Length: 962 ft
Passengers (all berths): 2,501
Registry: BahamasBest For People Who Want
A spacious, modern ship with plenty of nightlife and all the other trappings of a mega-ship without the crowds.Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
A small-ship congeniality and comradely atmosphere; single open seating; a large variety of dining optionsOnboard Experience
As the third ship in the Radiance-class of modern vessels by Royal Caribbean, (Radiance, Brilliance, Serenade Jewel) Serenade and her sisters were built as the antidote to the concept of bigger is better as typified by the larger Voyager-class ships of Royal Caribbean, 1999. These ships are newer and smaller, and they are also better, carrying all the sports and dining options of the bigger ships, but in a smaller package with more space per passenger.
And what's not to like? At just over 90,000-tons for 2500 passengers (maximum), these ships fit in to the "right-sized" category of ships akin to Carnival Spirit, and Island Princess, to give you the best a mega-ship has to offer, such as an array of onboard activities, but in a more uncrowded and accessible manner. These are the modern mid-sized ships which give you the best of all possible cruising worlds, comfort & convenience with plenty of action in an uncrowded environment.Decor
Serenade is an airy and open ship, with plenty of views of the sea, unlike her Voyager-class brethren. The atrium, called the "Centrum" rises nine light-filled decks with vast expanses of floor-to-ceiling glass making this ship a joy to sail to picturesque destinations. In fact, fully half the ship's exterior is glass, some 110,000 square feet of it! An enormous glass panel rises from Decks 5 (the lobby) to 12, making visible vast expanses of sea and sky.
The ship's most beautiful rooms are on Deck 6. Schooners Bar is thoroughly nautical, with dark paneling and blue carpet. The enormous low-key Colony Club evokes a private British club you'd see in a film adaptation of a Graham Greene novel set in India or Hong Kong. The Solarium, a glassed-in pool area, has an African theme, with three enormous plaster elephants overlooking the pool. You'll hear bird and animal sounds through the towering tropical plants.
Even the ships' high-style public bathrooms, with their marble floors and counters and porthole-like mirrors, are gorgeous. And cabin deacute;cor, featuring navy blue and copper tones, is a welcome change from the line's very Miami Vice pinks, mints, and baby blues.Public Rooms
The obvious heart of the ship is the lobby bar, where an ensemble performs each night, is people naturally congregate. Two decks above. the low-key Champagne Bar offers views of the atrium through floor-to-ceiling windows. A small but well-stocked library also faces the atrium.
On Deck 6, Bombay Billiards Club has the first pool tables at sea - and very high tech pool tables at that, each balanced on a ball bearing the size of a grape; the table may move as the ship rocks, but the balls are always stationary. The natty Schooners features marine blue chairs accented by real teak throughout, with nautical antiques and reproductions. In the adjacent Colony Club there is a large dance floor and stage suitable for a variety of entertainment.
Deck 12 offers Scoreboard, a sports bar with multi flat panel televisions and a satellite connection to ESPN. Close by is the tiny Crown and Anchor Club, but don't miss it, you can stand on a glass platform with a view of the entire atrium beneath your feet.
Perched high atop the ship, the traditional Royal Caribbean Viking Crown Lounge offers a near 360 degree panoramic view above the top of the entire ship. On Serenade it is divided into a disco and a low-key room with small stage for performances.
The tranquil library evokes a traditional English study; while the literary retail outlet Books, Books & Coffee features some 200 titles - as well as cappuccino, pastries and pizza.
Serenade boasts a more upscale shopping area than what appears on other Royal Caribbean ships, including designer-branded fashion wear and brilliant jewelry store. Nearby the Internet area is a small coffee and pastry shop with the unforgettable name of Latte'tudes. One of the best features of the ship is the cinema which shows two features per day, or for more interactive amusement, gamblers are drawn as moths to flames to Casino Royale, the ship's large gaming spot.
Indoor smoking is allowed only on passenger cabins, a small area at the rear of the Colony Club Lounge on Deck 6, in the casino, and in a designated area in the Starquest Disco. Outside, smoking is restricted to the starboard side of the ship. Remarkably, even the seating areas immediately in front of the outdoor bars are designated non-smoking areas. The ship is well laid out and easily navigated.Cuisine
It's as good as on any of the mass market lines', though only one salad is offered on the menu (in addition to the always-available Caesar). The ship has two alternative dining venues,Chops offers delicious food with equally delectable presentation. The $20 per person surcharge includes the service fee. Serenade also features a Murder Mystery dinner one evening in Portifino that requires reservations. The price is a dear $49.95 per person, but includes a pre-set wine selection.Restaurants
Cascades, the glamorous two-level main dining room, has a waterfall, a grand staircase, and enormous pillars, and could be right out of a 1940s film. Two smaller dining rooms, Breakers and Tides, enjoy the same high level of service. The Windjammer Cafeacute; serves casual breakfast, lunch, afternoon snacks, and dinner. This restaurant has food stations for individual courses (meat, sandwiches, vegetables), cutting down on lines. In the morning, get yourself a made-to-order omelet. The best seating is just beyond the main restaurant area, where you may dine al fresco overlooking the aft, or in cozy banquettes. The specialty restaurants, Chops and Portofino, are both tiny, elegant and quite wonderful. The Seaview Cafeacute;, perched above the Windjammer, serves light meals in the afternoon, early evening, and late night to 1 a.m.Service
It's obvious that the multinational staff and crew enjoy watching their passengers enjoy themselves. They're uniformly cheerful, knowledgeable, and eager to help. The wait staff in every restaurant is noticeably solicitous and conscientious.
Cabin service staff is efficient but unobtrusive. The purser's desk is notably responsive, especially in view of how much troubleshooting they must have to do on a ship this size. Room service, though, can be pretty slow.Tipping
Royal Caribbean suggests a per person per day gratuity of $3.50 for the stateroom attendant ($5.75 if sailing in a suite); $3.50 for the waiter; $2.50 for the Assistant Waiter; .75 Head Waiter. These gratuities may be paid in cash or charged to your onboard account. For children sailing as third or fourth passenger in the stateroom, tipping is at the parents' discretion.
A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to all beverage tabs. Gratuities for room service, spa, casino and other staff are at your discretion.Entertainment
The two-level Aurora Theatre has an Arctic theme, with sculptured balconies, sidewalls and parterre divisions resembling glacial landscapes, and a dazzling stage curtain inspired in the Aurora Borealis. Sight lines are excellent, and you're highly likely, whatever your musical prejudices, to enjoy the likes of Rockin' in Paradise, a special-effects-laden celebration of tropical music. Lounges have pianists and combos playing everything from C&W to jazz. The lobby bar has a group performing Broadway show tunes each night. Two non-first-run movies are screened daily in the ship's cinema. In-cabin movies are also scheduled throughout the day.Cabins
Out of a total 1,050 staterooms, 813 have ocean view and 577 private verandas; Standard features in all cabins include refrigerator/mini-bar, hair dryer, interactive TV, telephone, computer jack, and a large closet and plenty of drawers. In standard and most balcony cabins, bathrooms have a shower and one large medicine cabinet. There are also such welcome touches as beds with rounded corners and lighted vanity tables with mirrored cabinets. Tubs are found only in the highest category staterooms; most bathrooms have just showers (though unexpectedly large ones) with medicine cabinets. There are even full-length mirror in the "superior" category cabins. There are 14 wheelchair-accessible staterooms.
Serenade has some of the best balcony cabins at sea, and for the very best look to the aft cabins on decks decks 7-10 where the Cat. D rooms have the largest balconies on the ship, measuring 13 ft. long x 9.5 ft. wide. There are steel walls between balconies instead of the glass common to most new ships, which affords no privacy at all. Overall, the staterooms on this ship are larger than the average Royal Caribbean cabin. While inside cabins measure only 165 sq. ft.; outside cabins range from 170 to 204 sq. ft., and the five categories of suites from 293 to 1,001 sq. ft.
Beware the uncomfortable "cot style" beds, which RCI has promised to replace fleet wide by the end of 2007. Let's hope they also spring for better sheets, blankets and towels.Fitness/Spa
The 15,500 sq. ft. ocean view ShipShape Spa comprises three sections: a beauty and health center with 12 treatment rooms including Rasul and thermal suite ($15 for a half-hour); an aerobics area with mirrored wall and wood-suspended aerobics floor; and the gym, with 18 treadmills, 10 Reebok Recumbent Cycles, eight Reebok Body Peaks, four Reebok Ridge Rocker Cycles, four Reebok Body Treks, free weights, and multiple benches. There are stereo sound and television monitors throughout. There's a wide selection of scheduled fitness activities, including stretching and aerobics classes and aquadynamics. The famous rock-climbing wall rises 200 feet above the sea with five separate climbing tracks. The Sports Club & Country Club has golf simulators, ping-pong, a basketball court, and deck games. There's even a 9-hole miniature golf course and a jogging track.Children's Facilities
"Adventure Ocean" is the title of Royal Caribbean's youth programs where youths are separated into five age groups: Aquanauts (age 3-5, must be toilet trained), Explorers (age 6-8), Voyagers (age 9-11), Navigators (age 12-14) and Teens (age 15-17).
Facilities open 30 minutes ahead of morning shore excursion departures so parents can leave their children before they leave the ship. On sea days, organized activities are offered from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., with group babysitting from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. for a fee. The program runs year-round in the Caribbean, Bermuda, Bahamas, Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska. Teen centers are now open past 2 a.m.
A new program for developed in partnership with toy maker Fisher-Price offers tots 45-minute playgroups for children six months to three years old when accompanied by an adult. The program involves storytelling, creative arts, music and a variety of Fisher-Price learning toys and games.
Private babysitting is offered from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., provided sitters are available, for children from one year old. The rate is usually between $8.00 and $10 per hour depending on the number of children in the family. Cash payment is made directly to the sitter. Arrange through Guest Services at least 24 hours in advance.Attire
An unusually high percentage of gentlemen don actual tuxedos on the two formal nights per cruise, though no one would grouse if they chose a dark suit. There's so much to do on any given evening that not all passengers dress alike anyway.
Family vaction onboard the Serenade of the Seas July 11th - 18th 2009. Me, DH, DD (21) and DS (17)
We flew into Vancouver from Boston the day before cruise via AirCanada which was terrible due to delays of their own making ie: sold same seat to two different people. Had we flown in the same day of the cruise, we would've missed the ship.
Took limo from airport which was excellent -- reasonable rate $41 CAD and great service.
Stayed at Carmana Plaza Suites on Alberni Street which was also great.
Embarked next day = Saturday. The Serenade of the Seas is a beautiful ship! Clean, well maintained, great crew. We thought the food was very good, especially liked the Windjammer buffet but then again, we like a more casual atmosphere. Most people ate dinner in the Main Dining Room in which there were lots of jeans on casual nights but very dressy on formal nights.
Had connecting balcony cabins on deck 7 -- the ones that have the lifeboat cover obstructing the view downward. We did not feel this was an issue until glacier day as we couldn't see all ofthe icebergs. But it was not so much of an issue that it would keep us from booking them again.
The self-righting pool tables in the Safari bar were awesome and we used them a lot. The water in the pools was too cold to swim in until the last day, so the hot tubs were often crowded.
The gym lacked air conditioning, was crowded and much of the equipment was broken so we often just ended up walking the decks for exercise.
My husband and BIL enjoyed the cigar bar @ Hollywood Odyssey Lounge on deck 13.
Coffees at Latitudes were very good.
The headliner entertainment was great but the rest of the shows were a waste of time.
That being said, we were never bored on the ship. There was always something to do and I really believe she is one of the most beautiful ships sailing today.
First stop was Icy Strait Point. Very small village that can be seen in an hour. You really need to book an excursion here to get the most out of this port. We booked a private whale watch w/ FISHES and saw bears, humpback whales, sea lions, eagles and salmon. Excellent!!
Next was Endicott Arm Fjord which was simply amazing. The Capt got the ship much closer to the glacier than I thought would be possible and spun the ship so all sides had great viewing. We watched the entire time from our balcony, saw one medium and 3-4 small calvings that created "white thunder". Many seals are resting on the larger icebergs floating near ship. It was truly spectacular!
Next port was Skagway which had a lot of shopping and got crowded as the day went on. We had booked the Helo/DogSled but it was cancelled due to low clouds. This excursion often gets cancelled so have an alternative in mind. Instead we went on the White Pass train --- crowded but ok; great scenery though I fell asleep on the way back -- and a Helo/Glacier Tour that was fantastic! A helicopter took us to the glacier where a guide took us on a tour. We had sweatshirts, hats and gloves, only our cheeks got cold but I am sure on colder days you'll to bundle up more.
Next port was Juneau --- also a lot of shopping and crowded but if you walk further into the city, you can shake loose of the other tourists and see what the place is really like. Went on the Alaskan Canopy Zip Line -- loved it!! 10 ziplines and a suspension bridge. The staff were fabulous and my family enjoyed it.
Weather: Our sea days coming and going were cool, cloudy and rocking. But the rest of the trip had weather that was mild (high 70s) and sunny to mostly cloudy but we never had any rain and the seas were calm. This was fantastic sailing weather for Alaska!
Vancouver: I highly recommend biking Stanley Park! I really enjoyed this! It's a mostly level, very scenic ride of about 8 miles. You can rent kids bikes and even bikes for two. There is also a free shuttle through the park for those who can't bike it. We also went to Capilano Suspension Bridge which kids will love! It's all outdoors and has a TreeTops Adventure = boardwalks high up in the trees.
Trip home on AirCanada was again delayed as our plane was broken and it took them several hours to get a replacement.
It is sad that this is the Serenade's last summer sailing Alaska. She is the perfect ship for this type of cruise.
I have to say that if we ever go on another Alaskan cruise (and we intend to), we will sail from Seattle instead for a couple of reasons: avoid customs; cheaper and direct flights from Boston; and I will never fly AirCanada again.
If you are a well-traveled individual or family and thinking about trying a cruise (on Royal Caribbean or another line) please read on. We have been on several luxury vacations and particularly enjoy Four Seasons Resorts in Hawaii and Mexico. When we booked a week on a Royal Caribbean (RC) Alaskan cruise that costs $16,000 for a week excluding air transportation (more than any of our Four Season Resort trips) we expected great things. What a disappointment. It is difficult to express how far the RC cruise fell short of a luxury vacation. The food, service, facilities and other amenities aboard our ship, the Serenade of the Seas (a 5 years old ship), were all far short of many other of our vacations. The insulting thing is that $16,000 for a week for a family of five should delivery amazing food, service and facilities.
Below is a letter we sent to RC (below). Eventually we were offered a 20% refund ($2760.00) but RC required us to sign non-disclosure agreement (also below) which we were unwilling to do because we felt that people should know what a (RC) cruise is like relative toother luxury vacation options. If you've never cruised and are considering it, we would encourage you to think again and if you must then embark on a cruise with your expectations well below similarly priced vacation options.Letter to Royal Caribbean
My wife, three sons and I recently completed an Alaskan cruise aboard the Serenade of the Seas departing from Vancouver on August 16, 2008 for one week. I will acknowledge that we knew early on that this trip would be expensive as we booked two suites, most of the excursions and the specialty dining before we left. Specifically, we booked two Junior Suites (rooms 1080 and 1082) for the journey for which we were charged $13,895 by our travel agent Ana Dixon at America's Vacation Center. In addition, we spent $555 for alcohol and bartender tips, $90 for specialty dining, as well as $1,528 for excursions. All of this brought our one week trip to a total of more than $16,000 excluding our flights and other transportation expenses. Needless to say we were ready to have a great time on our first cruise.
What we experienced was something that fell way short of expectations. Before I get to the shortcomings, I should note that we are experienced travelers and have vacationed at many luxury resorts including, among others, the Four Seasons in Maui and Hualalai, Hawaii and Punta Mita, Mexico. During these one week trips we have never spent anything close to $14,000 for lodging and food for what were amazing trips.
The most glaring of the shortcomings on the cruise was the food. Overall we thought the quality of the food was poor. The "Windjammer" breakfast buffet was equivalent to Denny's with the addition of an unlimited quantity of food. This tradeoff of unlimited supply in exchange for low quality seemed to be a tradeoff that some guests gladly accepted. Dinners at each of the main dining room, Chops and Portofino were the biggest disappointment; not because they were worse than Denny's but because there was so much hype and pretense about the items on the menu. The meats were dry and tended to be overcooked, the seafood was not anything close to fresh despite our proximity to the sea. No dinner meal or course for that matter was memorable in a good way. We did, however, find one bright spot in the Seaview Café which was a good option for lunches on the ship.
Other frustrations on the trip included: There was an extra charge for fountain drinks so we signed up for the "soda option" for $6.95 per person per day which seems like a lot considering refills at McDonalds are free and we just paid almost $14,000 for lodging and food. The bigger insult was that most of our frequented dining locations (Reflections main dining room, Windjammers and Seaview Café) served sodas that were "flat" and the staff was unable to remedy.
We requested a small table during the 6pm dinner seating because we have three young boys (ages 3, 5 and 7) and received confirmation for this prior to departure however upon arrival we were placed at a table for eight with another family. I spent two hours talking with a head waiter and customer service rep (both of whom were very nice) to get what was promised us before we left.
Wines at either of the supplemental charge restaurants, Chops and Portofino, did not include the vintage year. This just underscored the point that this is not fine dining. Our local Italian restaurant includes the vintage for wines on the menu.
The wait staff on the Serenade seemed to be genuinely nice, warm-hearted people. However, the practice of hiring staff from 3rd world countries that have likely neither dined in upscale restaurants nor received proper training presented a service problem that was too often apparent. The RC strategy seems to be more people will deliver better service when less qualified servers would produce better service.
The rooms were fine and the balconies were nice. They did however feel a bit like being in an RV, particularly the bathrooms and the linens (sheets and pillows) were sub-standard.
Housekeeping was inconsistent including missed towels, soap and shampoo.
The entertainment options onboard were in short supply and overbooked. Specifically, the golf simulator was overbooked as only two slots remained when I checked on the second day of the trip. Also the experience was weak as the system appeared to be poorly calibrated. Also, all of the spin classes in the gym were booked on the arrival day of the cruise.
As we traveled in August of 2008 we were very disappointed to find out that the Olympics were not available for viewing aboard the ship on either in-room or "public" TVs. CNN was available so obviously the satellite was working but why NBC and Olympics were missing was strange and disappointing. The TV programming that was available was repetitive like it was the same 24 hours of programming shifted around in different order daily.
Another entertainment shortcoming was that the same six movies were exhibited in the theatre for the whole cruise. Our family enjoyed watching Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix but having seen the film before we had no interest in watching it everyday.
Finally, we felt a lot of pressure from RC to tip the staff including several waiters and housekeeping. We enjoy rewarding good service, however, the tipping guidelines and envelopes from RC made the tipping seem compulsory rather than a reward for excellence. We felt as if RC was shifting some of the burden of compensating its employees to its customers.
In total, we were disappointed with the food and services on the ship. Perhaps cruising is not for us which would be fine except that we feel cheated given the price we paid and the promise of luxury cruise unfulfilled.
Upon return home I decided to call Royal Caribbean to air my grievances. Today I spoke with Tamara in the Post Cruise Guest Relations department (800-256-6649). Tamara listened to my complaints and said there was little she could do. I asked to speak to someone that might be able to remedy the situation and Tamara transferred my call to Adelia who informed me she was an Executive Guest Relations Officer. I again recapped my problems with the cruise for Adelia who was not only unsympathetic but dismissive of my grievances. Specifically, Adelia said that food is merely an opinion and she had little respect for mine because no other passengers had complained. When I asked to speak to someone else Adelia informed me that my next option was to speak with Tatiana who would call me back in a month. Not only did she say "a month" but Adelia seemed to take pride in passing along this inconveniencing news. I encourage someone to check the tapes on this if they are kept; it was awful customer service.
We eventually did speak to Tatiana who was very helpful. After some discussion we were offered a 20% refund on the trip.20% Refund Offer Letter
General Release and Confidentiality Agreement
To All To Whom These Presents Shall Come Or May Concern, Know That I, _____, Being Over 21 Years Of Age, Hereinafter Releasor in consideration of ($2,760.00) Twenty Seven Hundred Sixty Dollars received from Royal Caribbean International, as Releasee, receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, releases and discharges Royal Caribbean Cruises LTD., "Serenade of the Seas"., Its Affiliates, Successors, Assigns, the GTV "Serenade of the Seas"., Her Master, Officers, Crew, Agents, Operators, Charterers and Underwriters (Hereinafter the Releasees), Releasee's heirs, executors, administrators, successors and assigns from all actions, causes of action, suits, debts, dues, sums of money, accounts, reckonings, bonds, bills, specialties, covenants, contracts, controversies, agreements, promises, variance, trespasses, damaged, judgements, extent, executions, claims and demand whatsoever, in law, admiralty or equity, executors, administrators, successors and assigns ever had, now have or hereafter can, shall or may, have for, upon, or by reason of any matter, cause or thing whatsoever from the beginning of the world to the day of the date of this Release and More Particularly Because of an Alleged Incident Involving _____ on the GTV “Serenade of the Seas” on or About the Week of August 16, 2008. It is Expressly Understood and Agreed That This Settlement Represents A Full and Final Disposition of Our Claim and Is Inclusive of Any Hospital, Medical and/or Other Expenses Which We Have or May In the Future Incur.
Passenger hereby promises and agrees that he shall keep and maintain the settlement by and between Royal Caribbean International and Passenger confidential and shall not disclose to any third party except under legal compulsion the existence of this settlement, the terms of this settlement or any other items connected to or relating to the underlying facts in the matter as alleged by Passenger or the settlement thereof.
My wife (48) and I (47) just returned from our Southern Caribbean cruise after spending 5 glorious days aboard Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas (This cruise was shortened from 7 to 5 days as Serenade is scheduled to go into dry dock after this cruise for one week). This was our 12th cruise (10th on Royal Caribbean). Through this review, we hope to offer a little insight of what to expect or help you make a decision in booking your excursion(s).
To help people reading this review, I have tried to categorize the various areas of discussions so that you can read what you are interested in and ignore everything else. I will be as honest and up front in each of the areas.by Mike Y. - March 17, 2007 Southern Caribbean (Modified Itinerary) March 17 – 22, 2007
Ship: This is a beautiful ship and offers all types of things to do. It is approximately 3 ½ years old and has 13 decks. The Serenade is a Radiance class ship known for having so many rooms with adjacent balconies. The ship is a wall of glass with a spectacular viewno matter where you are. The ship is decorated from top to bottom with exquisite art and statuettes. In the center of the ship is a beautiful atrium where various musical performances played at various times during the day and evening. The Serenade has a rock-climbing wall (33-ft high), a kid's pool with water slide, and a solarium with a heated pool and hot tub that is drop dead gorgeous. There is a library for leisurely reading along with a movie theater, casino, two specialty restaurants (Chops and Portofino), sports bar, arcade room, a Champagne bar, disco, a karaoke bar, a coffee bar, along with many leisure areas. There are several restaurants to choose from varying from formal dining to casual dining or snacking. It has a full service spa along with an exercise room containing the most modern exercise equipment. This ship has two computerized self-leveling pool tables, a 9-hole putt-putt course, golf simulator ($25/hour for up to 4 people), ping-pong tables, shuffleboard, a basketball court and a jogging track. It has a beautiful theater where entertainers perform, a shopping area with all types of specialty shops. The ship also has chess and backgammon tables, a small Hollywood memorabilia area, meeting rooms, and plenty of deck space for lying around. In short, if you want to be alone, there are places to hide, if you want activities and opportunities to socialize, you won't have to look far.
Departure: As they say, "Timing is everything". We usually fly in a day early. However, this trip we decided to fly to San Juan the same day the cruise departed (Saturday). This was probably a good decision as a winter storm caused havoc on flights departing from east coast cities (we flew out of Dulles in DC) on Friday. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 9:15 am and arrive in San Juan at 1 pm. We arrived at the airport at 6:15 am and while the airport was more crowded than usual (for this time of day), we arrived at the gate at about 7:20 am. We had a leisurely breakfast at a restaurant near the gate area and boarded our flight at 8:50 am. Once everyone was on board the Captain announced they were holding the flight as connecting flights were arriving. We finally departed just after 10 am and arrived in San Juan about 2:15 pm. Once we collected our luggage we grabbed a taxi ($27 including tip) and headed for the pier.
Embarkation: We arrived at the pier at 2:50 pm. After enduring an endless wait of about 2 minutes (this included dropping the bags at the curb, going through security and walking up to the counter) we handed the clerk our Sign and Sail paperwork, credit card and passports. Again, we had to wait forever (maybe 1 – 2 minutes) for our sea pass cards to be handed to us and off we went to board the ship. After getting our pictures taken for the sea pass card and then getting our obligatory boarding photo (for our photo album), we were on the ship and headed to our stateroom. Total time from pier to room – maybe 15 minutes. By far the smoothest boarding process we have ever encountered. Oh yeah, 2 of our 3 bags were delivered by 4 pm and the last bag arrived at 5:30 (plenty of time for dinner).
Cabin Info: As we were celebrating our 28th anniversary, we splurged on a Junior Suite room (1542) (deck 10). We have had rooms ranging from inside, promenade, outside and various balcony level rooms. All I can say about a JS room is WOW! This room is spacious with a walk-in closet (plenty of hangars; if you need more just ask), large (by cruise standards) bathroom with a tub, a large sitting area and decent size deck. The only thing missing was a flat panel TV (still has the old style TV). The bedding has been upgraded and the bed was much more comfortable than previous cruises. Plenty of storage space throughout the room. The rooms have hair dryers, shampoo/conditioner dispensers, soap and electric outlets for whatever you need (we brought a power strip for additional outlets). Each evening when we returned from dinner, the bed was turned down with chocolates on the pillows. Maria (our room steward) would deliver daily ship news flyers (Compass). She also did towel animals. Since my wife loves the towel animals, Maria made them every night and even arranged them during the day including a staged poker game complete with cards. There is a safe and a small refrigerator. TV channels included ESPN, CNN, Headline News, TNT, recent movies (in various languages), a channel on ship activities/news and PPV movies. There is a small desk for writing. Warning, if you open your balcony door, be careful of the vacuum created when you open your room door. It will slam the door in a heartbeat and, if you have kids, they could get hurt. Our advice is keep patio door closed when not on balcony.
Weather: We had decent weather this week. Sunny and mid 80's in San Juan, Partly Cloudy and mid 80's in St Thomas (we had about a 45 minute afternoon shower while on the beach), Mostly Sunny and high 80's in St Maarten, and Antigua. All ports we accompanied by gentle trade winds that made the warm weather tolerable. The water was comfortable and very clear (20 – 50 feet visibility).
Clothing: Since this was only a 5-day cruise there was only one formal night. We choose not to bring our formal wear. To help you decide what to bring here is the suggested dress for each night: (Sat) Casual, (Sun) Formal, (Mon) Casual, (Tue) Casual/Caribbean, (Wed) Casual. For a 7-night cruise, add a 2nd formal night (Thurs) and another casual night. The suggested dress for the specialty restaurants (Chops and Portofino) is Smart Casual (Jacket for men although this wasn't enforced). Based on the suggested dress code ties would be optional except for formal nights. Formal nights had a mix of Tuxedo's and Suits for men, Gowns, and dresses for women.
Life aboard Ship: There is plenty to do aboard the ship. The ship offers exercise classes, bingo, karaoke, trivia games, shuffleboard, table tennis, rock wall climbing, court games (volleyball, basketball, and dodgeball), wine tasting classes, cooking shows, art and sports memorabilia auctions, line dance classes, disco dancing, kids programs, pool activities, billiards, a stocked library, big screen TV's throughout ship, etc. Each day, there are 3 different movies shown in the movie theater. Each night, there is some form of entertainment in the Aurora Theater. We saw comedians, jugglers, and the RCI singers and dancers. Each day, a bulletin (Compass) is printed listing all the daily activities. Trust me, you won't be bored. When not in port, the Casino is open and stays open to the wee hours. The bars close down around 2:00 am each night. There is always a contest of some sort going on and they have various themes or parties scheduled. There are sock hops, Captain Welcome parties, Quest, Trivia games, etc. Whether it is kids or adults, you will find an assortment of activities to keep you occupied. For the pool area there are plenty of lounge chairs (although not all prime around the pool) so this should not be a problem. The entertainment quality aboard the Serenade was average to good. This isn't Vegas but many of the shows being presented were entertaining.
Concierge: For those of you staying in suites or who are Diamond/Diamond Plus members, you will be pleased to know that the Concierge (Maritza) is one of the best I have encountered. She is friendly, attentive and appears to go out of her way to please her customers. The Concierge Lounge is located on deck 10 and has a beautiful view of the ocean instead of a stuffy inside room. The only complaint I could make is that it is somewhat small but Maritza manages it very well. By the way, there are also two computer terminals in there for use instead of having to trek to other areas just to use the computer.
Food/Dining: The food in general ranged from average to excellent. The menu provided a variety of food choices and there is an alternate menu always available. We had a table for 4 but our tablemates were moved to another table as they were traveling with another couple who were delayed in arriving because of weather. So, we had a table to ourselves (which we had requested during our reservation so it turned out well for us). Our waiters, Julietta (she is going to Liberty after this cruise) and Kevin were excellent. They worked very well together and their service was spectacular. They went out of their way to try to make our dining experience a special one. Bottom line, we enjoyed coming to dinner. We were never rushed and they took the time to talk with us and get to know us. For service, I would give an A+. In fact, Kevin informed us the morning we departed that he was being promoted to waiter after this cruise. We had early seating and the dining room was never full any night we ate there (we missed nights 2 and 3). Formal dining is in the Reflections room (a two-story dining room on deck 4 & 5). Informal dining, buffet style, is in the Windjammer. The Windjammer is okay at best. The food was Ok but breakfast was always cold. We ate dinner there the 3rd night (Mon). The Mongolian Barbeque was very good. If you remember this is a buffet style restaurant you won't be disappointed. There is also the "Seaview Café". This restaurant was located on deck 12 and has a small menu. All items are cooked fresh and to order. They serve Reuben sandwiches, Hamburgers, Nathan's hot dogs, fish and chips, soups, salads, onion rings, etc. Not many people took advantage of this restaurant (my guess is because you have to look for it and most don't find it until late in the week). I highly recommend this café as a nice alternative. For all you Sushi lovers, the ship sports a Sushi bar that looked very good. It's not for me however. There are also two specialty restaurants—Chops and Portofino. There is a modest fee ($20/person that includes gratuity). Please see comments below regarding both of these restaurants.
Specialty Restaurants: Let me say this now. Spend the money. The difference between the food in these restaurants and the main dining room is night and day. There are two specialty restaurants aboard the Serenade. One is a steak restaurant called "Chops Grille" and the other is an Italian restaurant called "Portofino". We only ate at Chops (however, I have eaten at Portofino on Adventure, Radiance, and Navigator and all were excellent. If this had been a 7-night cruise or the service/food in the dining room had been poor we would have eaten here also). The service across the board not just at our table was outstanding. My wife had a Shrimp Cocktail (double the size served in the dining room), Caesar Salad and the Herb Crusted Halibut. I had the French Onion Soup, Caesar Salad and the Royal Pork Shank. We also ordered a 7 oz Filet Mignon to share. Everything was excellent. The Pork Shank tasted just like ribs without the mess. Once served it is removed from the bone and is so tender you won't need a knife. It melted in my mouth. The Halibut was tender, flaky and flavorful. The Filet was ordered medium rare and was very good (but we really didn't need to order it, as there is an abundance of food). The presentation was first rate. There is no rushing on this meal. Bon Appetite!
Casino: This casino is called "Casino Royale". It has a variety of slot machines, black jack tables, roulette, and various other Vegas tables. There is a slot tournament ($20 entry fee). Top 11 make it to the final round (my wife made it to the finals but alas her luck ran out in the finals. There is also a Blackjack tournament ($20 entry fee). They ran two tables simultaneously. I didn't fare well here either. Oh well, maybe next time. The dealers are patient and will help you learn the rules if you are a novice. Never crowded but if smoke bothers you, you will notice it here the most.
Photography: If you want a picture of you or your family, you won't have to look far. Many photo opportunities are offered aboard this ship. 8 x 10's will run you about $20 each while 5 x 7's run about $10. Featured pictures are Captains party, Welcome aboard pics, Formal nights, lifestyle portraits and pictures in every port. The ship also sells a commemorative DVD ($25) that features your week aboard the ship. Most of the DVD is stock footage but also contains events that happened on the ship the week you were on. Only runs about 30 minutes but if you are looking for memories, this may be an option.
Kids Programs: We didn't use the kids program but from what we saw, I'd say the kids (under 8) were very happy. Our previous experience with Adventure Ocean has always been excellent.
Ports of Call/ Excursions: Our ports of call were San Juan, St Thomas, St Maarten, and Antigua. (On the 7-night St Lucia and Barbados are included). I pre booked two excursions through RCI and booked one independently.
* San Juan: Departure Port. Didn't do anything this trip. However, from past trips to San Juan I highly recommend a tour of Old San Juan, Fort El Morro, and the El Yunque Tropical Rainforest (about 1 ½ hours from San Juan). Just remember that the Pan American pier is about 20 minutes from Old San Juan.
* St Thomas: We pre booked the Caribbean Sail to Christmas & Honeymoon Coves (6 ½ hour excursion; $98/person). The description provided is "Relax aboard the classic, romantic sailing schooner "BONES" during a scenic tour to Christmas Cove at Great St. James off the Southeastern coast of St. Thomas. After anchoring at this deserted island, your crew will provide all snorkel equipment, including friendly instruction and guide you as you snorkel, swim and explore the fantastic coral formations and tropical fish. Back onboard beverages, chips, and salsa will be served as you continue on your adventure with an exhilarating sail over to enchanting Water Island's Honeymoon Beach, a totally unspoiled island which is accessible only by boat. Upon arrival, the choice is yours. Relax on the soft sand, swim or enjoy more snorkeling while working up an appetite for a delicious lunch prepared by your own chef and served at Water Island. The great hostess and crew will make their famous banana benders and serve wine, beer, sodas, juices and water while you sail back to the cruise ship with a beautiful tour through St. Thomas harbor and the waterfront area. Don't forget your complimentary Pirate Tattoos (temporary!) and complimentary website photos at BonesUSVI.com. Once you are back in St. Thomas, the party doesn't stop! Visit the Company Store for more fun, free drinks and souvenirs. A true taste of Paradise to treasure forever!" There were 20 of us on this excursion. Because of conditions at Christmas cove, we went to Turtle Cove instead. The water was calm with great visibility. We saw Stingrays, turtles and various sea life. We then headed to Honeymoon cove for some beach time and lunch. While lunch was being served, it began to rain. The rain lasted about 45 minutes. We spent about 2 hours at Honeymoon cove. Overall, a beautiful and fun day. The only draw back to this excursion is there is not enough time to shop once you get back to the ship. We would do this again without hesitation.
* St Maarten: We pre booked the Captain Morgan's Sailing Adventure (4 ½ hour excursion; $82/person). The description provided is "Join Capt. Serge and his professional crew on this traditional sailing experience around the Southern coast of St. Maarten. A BBQ lunch and time for swimming and snorkeling will be available on this exclusive sailing adventure. Minimum age to participate is 3 years old. Capt. Serge and his professional crew will take you to experience traditional sailing, on a discovery of the beautiful southern coast of the island. You'll see Cay Bay, Simpson Bay, and Maho. Also enjoy sailing to Baie Longue, one of the island's most beautiful and peaceful white sand beaches, where you will anchor for BBQ lunch and swimming or snorkeling (snorkeling equipment provided). Baie Longue offers total tranquility and with this stunning backdrop everybody can ‘de-compress' with the occasional dip in the crystal waters and regular visits to the floating bar. If your goal is simply to relax and do as little as possible, you can recline in comfort on Capt. Morgan's large on-deck sun lounges while sipping the special rum punch and soaking up the sunshine listening to the wonderful Caribbean music. Then you set sail and head back to Philipsburg being pushed along by the trade winds. Relaxing music, a complimentary bar and a tropical fruit salad gets you back to the cruise ship pier. Captain Morgan is not as big as the party boats. Leaving the crowds behind you, Capt. Morgan welcomes a maximum of 20 passengers to ensure an ambiance of private luxury. That leaves plenty of room on the deck with spots of shade and lots of sun. All cruises on Capt. Morgan are staffed by a friendly crew who will accompany you throughout your tour and treat you to fabulous service." There were 20 of us on this excursion as well. In my opinion, 20 people is too many for this boat as there is really not enough seating and really no place to lounge on the boat (except for a small cushioned area that will accommodate maybe 4 people max (2 sitting and 2 laying down). This was definitely more of a relaxed sailing and we definitely felt the waves and rough water as we sailed towards the French side of St Maarten. Don't get me wrong, it was a nice sail but if you are susceptible to seasickness you may want to reconsider this excursion (we actually had one person who spent the last 30 minutes of the trip "feeding the fish" from the French side to the Dutch side of the island). Once we got to Baie Longue, we anchored, swam, and snorkeled (not a great snorkeling site) (snorkeling gear, noodles and waist belts were provided). The water was calm, clear and cool in places. While we swam, lunch was prepared and after 30 minutes or so, we returned to the boat for a very good chicken lunch accompanied by a delicious potato salad and green salad. Scrapes were fed to the few fish that were in the area. Overall, a nice day and nice excursion. Having done it once, don't think I would do it again but if you are looking for relaxing sail this would fit the bill.
* Antigua: After hearing great things about Eli's Eco Tour, we decided to book this tour ($90/person) (www.adventureantigua.com). The tour is a 6-hour tour and provides a nice education of Antigua. It also explains how nature protects the island and how man can destroy the beauty of the island through selflessness. We were picked up near the pier at 10:30 am (about a 3-minute walk from the ship behind Exotica Antigua). There were about 25 of us on board (it arrived with a majority of the people already on board from the various resorts). We were the only ones from Serenade on board and 7 people joined us from Radiance. We then picked up 2 people from an All Inclusive resort about 15 minutes from the pier. After everyone was on board, we sailed around Antigua, exploring the warm, clear waters, protected by over twenty little islands, countless reefs, flats and mangrove nurseries. The crew talked about local flora and fauna and the interesting scientific turtle project at Jumby Bay, and entertained us with anecdotes and stories of local history and folklore. We sailed over to Great Bird Island. We enjoyed a spectacular view of the North Sound and the north coast of Antigua as we climbed the easy nature trail from the beach at Great Bird Island, up to the summit. Great view! We then enjoyed a nice lunch (BBQ chicken, Pasta Salad, Salad, Plantains and Banana Bread) while anchored at the beach. After lunch, we sailed over to Hell's Gate Island. In order to "go through the gate" you swim about 30 yards to the island and then very, very carefully begin a climb up to the top for a glorious view. If you can manage to handle a camera and climb at the same time, you will be rewarded with some great photo opportunities. To give you an idea of how challenging this is, only one person brought a camera with them. My wife regrets not brining hers so it is doable (it should be a waterproof camera just in case). We then headed for Welch Rock for a 30-minute snorkeling stop (lots of reef not a lot of fish). Local fruit juices like Passion, Tamarind, Guava, and Lime are available throughout the day. As the tour draws to a close and the boat heads home into the setting sun, Eli's "secret recipe" rum punch is presented to make a perfect end to a perfect day. The boat itself is extremely spacious and comfortable and has a fresh water shower and a restroom. While I would recommend doing this at least once, I don't think we would do this one again.
Shopping: We didn't do much shopping on this trip. I understand shops in downtown St Thomas closed at 1 pm (we were there on a Sunday). When we returned to the pier at 4:30 pm most shops at Havensight Mall at the pier were also closed. If shopping is important you may want to do that first (stores open around 10 am). In St Maarten, stores also open at 9:30 – 10 am. Antigua stores also open between 9 and 10 am. The taxi drivers and street vendors are the most aggressive in Antigua although they deem to accept "No Thanks" the first time without persisting.
Disembarkation: You hear many horror stories regarding disembarkation. Our experience on this trip was somewhat good (except for a missing bag, which I discuss below). On the last night of the cruise, you are given color-coded (these tags are used to help identify your luggage in the terminal but have nothing to do with when you depart the ship). For this cruise guests would depart the ship based on their scheduled flight time or if they were staying in San Juan. You will be given a customs declaration form, customer satisfaction forms, and tip envelopes for the various people who provided service on the ship. United, American and Continental airlines have begun a new program that for $10/person you can get your boarding passes and luggage tags preprinted on the ship. Once you clear customs, the appropriate airline personnel will then take your bag and the next time you see them (hopefully) will be at your destination airport. You must fill out a form and return it to guest relations by 6 pm on the 3rd day. You will be notified whether or not you are accepted by the airline. If accepted the fee is charged to your sea pass card. Let me tell you now that it is well worth it (we flew on United). You pack your suitcases the night before and put them outside your door by 11 pm (remember to keep out a change of clothes for the next day and maybe a small carryon bag for last minute items and toiletries). In the morning, we finished packing, went to the Windjammer for breakfast at 6:45 am and return to our room by 7:20 am. Since we are Diamond members, there is a separate departure lounge for Platinum, Diamond, and Diamond Plus members (they used the upper section of the Reflections dining room so there was plenty of room. Coffee, juice and pastries were provided as well. We went to the departure lounge at 7:35 am. Since we had an 11:45 am flight, we were in Departure Group 1. As Diamond members, we also had priority disembarkation so it really didn't matter to us. At 8:07 am, the Loyalty Ambassador escorted all the Diamond and Diamond Plus members off the ship. There were 4 lines for customs and we got through that in less than 5 minutes. Once inside the terminal we went to the area for our color tag (we had green) and quickly found 2 of our 3 bags. The luggage was neatly lined up and they used sufficient colors so as to not overload any one area. After walking up and down each line for our color, I couldn't find our 3rd bag. After about 3 minutes, I began to worry that we lost a bag. This feeling increased when another woman said her bags were also missing. So I found an RCI employee who began walking up and down each row. She told me colors get mixed up sometimes so I began searching the other colors. After about 10 minutes, I found the 3rd bag with the BROWN color tags. With a porter in tow, we proceeded to the customs officer who asked the usual questions, took the customs form, and allowed us to proceed. The porter asked where we were going and I told him we used the Airline service with United and he took us directly to where the airline reps were waiting. They removed the luggage tags that we placed on the bags, put new tags on and told us that was it. They would take care of the bags from there. It doesn't get any easier than that. We headed outside and grabbed a taxi for the airport. The ride to the airport was about 15 minutes (remember this was a Thursday and not a weekend so it took less time). When we got to the airport, we headed directly for the security checkpoint since we already had our boarding passes in hand. We were at the airport at 9 am and there was No ONE in the security line. We breezed right through and headed to the gate. There was almost no one at the gate area at this time. Once at the gate we discovered that our flight had been delayed almost 3 hours. Oh well. Almost a perfect return. Overall, this was a very nice cruise (even though only 5 days). Serenade is a beautiful ship and we look forward to sailing her in January 2008.