Our trip to the Pacific Northwest this summer checked off two more states, one Canadian province, and two more national parks in an unforgettable nature-filled two week trek. We visited Seattle, Vancouver, Sitka, Juneau, Skagway, Haines, and the Olympic Peninsula.
I would love to take another Alaska cruise, but I think it would have to be on a larger ship. Sure, the Serenade can get into smaller ports that the big ships can’t, but there just wasn’t much going on during the sea days. I would look at ships that were purpose built for Alaska like the Norwegian Bliss that have more indoor areas for people to hang out on sea days.
Cruise Ships in Juneau
I definitely want to explore different ports on my next Alaska cruise and I think I would look for a cruise that visits Glacier Bay. I’ve heard that park rangers get on the ship and talk about the nature. And it would cross off another national park! Ketchikan is another Alaska port I really wish we got to see!
I would definitely plan strategically if I ever cruise out of Vancouver again. I would make sure to pick the earliest check in time and arrive maybe even an hour before that. I might even look at cruises that start in Seward (Anchorage, Alaska) before looking at cruises out of Seattle.
Cruise ships in Sitka Sound
You can call me crazy, but I would fly in/out of Seattle for a Vancouver cruise again. Amtrak is running the Cascades route again so the train is an option to get from Seattle to Vancouver again. Yes, it was two additional border crossings, but Quick Shuttle was easy and comfortable and honestly, you can’t beat the price of Greyhound. Is it my new preferred means of travel, no, but it got the job done!
I would definitely wait until later in the season to really get to explore Washington’s National Parks. I really don’t know if I can count visiting Mt. Rainier if I couldn’t see the mountain! I’ve been told the fog is less common later in the summer so that is when I would plan my return trip to the Pacific Northwest.
Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park
All-in-all, our 2-week Alaska cruise, Olympic National Park trip was another epic vacation! There were many firsts and experiences I can’t believe we got to do! Where will we explore next? You’ll have to stay tuned to find out!
Disembarkation from Serenade of the Seas was the complete opposite of embarkation. We were off the ship in ten minutes! To be on the safe side, we booked our Quick Shuttle for 10:00 which would have left us standing in the port for two hours. Luckily, they were able to squeeze us onto the 8:00 shuttle. Where our Greyhound experience was less than comfortable, Quick Shuttle was wonderful! The seats were more comfortable and there were fewer stops. If you ever need to get from Vancouver to Seattle (or Vice Versa) I highly recommend Quick Shuttle! They were more expensive than Greyhound, but it is absolutely worth it!
We had Quick Shuttle drop us off at the Bellingham Airport which made the fare cheaper and the ride faster than going all the way to Seattle. This may sound strange, but we discovered it was significantly cheaper for a one-way rental from Bellingham to Seattle than the round-trip from Seattle. It’s things like this that a lot of people wouldn’t think of that allow us to save money when we travel. The rental car was cheaper, our bus rate was less, and it was quicker to not have to stop at all the stops along the way.
For the Washington part of the trip, we stayed at an AirBNB in Port Angeles. Port Angeles is a good base camp for exploring Olympic National Park because the park is spread out throughout the Olympic Peninsula and Port Angeles is centrally located. There are not many places to choose from lodging-wise in Port Angeles, so we ended up this studio apartment in the middle of a ranch home. It was fine but was not ideal for my husband to be working on eastern time. There were some mornings he had his 5 am (8 am eastern) meetings in his car so as to not bother the neighbors.
Olympic National Park is divided into three diverse ecosystems: beach, mountains, and temperate rainforests. Since we had a short time to explore the park (only four afternoons/evenings) we got to explore Rialto Beach, Lake Crescent, Hurricane Ridge, and Hoh Rainforest. There is much more to see in the park, but I feel like we got to see the highlights.
One thing that we learned on this trip is that Washington weather is hard to predict and the weather can vary around the park. For example, it was sunny and warm at our AirBNB but when we got to Hurricane Ridge we hit a wall of fog. When we got home some friends who used to live in the Pacific Northwest told us that you have to go after the 4th of July if you want to actually get to see the area and not just fog. Like I say with most places we visit, I guess we will have to go back another time, later in the year!
Our Alaska cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas was unlike anything else I have ever done before. The scenery was unmatched and the service was spectacular. This trip was full of once-in-a-lifetime experiences!
While we had beautiful weather on our port days, every sea day was cold and rainy. We had hoped to play Pickleball as we did on our Caribbean Cruise, but because of the weather, it was never open. We tried to enjoy our balcony, if you wanted to be out there for an extended period of time, you needed to seriously bundle up. On our way back from Alaska, we had the roughest seas I have ever encountered on a cruise. Seriously, they had barf bags placed around the ship for those prone to seasickness. I have to say, I had never seen that before.
The Serenade of the Seas is the smallest ship I’ve ever sailed on. Having sailed on the Explorer of the Seas almost exactly three months prior, I was doing a lot of comparing in my head while onboard. Small ships like the Serenade have their pros and cons, the pros being that they can get into ports where the larger ships don’t fit. The Serenade is actually the ship Royal is using for their World Cruise in 2023. The biggest con, of course, is that there is less to do on board. I don’t know if it was because we were usually the smallest ship in port, but we always ended up at the dock farthest away from town (left).
Since our cruise on the Explorer was when Royal Caribbean was getting back into sailing at almost full capacity, a lot of my complaints from our spring cruise had been resolved. Crew members were no longer serving everything in the buffet and service in the dining room was much smoother. With my time dining, they didn’t try to seat you in the same table every day like they did on the Explorer so we didn’t have to wait as long to eat.
From the sail-away show, I knew the entertainment on this ship was not going to be for me. John, the cruise director came on stage singing Sweet Caroline and had everyone play Simon Says. I felt like I was in the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel when she goes to her camp in the Catskills (for those of you who aren’t familiar with this show, it takes place in the 1950s. That’s really all you need to know for this reference). Shortly after that, the assistant cruise director came out to sell you Bingo cards. I felt like the youngest person on board by at least 40 years. Royal Caribbean is known for being a family cruise line so I was not expecting this at all.
Mini Golf on the Serenade of the Seas
In my review of the Explorer of the Seas, I was blown away by how many activities were going on around the ship when we were in port each day. That was not the case on the Serenade. We had three sea days on this cruise and I felt like there was nothing to do. Because of the weather, everyone was indoors. There was trivia twice a day that was standing-room only. There was a small movie theater where you wouldn’t get a seat if you didn’t show up half an hour early. There was an enrichment lecture by Canadian Mountie that we went to because…what else was there to do? We did enjoy the production shows and the comedian made us laugh. We kept running into him in port, which was funny.
While this review may seem like it’s full of complaints, I really did enjoy this cruise. I think if I were to sail to Alaska again, I would choose a ship that was purpose-built for Alaska, like the Norwegian Bliss. It has many more indoor areas to get out of the cold, rainy Alaska weather at sea. After this cruise, we are taking a break from Royal Caribbean. We have another cruise booked, this time on Celebrity, which will be interesting.
We started our one day in Vancouver nice and early being that our bodies were still in Eastern Time. We left our Airbnb in a beautiful North Vancouver neighborhood and spent several hours at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. From there we took a bus and Sea Bus (what Vancouver calls its fery) to downtown Vancouver.
When planning our day in Vancouver, I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to eat at Japadog. I have no idea where I had heard of Japadog, but the concept intrigued me: Japanese flavors meet an American staple. I can’t tell you enough how delicious these hot dogs were! I wish there was a Japadog in Michigan!
After lunch, we headed to the Vancouver Lookout to get a bird’s eye view of the city (top). Built in 1977 by Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, the Harbor Center Building that houses the lookout was the tallest building in the city at the time. Nowadays, a glass elevator takes guests 168 meters (553 feet) up to a viewing platform with a 360-degree view of Vancouver from the 6th tallest building in the city. The Top of Vancouver revolving restaurant is also in the Harbor Center Building for visitors looking for a fine dining experience with an unbeatable view. As a cruise nerd, I enjoyed seeing the ships at Canada Place (left)!
From there we took a bus to Stanley Park and walked around enjoying the beautiful day. With over 1,000 acres, there is a lot to explore in Stanley Park. The park first opened in 1888 and was named after Lord Stanley, the 6th governor general of Canada. Construction of the Seawall (above) began in 1917 and took decades to complete. There is much to do in Stanley Park including 27 km of trails, a waterpark, beaches, the Vancouver Aquarium, or ride a horse-drawn carriage, trolley, or train. You could spend a whole day exploring the park!
I definitely feel like we barely scratched the surface of Vancouver! One thing I wanted to do that we just didn’t have time for was a culinary tour of Chinatown. I guess Vancouver will have to go on the list of places to return to!
While planning our one day in Vancouver, the one thing I knew I wanted to see was the Capilano Suspension Bridge and since we were not going to have a car for this day, we decided to rent an Airbnb in North Vancouver. The area was very nice and we enjoyed walking past all the beautifully manicured gardens to a nearby coffee shop for breakfast. We were even able to walk from our Airbnb to Capilano Bridge Park.
Since it was so close to our Airbnb and we were still adjusting to Pacific Time, we got to the suspension bridge shortly after they opened and I was glad that we did. You can see in the picture (left) that the bridge was busy even at 9:30 in the morning.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge was the first tourist attraction in Vancouver, with the original hemp-rope bridge built in 1888. The current bridge is 140 meters (459 feet) long and is suspended 70 meters (229 feet) above the river. But, there is more to the park than one bridge. A series of seven smaller suspension bridges take you high up in the tall douglas fir trees for a “squirrel’s eye view of the forest”. Interestingly, the platforms in the trees were designed to allow for the continuing growth of the forest using an innovative tree-collar design without any nails or bolts in the trees. While the big suspension bridge is more exciting, I really preferred the bridges in what the park calls “Treetops Adventure”.
The Cliffwalk walkways jut out from the granite cliff suspending trekkers over the rushing water below with open grates in some parts allowing you to see just how far up you are. To me, this wasn’t as scary as the big bridge. Where the suspension bridge moves with each step and sways with the breeze, these walkways aren’t going anywhere.
American Kestral at the Raptor Talk
One of the first areas of the park you see is the Kai’Palano which celebrates the area’s First Nation cultures by showcasing several Totem Poles surrounded by educational signs. Many of the totem poles become the first photo opportunity for families in the park.
We happened to stumble into a Raptor Talk at the Raptors Ridge area of the Park and besides the fact that it seemed like the featured birds weren’t native to the area, it was very interesting. One of the biggest takeaways for me is that one of the biggest killers of bald eagles and other raptors is ingesting poisoned food (i.e. mice and rats) and that is 100% preventable. There are other ways to deal with an infestation in your home than putting out poison which has a much bigger effect than just killing the mouse in your house.
Overall, we spent several hours exploring all the trails, bridges, and viewpoints in the park and even though the entrance ticket is pricey (C$62.95 for adults) we thought it was totally worth it and would probably return on our next visit to Vancouver. If you are on the fence about visiting Capilano Suspension Bridge, I highly recommend it!
With our crazy plan to get to Alaska, we had one day to explore the highlights of Seattle. It was a dreary day, raining on and off. I feel like we got an authentic Seattle experience.
Chris stayed at a Citizen M hotel in Los Angeles a few weeks before and he really wanted me to experience it, so we changed our reservation in Seattle to the Citizen M in South Lake Union. The hotel really caters to business travelers with small rooms and workstations scattered around the lobby. I think it would be a great hotel for a solo traveler, but there were a lot of things about it that made it challenging for two. But, the good news is it is within walking distance of both the Space Needle and Pike Place Market.
We headed first to the Space Needle. The most well-known of Seattle’s attractions, the Space Needle is synonymous with the Pacific Northwest. Built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, the Space Needle is 605 feet tall and was built to withstand a category 5 hurricane and a 9.1 magnitude earthquake. At the top, there is an observation deck and “the loupe”, the world’s first rotating glass floor. It was a great way to get a view of the city, but because of the cloudy weather, we weren’t able to see as far as possible on a clear day.
What I was most excited to see in Seattle was the Chihuly Gardens and Glass. I have loved Dale Chihuly’s work since I first saw it in 2012 at Meijer Gardens but this museum highlighted it best. The galleries were made for these unique glass structures and the lighting really made the artwork pop! In the gardens, it was cool to see the glass blended with the flowers in a way that glass additions to an already established garden just can’t do. Combination tickets are available for the Space Needle and Chihuly Gardens and are a great way to see both Seattle Attractions.
From the gardens we walked a mile to Pike Place Market. Pike Place Market is the oldest continuously operating farmer’s market in the United States and is famous for the fishmongers throwing fish. Today the Market is home to over 200 stalls selling everything from flowers and fish to local art and souvenir t-shirts. We had planned to eat at the market, but got hungry along the way so there wasn’t anything we needed during our visit. We did stop at Three Girls Bakery for amazing peanut butter cookies and Rachel’s for a ginger beer.
After our day exploring the city, we headed to the Greyhound Station for our bus to Vancouver. The bus station is not in the nicest part of town, but I never felt unsafe while waiting. The drive was almost five hours with traffic and the bus seats were more uncomfortable than I expected, but customs in Canada was a breeze. I heard horror stories from people on our cruise about the lines for customs at the Vancouver airport taking two hours. We were in and out of there in less than 30 minutes for the whole bus. You do have to take everything you brought with you off the bus, including under bus luggage, so it’s a little more of a hassle than in the airport, but it was not bad at all. Overall, the next time I have to go to Vancouver, I will book a direct flight, but if for some reason I had to get somewhere and Greyhound is the only option, I would do it again for a short (less than 5 hour) ride.
We are back from another amazing trip! This time, we headed to the Pacific Northwest to cruise to Alaska on Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas! We went to a lot of places that have been on my list for a long time and I really feel like I just got my toes wet in this beautiful area!
This may not come as a surprise to longtime readers, but we will go to some great depths for a cheap flight. For this trip, we booked nonrefundable flights to Seattle with a cruise leaving out of Vancouver with the thought that we would take Amtrak across the border, but when we went to book the train we learned that it hasn’t been operating since COVID. There was hope that they would get it running this summer, but now it’s been pushed back to the winter. So, after doing hours of research we decided to take the bus across the border. Because of schedules we ended up book Greyhound from Seattle to Vancouver and then QuickShuttle from Vancouver to Bellingham, Washington where we rented a car for the rest of the trip. I will give our thoughts on these options as it comes up in the trip report.
Here’s a little rundown of what is to come on this trip report: