The Journey Begins!
My last cruise on Royal Caribbean was approximately 10 years ago. I had the pleasure of sailing on Serenade of the Seas in an Owners Suite. Prior to the Serenade, I had sailed with the cruise line on two previous occasions.
Like so many families facing budget constraints parenthood and additional family members traveling with us caused us to seek a more affordable cruise line. We were no longer a single couple flying solo.
We set our sights on Carnival. 'The funship' After a few years we made it up to one of the highest levels 'Platinum'. Additionally, we always stayed in a suite on Carnival. After our cruise this past year in August,2015, We begin to compare the perks of staying in a suite on Carnival verses Royal Caribbean.
A few of Carnival Perks are as follows: Dedicated telephone line, one free drink, three bags of laundry,
depending on the cruise length)and priority boarding, a welcome aboard gift. A pin. Last, but not least, fighting in the buffet line to get breakfast every morning.(not a perk) Wishing the novel thought would reach Carnival's corporate office to add suite amenities. Applying greaterperks to suite and Platinum and above guest on the fun ship would be a welcomed gift. A place were suite guest could call home away from the crowd. A dedicated restaurant and lounge.
While sailing with Carnival I enjoyed exquisite food and timely in their dining services. Great evening fun for adults and the kids. The adults comedy shows were fabulous. Guest what? The ship is not dead at 10pm. My only my only complaint was the suite amenities/perks.
Now we come to my present day drama. I left the funship for a familiar place that I had enjoyed in the past. My cruise line from 10 years ago. My expectations were ready to be overwhelmed by excellent food and service as compared to my (old cruise line). Remember! I am paying greater prices. The old saying... 'You get what you pay for' wrong!
My Christmas gift of 'Sleepless of the Seas'. Also Known As 'Serenade of the Seas'
Instead of 'Twelve Days of Christmas', I had twelve sleepless nights in my ghost sounding 596 sq. feet haunted mansion. The sad part of this noisy vacation is the following: the layout of the room is beautiful. It's a well appointed large two bedroom and two bathrooms visual dream with open windows that host a breathtaking view of the ocean. Overshadowed by the echoing loud bone chilling, nerve piecing sounds of loud clatter. The room sounds were the epitome of the perfect storm. 'The noise monster.
The sounds included an array of creeks, pipes knocking, the sound of what sounded like little feet running from every inch of the room. I recorded the sounds on my cell telephone to prove I was not crazy. I played the cell recording for the housekeeping supervisor. (Julia)
The supervisor attempted to act surprised by my recording . As we stood in the noise filled room, we begin walking to the many areas that the sounds were coming from. She are I observed rolls of wood-chips stuck in between the ceiling and the walls(a makeshift solution to fix a poorly structured room). The maintenance supervisor was called into render his professional opinion. He added additional wood-chips. I had to get photos because I was in totally disbelief) additionally, I had an extra bonus of a broken television in the main room. They fixed the broken television for five minutes and it remained broken for the entire twelve days. The sounds were continuous. All day and night. On a brighter side I was provided with earplugs. The earplugs did not drown out the noise. After a few days my ears were raw and irritated. I realize that cruising is big business but truth and choice(the right to know and make an informed decision to stay in a room that will severely impact one's rest and relaxation. Try playing fair. Creating life long loyalty in consumers. A few years ago I selected a last
minute cruise on Carnival during my birthday weekend
(January,15) there were limited rooms left due to the long holiday weekend. The website listed a room called 'the night owl room. I advised that the room I was purchasing was called ' the night owl room' it was located on top of the nightclub. They provided me with 'truth and the greatest gift 'choice'. Cruise in a discounted 'night owl room or select another sailing. When there are issues is it fair and decent to advise customers that the room has issues. I paid for my cruise, this was not a free charity event. I had every right to be advised that the room was structurally defective. The wood-chips were evident that they were aware of the issues and attempted to create a makeshift solution long before I boarded the vessel. I was advised that the issues would be resolved once the ship goes into dry dock in 2017. Thanks.
The next adventure was the poor service in the dining and the disappointing quality of the food in the main dining room and the buffet. The lengthy wait for the food was two hours each night. The food quality was inconsistent . My greatest hope is that this was a rare fluke.
On a positive note: I am a Social Worker who is always hoping for a lesson learned, perhaps the message was the Shining Stars I met along this journey: the kindness of my room attendant Carlos. Mario and Melody in the
Concierge Service and the awesome Adventure Ocean staff. Finally, the warm smile and professional care Mary in guest services showed my family.
Sleepless, but not forgotten
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.
We just got back from our first cruise. We had such an amazing time that we think most of our future vacations will definitely be cruises. Our southern Caribbean itinerary was on the Serenade of the Seas. We visited St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Antigua, St. Lucia and Barbados, with one day at sea back to our home port of San Juan.
We could not have been happier with everything in general, and are delighted to have met such great people and had such a great time. We are 27 and 28 years old, and have been married for just under a year.
We'd like to thank the CruiseMates community for all your postings and comments that helped us prepare for our first cruise. In the spirit of this message board, we wanted to post our review. We rated everything from an A (outstanding) to an F (poor).Food and Drink Venues
Reflections Main Dining Room Grade: A. Bekir was our head waiter, and Anil was his assistant. Bekir had a tastefully sarcastic personality that we all loved; we felt fortunate to have him at our large table. Service was outstanding. Lots of little thingsreally made it better than merely good: De-crumbing our place settings between courses, serving the ladies before the men, the wine service, and so on. Christina has a food allergy to “tree nuts,” which we let RCI know before we left, and our wait staff ensured we did not order anything that might contain walnuts, pecans, etc.
We had requested a small table during the second seating, but we were seated at a large one at our requested time; this worked out quite well. We enjoyed chatting with our table mates: Ulr and Dorthey from Sweden; Sandy and her daughter Angie from Pennsylvania; and Sue, Paul, Winny and Aaron from Indiana & Kentucky. In general, we were pleased with the food. I generally had the chef's specialty entrees and suggested menu items each night. I was pleased with both the taste of the food and the portions -- they were not so big as to leave me hurting because I ate so much. Christina usually had the fish and was "just OK" with it -- some of it was bland, particularly the tilapia and halibut. We both had the lobster, a first for us, and thought it was amazing. I'm not a big dessert person, but Christina is... and she found them to be very good. She strongly recommends the Warm Chocolate Cake; I think it was served on Monday. We also stopped in at Reflections for breakfast a couple days -- we enjoyed being seated with some new people, as opposed to the Windjammer, which was buffet style. Omelettes and pancakes were very good in the main dining room.
Chops Grade: A-. I did not think the service at Reflections could be beat, but Chops may have done it. I really enjoy a good steak, and I was delighted to have a presentation and explanation of the different cuts of meat. I chose the 10 ounce filet mignon. The wait staff got our bottles of wine that were stored in the main dining room for our visit here, which was great. My steak came perfectly cooked (when it came out, I was asked to slice into it to make sure it looked OK -- a very nice touch). I was also presented with several treatments/sauces that I could use with the filet... yummy! Christina ordered the fish from Chops, since she does not eat red meat; she was not that pleased with it, and started to feel sick due to the motion of the ship. If you have a tendency to get seasick, you may want to be seated closer to the interior of the restaurant.
Portofino Grade: B. We really looked forward to Portofino after all the great things we heard about it. We found the service here a bit more impersonal than the other places. I ordered the steak and Christina ordered the fish. My steak was very good, but nothing amazing. Christina's fish didn't have any real flavor to it, and she only ate half of it. We enjoyed the rest of the meal, though -- appetizers, bread, dessert, and pasta.
Schooner Bar Grade: A. The Schooner piano bar was really a hotspot. We only had an opportunity to stop here twice, but we had a great time while we were there. Matt Yee, the performer, is unlike any piano entertainer we've experienced -- he takes it to the next level in getting everyone involved and having fun. He makes lots of fun of himself, dressing up as all sorts of interesting characters to keep everyone entertained!
Seaview Cafe Grade: A. We didn't have high expectations of the Seaview Cafe with the Windjammer Cafe just one deck below, but it was really nice. It had a great menu and great food. I clogged my arteries with the yummy onion rings and nachos (the only place on the ship you can get nachos); Christina had a tuna fish sandwich she really enjoyed.
Lobby Bar Grade: A. We didn't expect to spend much time here, but we did hang out in the lobby bar several times listening to the excellent piano and violin music -- very relaxing and a delight to the ears. It was also a good spot for people watching.
Champagne Bar Grade: C. A single glass of champagne here cost something like $14. I wasn't watching the expenses too closely on our trip, but this seemed like a rip-off, since you can get champagne at the other restaurants and bars for much less. The lukewarm appetizers didn't taste that great. Needless to say, we only made one visit here.
Midnight Buffet Grades: Presentation, A; Taste, C. We were stunned to see such a gorgeous display of food, and brought our camera for the 11:30 p.m. “viewing.” It was like nothing else we've ever seen, and we snapped lots of photos. The attention paid to making everything look great was amazing. We went back to eat the food around 12:30 a.m. and there was plenty. We both loaded our plates with the “let's try new things” mentality. Unfortunately, I can't remember more than one or two things that tasted very good.
Windjammer Cafe Grade: B. We had breakfast and lunch here on several occasions, buffet style. There were plenty of different kinds of food and in general, the food was good -- not great. One thing not to be missed was the delicious strawberry/vanilla frozen yogurt.Around the Ship
Arrival & Embarkation Grade: A. We arrived at San Juan's airport around 4 p.m. on Saturday. After picking up our luggage, we took one of the many “Taxi Turistico” white taxis to the cruise terminal. This was $19 plus $1 per bag, around $23 total for us. At the terminal we dropped off our luggage with the porters and tipped them $1 per bag. We went inside and showed the Seapass form we had filled out online and printed out ahead of time. The embarkation staff did a great job -- it was no more than 15 minutes from our arrival at the terminal until we were on the ship: no lines, no waiting.
Stateroom Grade: A. We had an interior stateroom on Deck 4 mid-ship (4527). Mattresses and linens were new; we slept extremely well. It is amazing how well these rooms are designed to maximize the use of all space. While the bathroom and shower were small, they were plenty adequate for us. There was plenty of room for hanging clothes and bins for putting folded clothes; several drawers by the desk helped too. Two of our three larger pieces of luggage fit under the bed. Stateroom attendants cleaned up our mess at least twice per day. We were glad we brought a miniature flashlight to use at night; there are little reading lamps on each side of the bed, although we didn't do much reading as we were pretty pooped by the time we went to bed. The phones have an easy-to-use wake-up call feature we used most nights. There were two electrical outlets by the desk; we brought a power strip to handle our electrical connections.
Solarium Grade: A. We used this as a great place to relax and recharge after being out on the islands all day. The lounge chairs were very comfortable and the architecture was well done. I enjoyed the big golden elephants. There is a little spot where you can get pizza; this was yummy too.
Main Pool Grade: B. We probably would have given this a better grade if we used it more. We only went to the main pool once, on the only sea day, around 1 p.m. It was very crowded, and it took us 45 minutes to find lounge chairs; a nice couple was leaving and gave us theirs. We were told the cruise staff will remove towels that are “reserving” lounge chairs for more than an hour without anyone claiming them. The chairs are very close together, but this didn't bother us. We saw the ice carving demonstration and the belly flop competition; both were nice diversions.
Safari Club From what I read ahead of time online, I didn't expect much from the Safari Club, but we ended up here quite a few times -- for the Captain's Welcome Aboard reception (free drinks), dancing, karaoke, the Quest, and other activities.
Vortex Night Club Grade: A. We only made it up here one night, but the dancing was great -- it was 60s/70s night, and some of the crew staff dressed up as the Village People. We learned a fun line dance, and generally had a great time partying. We ended up staying up way past our bedtime!
Rock Climbing Wall Grade: A. I expected a long wait for this, but there wasn't. I initialed a form in a few places and put on the gear. The staff showed me which course to go up, and it was really fun (and a bit more challenging than I expected).
Miniature Golf Grade: B. This was a nice little diversion; the grass is made of green carpet. There are nine holes. It's nothing like a mini-golf course you would pay for, but it was still fun.
Helicopter Pad We came here several times to check out an island we were leaving or one we were passing. It offered a great view of everything; it's on Deck 5.Island Ports
St. Thomas Grade: A. We took the Sunny Liston tour and couldn't have been happier with everything we got for $25 per person: shopping, scenic views, and some beach time (Sapphire Beach). We should have done more shopping here, as it was the best deal of all the islands we stopped of. We loved the “Days of the Week” song that Sunny played and sang to. We will definitely go on his wonderful tour again if we visit St. Thomas in the future.
St. Maarten Grade: A. We didn't have a reservation, but went over to the booths and got a brand new 2007 Toyota from Hertz for $50 for the day. I had pre-programmed a bunch of stops into my GPS receiver, and we spent the day circling the island. We stopped at Divi Little Bay, Maho Beach, Mullet Beach, Friar's Beach, Happy Beach and Orient Beach. Divi Little Bay seemed the most luxurious and private -- it is inside a gated resort but is open to the public; there were free lounge chairs and not many people. Maho was interesting just to see the planes landing above our heads. Mullet Beach was Christina's favorite -- it was beautiful, long, and not crowded. Friar's Beach was similar to Mullet but we instead hiked a 15-minute trail on the east side to Happy Beach, a huge stretch of pristine beach with maybe five people on it. This was my favorite of them all. Last stop was Orient Beach, which was overcrowded and commercialized. We were glad we stopped to see what all the hype was about (half of it is a nude beach), but were glad we didn't spend our day here.
Antigua Grade: A-. We took the Eco Kayak/”Paddles” tour. Motorboats took us around and staff pointed out some small islands in the area. It was some of the nicest scenery we've ever seen -- lots of tiny islands in the beautiful Caribbean Sea. After motoring around, we got to Bird Island, where we took a trail up to the top and saw more amazing views (and I found a GeoCache!). We went back down to the boat and snorkeled. Then we were taken to the kayaks and did that for about an hour; our guide showed us some starfish and the mangroves. We had a fun, entertaining and exhausting kayak race back to the boats. We were given some light refreshments and headed back. This excursion was a great value for the money (around $50 per person).
St. Lucia Grade: B. This was the one island where we couldn't decide what to do. We took a taxi to Rodney Bay/Reduit Beach and spent most of the day here. The beach was pretty crowded, and the locals were rather meticulous about making sure you paid them for the beach chairs -- it got a little annoying. We did get a jet ski from a guy in a green shirt named Froggy, which was really fun. If we visit St. Lucia again, we'll have to figure out something else to do; others reported that the Zip-Line was really fun.
Barbados Grade: A. We spent the first half of the day walking around downtown Bridgetown. This was a little disappointing, as most of the shopping was more for locals than tourists. We booked the Thriller Turtle & Shipwreck Adventure and could not have been happier. Stephen was a wonderful host; he took us along the Barbados coast as his assistant Matthew pointed out interesting things along the way. At our first stop, we went swimming with sea turtles. This may have been the highlight of our cruise -- it was amazing to swim right next to and touch these magnificent creatures. Next stop was a coral reef and a so-called shipwreck. The snorkeling here was probably the best we had -- lots of great-looking fish to swim with. Our next stop was a place the catamarans don't take you: the "real" shipwrecks. One was a very large ship that sank more than 100 years ago; the other was purposefully sunk about five years ago. This was almost as interesting as the turtles. If you are a good snorkeler/swimmer, you can swim down and through parts of the shipwrecks. After we got back on board, Stephen took us to a nice beach where we hung out and drank rum punch for about an hour before we headed back.
The cruise ship is beautiful and the entertainment great. The food and the service was horrible. Fist off they lost my luggage and had me in tears telling me they had to trace it because it wasn't on the ship.At 8:45pm there was a knock on the door, the luggage was there tags attached and the guy down the hall. No apology or explanation. The food was always cold and not good.
We had a hard time choosing what to eat because nothing looked appealing. The lobster was so small you could eat it in 2 to 3 bites and we were not allowed seconds. After our waiter hearing how annoyed I was over that he reluctantly gave me and only me one more tail. The activities were not well planned and had many conflicts of interest. Only announcements seemed to be about shopping, jewelery sales and art auctions. They never announced when we were in an area where there were many whales.I will never go on Royal Caribbean again.
This was our first cruise and we heard and read many wonderful things about Royal and this ship in general. We picked it basically on the itinerary as we wanted to see as many islands as possible as well. I also posted pictures on the Photo galleries on this site as well (see 4/9/05).
We did a 2 day pre-cruise to check out Puerto Rico in general. We arrived at the pier at noon, our debark time wasn't until 10pm and many folks on this site said you can check-in early. We only had about 30 people in front of us and check-in was a breeze! We were on the ship in about 10 minutes. Our jaws were on the floor as the size of the ship to us first-timers was enormous! We felt like dwarves in comparison.
The Windjammer cafe wasn't open until 12:30pm and we ate there. We were shocked at the various stations of different foods! The food was delicious! Each day there was always a different variety, especially at the carving station. You could have Pasta, salads, hamburger/hotdogs, chicken, it was endless! There were about 5-6 different areasand I won't even mention the dessert section and ice cream! We ate lunch and breakfast alot there and dinner only once since we did most of the dinners at the dining room.
We got to go to our room at 1pm. It was #2018 (the Belly of the Beast as we fondly named our room!). We weren't sure of the movement on the ship, so we wanted something dead center of the ship. My opinion on being at the bottom of the ship was there is no better place to be!
All excursions took place on Deck 2 for getting on/off the ship. Our hallway held only 30-40 rooms (see their map of the ship) and we didn't have that many people on our floor. So you basically walked to the elevators (maybe 20 feet from our room), walked past the stairs & you were right there to get on/off the ship! That side of the ship was crew stuff, so those doors were always shut unless we were at port. Besides, when everyone came back to the ship, they had to wait for the elevators while we just strolled to our room.
The ship is constantly being cleaned! Everytime you looked around, something was being polished, cleaned or painted. The crew was extremely friendly and always had a smile and comment for you. The pool servers were always making jokes about the drink of the day and making a rhyme to go with them. They were great!!
The dining room service was fantastic! Each night we'd arrive, they put your napkin on your lap, never forgot your name and always had our soda's waiting for us (we aren't big drinkers). I recommend the soda cards if you or have friends who drink alot of soda. It was $42 or $47 (I forgot now). To buy soda individually (includes the 15% grat), was like $2.19 each. All drinks include the gratitutiy. The food in the dining room was delicious! Always something different and if you didn't like what was on the extensive menu, they have a small listing of alternate items which usually didn't change during the week. Recommend the chicken, that was always good!
You can no longer visit the bridge - they stopped that after 9/11, however, I've seen photo's on other ships where you can visit the bridge. Oh well. But if you go on Deck 5 and walk towards the front of the ship, keep going and you'll be able to go on the Helicopter pad pretty much at any given time. I recommend going there when you are leaving port. Can't beat the views!!
Fun things to do: Must check out the levitating pool table! The balls don't move when the ship is rocking or moving. That was a mind blower! Do play the 9-hole mini-golf which goes around the back of the ship. That was alot of fun & its open 24 hours a day. It was hardly used while we were there.
Say Hello to Fernandez the bartender at the Sports Bar behind the casino. He's a wonderful, down to earth guy! Tell him Cass & Jenn said hello! We visited him alot during the week and he never forgot our names the first time we met him!
Ahhhhhhh......the casino! Don't believe a word anyone is saying on here that it doesn't pay out. It's bull. I saw more people hit on the 25c slot machines the highest paid amount on the machines in 1 week than I've seen all my trips to Vegas! People were winning $2,000 and $3,000 on these. They are loose! They paid out almost $500,000 in 1 week on the quarter machines alone. They also have a nice fun game where you drop in a quarter & this bar slides back and forth and pushes the quarters (you see this at amusement parks & such). If you get lucky, it'll push a bunch down. They also have $50, $20 and $10 sitting in these machines as well. Don't expect to win - just go to have fun!
There were about 13 bars scattered on the ship. Some bars were nice & quiet where you could go read with a good book to get away from the crowds. The only really crowded area was the pool.
I highly recommend this ship and itinerary. The service, the crew and the food was excellent! We have no complaints on anything. Feel free to email me with questions!
What a beautiful ship! We sailed Nov 6th out of San Juan for an 8 day Southern Caribbean cruise and couldn't have had a better time. The ship is visually stunning with everything revolving around the 9 story tall Centrum all in glass. Every member of the crew that we encountered was cheerful and helpful and Alan the Cruise Director was great (especially when another member of the Belly-Flop contest and I threw him in the pool at the urging of his assistants).
Food and service in the Reflections Dining Room was a 9 out of 10 and the Windjammer probably a 6 or 7; they could have used a bit more seating space. The shows that were put on in the theater were all good with the exception of the juggling comic; seemed to be pressing for applause a little too much. The ships dancers and singers were top notch and put on two "Vibeology" shows that were very entertaining; very talented individuals! With the exception of me spending time in the medical office due to a fall down the forward stairwell (my fault, rushing back to the room totell my wife to come topside as we pulled into St. Lucia) it was all in all a wonderful experience. Wouldn't hesitate to do this cruise again.
A beautiful ship. Highly recommended.
POSITIVES (these are just a few): Excellent service by all staff. Very friendly and professional. Tasteful, understated decor throughout the ship. Balcony cabins are protected from the weather by a large overhanging deck above (the 11th floor of the ship). We noticed the difference when a heavy storm moved in while in port. People sitting on their balconies on the adjacent ship all had to get duck inside their cabins, while we were able to sit outside and watch the storm. A nice feature. Adults-only solarium pool is air conditioned with cushions on the lounge chairs. Moreover, the main and solarium pools are both open 24 hours a day! This is a very welcome change from most ships, which place nets over their pools in the evenings and while in port. Large number of smaller sitting areas and lounges for quiet getaways. "Seattle's Best" brand coffee products served in the coffee bar. Refrigerator and stocked mini-bar in the cabins are a nice touch. Very comfortable full-sized sofa in the cabin.
NEGATIVES (these are minor, and should not discourage you from trying this ship) Inadequate ventilation in those interiorareas where smoking is allowed (the casino, sports bar, and schooner lounge). Non-smokers will want to avoid these rooms altogether. The buffet restaurant (Windjammer cafe) has no self-service drink stations of any kind. Even to get a glass of water or a cup of coffee, you have to wait for a bartender to pour it, and there is no organized line. Also, most meats in the buffet are wildly overcooked. Fish entrees, in particular, are to be avoided for this reason. Showers in the cabins are extremely compact. Overweight individuals may have a difficult time moving around in there. There is only 1 place to get towels (at the main pool, mid-ship) for all exterior areas of the ship. If you're on another deck or at one of the other pools, you may have to walk a bit to find this one station. Odd. The embarkation/debarkation point in San Juan is on the OTHER side of the harbor from Old San Juan, so it's not within walking distance of any of those attractions. Generally mediocre entertainment. Two of the guest entertainers (the LaRaf magician and the "Happy Days" singer) made disparaging jokes about gays which weren't even funny. Why do that and risk alienating or insulting someone on their vacation? An exception was the world-champion juggler. I usually dislike juggling performances, but he was very entertaining and hysterically funny. And for my last minor gripe, it would be nice if the soft-serve frozen yogurt machines were located in an area which could be accessed 24 hours a day. As it is, you can only enjoy this treat when the Windjammer cafe is open, so no late-night yogurt fixes!
That being said, you're virtually guaranteed a great time on this ship.
A. The dining room experience was disappointing when compared to our time on the Grand Princess and Sun Princess. The food was good, but the classy touches were missing: We were offered a choice of breads at the beginning of the meal, but it was never re-offered. On formal night, the menu did not appear to be any more special (Alaska King Crab was not served on this Alaska cruise!) than on any other night. They did serve lobster, but it wasn't the same as East Coast lobster. Also, the waiters did not wear jackets on formal night, just a different colour vest. Our waiter had a safety pin on his vest in place of a missing button. Do they think people don't notice these things?! After taking our orders, our waiter held out his hand for us to hand him back the menus, rather than picking them up himself. The butter patties were pre-packaged, still in their wrappers; they should have been unwrapped, and on ice. We got tired of being herded into a certain area and seated with strangers at breakfast, so switched to the buffet for that meal.We were pleased with the buffet. From the start, we suspected that the juices were being watered down; this was confirmed one morning when Al was at the drinks station of the buffet to get a coffee; an attendant was holding a 2-liter orange juice carton, and a half-full pitcher of orange juice was beside him. He ran water in to the carton - Al thought he was rinsing it for recycling, (naive guy that he is!) He poured the water into the pitcher of juice, right in front of passengers!! Very, very annoying! Regarding the Grand Gala Buffet - it was spectacular, with many ice sculptures, but why does it have to be at midnight? We stayed up to see and photograph it, but didn't have anything to eat. We just weren't hungry. Could it not be done at the regular evening mealtimes, instead of so late?
B. Our cabins were the smallest we have experienced, except on the Norway; disappointing, but I guess you could say we got used to it. The beds appeared to be king size-not really necessary in a cabin that size. The large balcony (Category E1)was nice, but the extra width is not private; the partition at the outer portion is only waist-high, making it easy for people to see into the adjacent balcony. Another time, we would go for the regular size, where the high partition extends all the way out to the rail.
C. We were late arriving at Hubbard Glacier because of having to go at reduced speed. The Westerdam got in ahead of us, and positioned directly in front of the middle of the glacier. It sat there for about an hour, then turned around to put its other side to the glacier, but did not move forward or back. Meanwhile, we sat further back from the glacier the whole time. We learned later, from our Captain, that he had asked the Westerdam captain if he would move his ship so we could go in close to the glacier. The Westerdam captain refused to move! So we left without getting really close, but we were close enough that it was still interesting and enjoyable. So much for professionsal courtesy among cruise ship captains, and so much for any possibility of Al/Paula/Bob/Pat ever booking on Holland America!
D. There were no self-serve laundry facilities, as on Sun Princess, and no irons or ironing boards in the rooms, making one feel that they just want to make more money by forcing people to use their laundry service ($3.00 for one underwear item).
In summary, we feel that the standards have slipped a bit since we cruised 6 years ago. It's mass production now, and maybe Princess is the same. We are now thinking that to get a class act, we would have to go on something like Crystal.
It's unlikely that we would book Royal Caribbean again. I've read that Celebrity is classier than the others - maybe we'll try that.