Serenade of the Seas is a well laid out vessel, well cared for, spotlessly clean and just the size I like. I was attracted by the itinerary which offered a variety of interesting ports, all full day stops and a six day at sea ocean crossing which is maximum for me. I decry the recent trend to eight and even nine day at sea crossings which only seem only designed to save on port charges and force passengers to spend more money on board. No thanks.
Boarding at San Juan seemed a little chaotic, a great shed of a building, with a crowd around the baggage handlers and some noisy confusion at the ticket counters. That said it somehow all proceeded efficiently and quickly and we were processed and on board in less than half an hour. Can't complain about that.
My inside cabin was ready on boarding and contained enough room and storage for one or two persons. No stains, odors or visible damage. Good bed (but not as good as Holland America). Basic bathroom but everything worked and there was abundant hot water and good pressure. No toiletries. "Beam me up Scotty" wrap around shower stall was large enough for me (6'3", 225 lbs) but fellow passengers with ample hips found the shower stalls challenging. A/C and heat control worked.
I like inside cabins because they are dark at night and quiet and because, traveling solo I have no intention of spending time sitting on the bed staring out of the window or by myself on a balcony so I save the money for other things.
Not quite a walk around promenade deck nor a forward observation lounge but there are several excellent forward observation points on several decks including the ability to go right to the bow. Neat.
Nice bars and lounges. We gravitated to the Champagne bar with nice views and hors d'oeuvres. Safari Club very nice but under utilized. Nifty balanced pool tables which were popular. Odd Sports Bar forward of the Casino was almost always deserted. Schooner bar has a nautical theme but was chosen by the large Puerto Rican contingent on board as their clubhouse and so was always packed with a good natured crowd singing and rollicking in Spanish. Royal Viking lounge had been renamed but was uninvitingly decorated and underused. Good place for a quiet read during the day.
Good deck space never seemed crowded and deck chairs were abundant. Some effort made by staff to stop chair hogging in popular areas. Bravo. Covered conservatory pool popular and very pleasant. Table tennis, mini golf and shuffleboard all available and well used. Even the basketball court had its fans. Jogging track used by runners, joggers, walkers, even a guy in a motorized wheelchair and so worked for nobody really.
Entertainment so so but nothing special. Usual cruise ship stuff. Spectacular central atrium well used for everything from the dreaded 'art' auction to dances but be aware that sound from these events travels and if you have a cabin near to the atrium you will hear it. Cruise staff average and did their jobs but nothing special. Bingo sparsely attended since the bigger prizes. (free cruises etc) were moved to a lottery in the Casino. Trivia popular.
Food in the Windjammer Buffet went from good to excellent. An above average performance At night a carving station offered thing like prime rib and salmon in puff pasty to folks not wanting the dining room. Lunch had good variety and I always found something tasty. The head chef is from India and an excellent curry or two was always available. Alternatively the Seaview Cafe (to be replaced by a 'for fee' Mexican Cantina for some reason) offers good fish, lousy chips and OK Reuben sandwiches. Good table cleaning and drink refill service.
Main restaurant offered fairly good choices with several hits including great duckling in cherry sauce, first rate rack of lamb, good prime rib and vegetables which were fresh and usually not overcooked. Food was hot. A few misses including a much touted "Signature Dish" - New Way Surf and Turf. Three flabby tasteless shrimp languishing on a tough old steak that seemed to be flank but was described as 'Shoulder Filet" (???) No Way Surf and Turf. This Signature needs a handwriting expert. Service prompt and efficient but the main waiter was silly and eventually annoying. Assistant waiter very professional and good so we reversed the tips at the end of the cruise.
Portofino Restaurant, at $20 offered and excellent menu and food in a pretty room with excellent sea views. Good value. Chops Grill at $30 offered large portions of first rate beef, boring starters and sides, a ponderous room without interest, eager chatty service that lacked finesse and was, overall, a blah experience.
Royal Caribbean is very good at getting people off and on the ship at port stops. There never seemed to be a long wait or a problems. The usual fracas of herding the tour groups onto their buses is never pretty but RCCI handles it as well as anybody.
Service throughout the ship was pleasant and our few problems were handled efficiently and courteously by the front desk and the maitre d. There are refreshingly few announcements on this ship and the usual pesky ship photographers behaved admirably. More kudos.
Do see Cadiz (a charmer), do enjoy Gibraltar (pray for a clear day). If walking is a problem, Gibraltar cabs will get you closer to the sights on top than the tour buses can. In Palma, RCCI organized an expensive shuttle into town that had restless lines waiting for it. The crew meanwhile walked across the street and took clean, frequent city buses into town for 1 euro. So did I. Shame RCCI. Tell people.
Disembarkation was a breeze. Very well handled.
All in all a very enjoyable cruise and well worth the money. I am a HAL boy but I would certainly consider RCCI and especially the Serenade again after this.