Back to cruising, sort of

Sherri Gardner HowellBlount, Farragut, Kitchen Table Talk

The excitement as we entered Pier 91 and the Royal Caribbean terminal in Seattle was crackling in the air. Soon-to-be passengers of Serenade of the Seas were so happy to be back to cruising.

Watching the ease of pre-boarding, I got the feeling I was with primarily veteran cruisers. Indicators that this was engraved in rote memory were there: Luggage tags pre-printed and slipped into plastic covers; tags secured on bags earmarked for transport; Set Sail papers printed out with bar codes facing the scanners; passports out and facing the right way at the right time. Most weren’t sure what to do with the new pre-cruise Covid test paper, but all had them in hand.

What was missing was the throngs of people queuing up to go through the process.

Wow, I thought, I wouldn’t have guessed the new process of scheduling times for you to arrive at the pier would have made this much difference!

It wasn’t the scheduling, I was soon to discover.

We sailed quickly and effortlessly through the process and were on board the ship before a bon-voyage could be muttered.

“Rooms won’t be ready for another hour,” my husband said, because they always open rooms at 2 p.m. “Your rooms are ready now,” said our greeter, after a quick look at her screen. “Your Sea Pass is on your cabin door. May I show you to your room?”

Assuring her we could find it, we found our staterooms ready, and luggage that had been in our Uber 45 minutes ago already outside our door.

“They are always good, but this is amazing,” Neville said.

I was hungry, having ignored the advice I gave my husband and the Melendys to eat a good breakfast. “We need to get to Windjammer (restaurant) as quickly as possible, “I reminded them. “There will be a wait for a table this time of day.”
There wasn’t.

We skipped into the restaurant. Empty tables were everywhere. Service was quick. Nothing was self-serve in this former cafeteria style venue.

The day progressed, and we set sail for Alaska. No sail away party with hordes of people on deck, but still a true spirit of fun and relaxation was settling in for my group and others on board.

The service, attitude and joy of the crew was abundant and unceasing. “We are so happy you are here,” was the most often heard phrase. If hugging had been allowed, it would have been nonstop.

Conversations with table and room stewards, guest services managers and bartenders answered a lot of questions.
This is Seranade’s fifth trip to Alaska, having started the Seattle-to-Seattle trip five weeks ago. The ship holds just over 2,400 passengers and a crew of just under 900.

This trip has 839 guests on board and 700-plus crew. The crew is also getting to know each other, having been gathered from 2020 furloughed staff all over the world. One person said he had heard Royal tried to bring the people who had been out of work the longest back first. “I was home for a year as my ship was one of the first that stopped sailing. I am so happy to be back and have a job.”

For many guests sailing on this trip, having fewer people on board is wonderful, like Disney World in early January. It does have its perks (no waiting for elevators!). I, however, am missing the easy camaraderie that comes with sitting around a table with six new people and hearing their stories. I miss the excitement and silliness that comes from decks crowded with people who have nothing better to do than watch belly-flop contests and Michael Jackson Thriller dances – and are blissfully happy to be there.

On the whole, however, I share the excitement of the crew at being back on a cruise ship. They are serious about health protocols, and there are no exceptions to their protocols allowed. At the same time, they have amped up the friendliness and good service to a level I didn’t know existed. If we don’t have an excellent experience, it won’t be because the crew failed.

Today, as you read this, we sail into Endicott Arm and the Dawes Glacier. The lady helping me find a warmer coat in The Shops gave me a game plan: “You just won’t believe what you are seeing if this is your first time. Wrap up and stay on deck as long as you can. It is amazing.”

So many reasons to be happy! More on Alaska next week.

Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons. Her newest adventure is as a travel agent with her own company, SGH Go Travel. Email her at

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