and got on the line at around 10:50am. Once we went through x-ray machines, we were lead to counters which were set up by deck number. After a few minutes, we received our cruise cards and headed up an escalator which took us to a holding area. We received a number 1. Drinks and cookies were offered in this area as well as restrooms. At around Noon customs came in and the process began. While our group was number 1 for US Passport holders a few other groups were called ahead. The only problem was all guests starting swarming around the area waiting for there number (think of when airlines call passengers to board the plane, same type of chaos), people just have no patience! Around 12:05 our number was called and went through customs and we were on the boat by 12:10. Rooms were not opened until 1pm so don?t bother trying to get to your room early. We went straight to the Windjammer café where lunch was being served. There was a nice variety of food, hot and cold alternatives. The food was fine but as with any buffet the hot food does not stay hot. The area was not busy yet and we felt good about getting to the pier early as we were one of the first on the ship with very little waiting, and finding a table in the Windjammer was easy to find! Just make sure that whatever luggage you give to the cruise ship; you won?t need for the first day. Our luggage did not arrive until after dinner as this was the only major problem with the ship but everyone seemed to understand as this is a huge undertaking. The ship embarked around 5:10pm and our cruise was underway! After dinner our stateroom attendant, Fernando located our luggage so we were able to unpack

GETTING SICK ON THE SHIP - By day two there were a lot of people sick from the motion. My mother in law took the Dramamine too late and had relied only on the wrist bands. The ships doctor would only offer pills or a shot and that was it. They were open on deck two from 9-11am and 5-7pm. She was sick the entire night and we did not find out until the next morning. We were able to call for a wheelchair to assist us in getting her to the doctor?s office. She got the shot ($125 total bill) and felt better within a few hours. Everyone is given a bill which they can submit to their insurance company for reimbursement. I made sure we took the Dramamine from the start of the cruise, at night so you could go too sleep real easy as Dramamine sometimes can make you tired.

THE SHIP & OUR BALCONY CABIN - The first day, was a day at sea. The Serenade of the Sea is an amazing grand ship; it is worth touring the entire ship to see what she has to offer you. Our room was an E3 Balcony #7562. This was the first time we got a balcony and for Alaska it was worth it! The room seemed small for a balcony room and the balcony view was sort of obstructed as the life boats were right below us so we had to look out and down to see the water. There was enough organized closet space and we did manage to hide our 3 huge pieces of luggage, 2 under the bed and one in the closet. We asked our cabin steward to empty the refrigerator so we could load our own water and soda that we brought with us. Other family had an inside cabin which did seem bigger and more organized than on other ships. The shower was great with a round design as there were two doors that slid closed to create a door and it was great to not have to worry about a shower curtain and the water getting all over the bathroom. Every employee was wonderful, helpful and caring. Our waiters were Germaine and Marlon. Both were very helpful and a pleasure to see every night. Other reviews I had read felt the dining room service was off because they did not order alcohol, however nobody at our table did and we did not have any problems.

CRUSING THE HUBBARD GLACIER ? Our second day we cruised to the Hubbard Glacier at around 12:30pm. We just had enough time to finish lunch in the dining room and we were back in our cabin outside on the balcony. The weather was overcast and cold. We were fine wearing a fleece layer for outside on the balcony. The only thing I wish I had brought were a pair of gloves. Others who went outside on deck by the helicopter area at the front of the ship needed more layers. The ship did offer hot alcoholic drinks for like $10 bucks. There was a channel on the TV where you could hear announcements as well as view the temperature and see the front of the ship live (because you could not hear anything in the room unless it was an emergency). They had a few people give information and a couple sounding like they were children of a local tribe. Because it was overcast we were lucky that we could see the blue color in the glacier as if it was bright and sunny the color would have been washed out.

FIRST PORT ? SKAGWAY, ALASKA - Skagway was nice but a very small town. At every port our ship was furthest away from anything. At Skagway there was a long walk down the pier and a free golf cart ride was offered to get to the end of the pier. The White Pass Scenic Railroad was right at the end of the dock so it was very easy to walk too. This was the tour we took and it was a great. We took the earliest 8am tour which we had booked online at the Royal Caribbean Cruise line website. The biggest tip I can give you is research your tour options early. Book anything you want before you board the ship, that way you don?t have to worry about standing online at the excursion desk. Because the train did not have air conditioning so as the day went on if it was hot, it would be very uncomfortable. They did give away free bottled water and every car had a bathroom. Once they were out of the city limits, you could go stand outside the car. We were in the last car so it was nice to be able to stand outside and get a different viewpoint. Once you board the train sit on the left side as there is more scenery on this side to see. Once you hit the top they ask everyone to move to the other side so everyone can get the same perspective. Every cruise line offers a different day and time in different ports. The problem we all had was our longest day was in Skagway. This town was so small and there was not a lot to do and we were in port from 7:30am ? 8:30pm. After our tour we went back on the ship and had lunch. After that we walked back into the town. Once interesting point to see is as you walk into the town you will see a park. Cut through the park and you will see a bridge. On the bridge you will see pens that were set up to catch salmon, and there were some big salmon to see. Otherwise the town felt like the old west and there was plenty of shopping. At the shopping talk on the ship we were offered a book to purchase which offered discounts in ports for $20 bucks. The book had some free offers but they were cheap looking and if you?re not going to spend a lot on jewelry it is really not worth the price.

SECOND PORT JUNEAU, ALASKA - There was so many tours and things to do in Juneau that we did not have enough time. We were in port from 7am ? 4pm and they want you back on the ship by 3:30pm. After doing research we booked our two tours with local companies and they were great! We used Orca Enterprises for our Whale Watching Trip and they in turn booked our glacier helicopter ride with Coastal Helicopters Both tours were booked by phone and half charged ASAP and the balance was charged one day before we arrived in Juneau. In Juneau we were a very long walk from town. We opted for the 5 minute bus shuttle which cost $3 round trip and was available every 15 minutes right on the pier. We were left across the street from Orca Enterprises. After checking in at 8:45 for our 9am departure we were put in another shuttle bus and driven to the pier. The weather was overcast 65 and we had a little rain while on board and on our way back to the pier. We had Captain Larry in our boat who was very knowledgeable and a wonderful guide. We did see a school of whales bubbling and while it was not like free Willie we did get some nice shots. People on the boat said it is very rare to see whales out of the water but that it happens more in Hawaii with the warm waters. They did offer a snack of cheese crackers and salmon and some drinks while on the boat. I met a women a few days later who was in Juneau the day before us and the whales were out in full force jumping all over the place! So it all depends on timing and the whales. Once we returned to the pier, another bus picked us up and drove us to our helicopter ride. It was raining and we assumed our copter ride would be cancelled. It was not and I received some very interesting information. While at Coastal they told us how they have a small fleet of very experienced pilots and they can go to some different Glaciers which almost never get cancelled because the weather is always clear. They mentioned how the companies that work with the cruise lines have a number of inexperienced pilots and they fly in a large formation with one experienced pilot leading the way. They said that is the real reason why flights are cancelled when it?s too cloudy or raining. And the companies try to persuade people not to use Coastal citing that it?s not safe to fly in bad weather. Well depending on the ride, I figured we would find out if he was telling the truth. This was our first helicopter ride and it was smooth and amazing. Even with the rain we had no problems as our pilot was great. We landed on Hubeurt Glacier. Of course the only problem was because of the rain the glacier was very slippery. We were given insulated boot covers that went over our sneakers but they did not have those iron spikes, which would have made the walk much easier. It was an amazing glacier to stand on but as I kept slipping the pilot was happy to walk with me so I would not fall. I was nervous as I had injured my knee about a month ago. After find a patch of sand we walked a little further and saw this amazing waterfall in the glacier, it was breathtaking to say the least. The company then drove us back into town and would drop you off wherever you wanted. After doing both of these tours it was now 2:30pm so we just headed back to the ship to get something to eat. We did realize that Coastal was telling the truth, besides the smooth wonderful ride we had, we found out that all tours through the ship were cancelled that day as well as any sled dog excursions. As we were leaving port the sun came out and we saw a formation of helicopters about 6-7 all in the air flying towards a glacier. I would use Coastal again if we ever go back to Juneau as well as Orca as they were both local and great companies to deal with.

THIRD PORT KETCHIKAN, ALASKA We were in port from 8-3pm. We did not book any excursions as we thought we would just walk around the town. My mother in law who has trouble walking wanted to take a tour of the town. We decided to go with her. As we walked off the pier, a booth was offering a trolley tour. The cost was $30 but we got him down to $25. The tour guide was a native and she was wonderful as she was very knowledgeable. The seats were very small and the tour was fine as it included going to one of the totem parks which was not walk able along with a few other stops along the way. The tour was 9:45am and we got back to the ship around Noon. While this tour was ok, it was a very inexpensive way to view the totem poles without taking a cruise tour. After lunch we went into the town to pick up some t-shirts etc. One stop I love was a short walk to Orca Kettle Corn. This small walk up shop offered fresh popcorn which if you got the kettle version was a bit sweet and salty. They also had regular buttery/salty movie popcorn but the Kettle Corn was a super treat!

CRUISING MISTY FJORDS - Once back on board from our balcony we had a nice view of the harbor and watched numerous float planes returning from Misty Fjords. After we set sail from Ketchikan at around 5pm we passed through the Misty Fjords. This was an amazing site of trees and while we did not see any bears or eagles sometimes you do see them. Because of a lack of rain the waterfalls were dry which would have added to this amazing scenery. The only issue we had was this took place during dinner. We had debated do we skip the dinning room or not. We ended up going to dinner at 6:15pm and felt we had seen and captured a good portion of the Fjords on tape.

SO HOW WAS THE FOOD - I had read numerous people asking about the quality of the food on this ship. As a former foodservice manager, I would take an honest approach in my review. Our group had been on 4 other cruises, 3 with Carnival and 1 with Royal Caribbean. On our first RCCL my husband and I were on our honeymoon. We took a 4 night out of LA to Baja, Mexico. The ship was the Viking Serenade. If anyone had ever been on this ship, it was old, very old and had serious problems. It was finally taken out of service, but we decided not to hold it against RCCL and give them another shot. After a few nights in the dining room, we all seemed to have the same opinion. The food tasted fine, but the variety was not good. You were lucky if you found one option to your likening. I understand that everyone has different tastes but on all Carnival ships we found 2-3 appetizers as well as entrees that we liked and since the portions were small we would try them all. This was not the case on the Serenade of the Seas. As for the dinning room at lunch the menu was the same every day but one different special would be offered, same for breakfast. The biggest variety was offered in the Windjammer Café. While this was a buffet style they were a variety of stations, which flowed very well.

SO HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO COOK A LOBSTER? - Our biggest complaint occurred on the night they served lobster tails. My first red flag was that they did not serve them on any of our two formal nights. Cruises in the past would have a wonderful upscale menu on the formal nights to add to the theme. They waited until the Friday dinner which was when we passed through the Misty Fjords, during the early dinner another red flag. All week our dining room had flowed like clockwork, no issues or problems. Anytime we wanted seconds, the food was out in a few minutes. For some reason it took 20 minutes to get a second lobster tail. As a former foodservice manager I knew what they were doing, and I was discussed and upset to say the least. I did not say anything as I did not want to get our waiters into trouble. As we were leaving the dinning room, I did over hear a few other waiters saying how they were pressured to be slow with the lobster tails etc. And too make matters worse; the dinning room was half empty that night. I do plan on writing a letter to RCCL because this has to be company policy. This ship cost a lot of money to build and if they are so worried about the cost of lobster tails then should not put them on the menu! I never had this problem on any other cruise line, not ever. It?s something like this, one incident in the dinning room that has made our entire group, never want to go on RCCL again! The ship was grand, the crew was amazing, and everyone from our room steward, to our waiters was great. Another sign how great people were. As a gold client we received a book with coupons to use on the ship. We each had a coupon which was buy one cocktail get one free. We don?t drink much but at two shows we got there early and the same waiter bring us two drinks. On the last night we were stuffed and out of coupons, and he brought us over two free drinks, as a way to say thank you. We were shocked and amazed that this happened because we only purchased four drinks and two of them were free!

GETTING OFF THE SHIP - So here it was our last morning on the ship. The day before your room steward would leave you a number of color coded tags for you to place on your luggage, which had to be out the last night by 11pm. We were staying in Vancouver for a few extra days, so we were in no rush to leave the ship. We gathered for breakfast in the Windjammer Café at around 8am. Breakfast was served until 8:30am. By 9 the doors were closed and they were clearing off, getting ready for the arrival lunch. After you ate, you could sit any where on the ship and wait for your color and number to be called. So at about 9:30 our number, really everyone?s numbers were called. As we departed the ship, you could see into the lower area where the huge lines were waiting to pass customs. I found a few benches and I parked our group there. We had a few elderly people who did not want the assistance of wheelchairs and could not stand for long periods of time. At about 10:15 we began to make our way down the walkway, and by the time we had reached the customs area, our luggage had been collected and was all in the same area by a RCCL desk. I asked for a porter because we had so many luggages. This was the key and let me tell you this is the best way to avoid the lines. GET A PORTER! We did not have to stand in the customs line and I gathered everyone?s passports and the porter gave them to a customs agent. Then in the other room was a huge line where everyone was waiting for taxis. Again we bypassed that line and this entire process took us 15 minutes! We had to wait another 15 minutes for a van taxi otherwise we would have been given the first available taxi. I was shocked to say the least how easy this process was. We tipped him $10 CDN and if I would have realized how much time he would have saved us, I would have tipped him more!

HOTEL IN VANCOUVER ? I used priceline again, and received 2 rooms for 3 nights at $65 US per night. We got to the hotel around 11:30am. It seems the only downside with getting the room from priceline is the Hyatt would not let us check in early as I saw other guest being able to do. But it was no big deal. We walked to Canada Place and saw an Imax Movie. With coupons from the Entertainment book it was buy one get one free into the movie. After May the price of the coupon book goes down to $10 from $30 and they really do pay for themselves!
Arriving back at the hotel at 3pmish we were able to check into our rooms. We both received two double beds, non smoking and while they were not adjoining they were on the same floor. We had dinner at the Hyatt with a couple we met at our table for dinner on the cruise. We had a nice time and they enjoyed the food which made us all happy. Monday was BC Day so government offices were closed as well as some stores near us but attractions were not affected. We found a free shuttle bus that picked us up at the hotel and would take us to Stanley Park. The shuttle was offered by the AAA Horse Tour Company which is an attraction in Stanley Park. We bought our tickets for the Aquarium there and because we pre-paid we were able to go through an express line. The Aquarium is a wonderful place to explore. It is small but jammed packed with lots of exciting things to see. Once we left the Aquarium at around Noon the line was very very long so buying the express entry ticket can help a lot. We had another buy one get one free for the horse tour which I did not really want to do but we did it. The tour was fine, but covered most of the park we had already seen. And after our tour this was the last free bus back to the hotel and we bypassed a lunch at The Fish House in Stanley Park. Another mistake I would not make in the future. Monday?s dinner was on Robson St at a Greek restaurant called Kalypso. The concierge desks said this place was horrible but with another buy one entrée get one free we decided to try it. The food was fine; Entrées were $10-20 and served good sized portions. On Tuesday it was rainy and we went to Science World as my husband wanted to see the 007 exhibition. We took the sky train from right outside the Hyatt, and got there around 9:30am. We did not understand the sky train system as it differs from the NYC subway system. You purchase tickets out of a machine and for one way as the tickets were only valid for 90 minutes. They do have people who ride and check the trains and if you don?t have a ticket you are fined a large amt of money. The round trip was $4 per person. We walked right in and had the place to ourselves. By 11am the place was packed so we left. We found a nice restaurant near the Hyatt for Dim Sum called The Kirin Restaurant. You ordered off a menu and the food was great. For $18cdn we stuffed ourselves! I found a great pastry shop called Senses, which was only a few blocks from the Hyatt. They had these amazing cookies called Sparkle cookies. They were $8 for a six pack but well worth the money. The cookie was crunchy on the outside and soft and truffle like on the inside. They have a website and give the recipe so these will be my new Christmas cookie! Dinner we met our friends again at the Café Pacifica which is located in the Pan Pacific Hotel. Again we had another buy one entrée get one free so this was another bargain. The restaurant had wonderful views of the harbor. The meal started out fine, the bread and onion soups were first rate. Our entrees varied. Some had a shrimp with chow mein noodles. The shrimp were sautéed but still had the shell on them. Some of the group was not impressed. And they thought the chow mein noodles should have been crispy and they were not. Our server was very slow as we had a group of 6 and the meal with dessert took 2.5 hours. The desserts were presented very well and everyone enjoyed them. I would not do this place again for dinner but I would try breakfast or lunch.

TIME TO GO HOME On our last morning we wanted something different for breakfast. We walked up to Robson St and found a Café Crepe restaurant. This place was a nice change of pace to say the least. The crepes were great and the most expensive was $6.50 which was the spinach and feta cheese crepe. They had a huge variety of coffee selections as well. It seems they were just opening when we arrived at 8am. The only drawback which did not affect us is there is not a lot of seating as this could be a problem if it gets crowded. So then it was back to the hotel and the limo jet gold picked us up at 10:15am. We were at the airport by 10:50am. We got a porter to help us with our luggage. He took it inside and the Continental counter was a little confusing. There was a sign which an arrow pointing for regular customers and another had packed line for Elite customers only. But the porter had us fill out the customs forms first and then told us to stand on another line. So there were three lines and only two representatives. They finally added another ticket person and after about 20 minutes we were through line one. We carried our luggage on rolling carts as the porter transported them from a large rack. The next line went quick and we had to show id and that our customs forms were filled out. We then passed through the duty free shop, which did seem stupid as everyone had so much luggage with them. The next line was customs and the line was only about three rows deep. We finally went through customs and then we were able to drop off our luggage at a specific belt depending on your airline. It was about 12:05pm and our gate was 82. We found a restaurant near the gate which had a variety of choices. We ate and then boarded our plane at about 12:30pm. The airline was very helpful as I asked that my mother in law be able to board the plane first. So they let us both go on the plane early with others who were in wheelchairs and needed extra assistance. This was a big change from Continental in Newark. First they let Elite members board first, and by that time there was a huge line gathering as everyone wanted to board the plane first. In Vancouver they boarded those needing extra assistance first without any announcements and it was a very smooth transaction. The flight home was fine with no problems except the plane which should have left at 1:00pm we were on the ground until 1:30pm or so.
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