We were in Barcelona 3-days pre-cruise, which helped with jet lag from the states. We arrived at the pier via private transport (www.autosvilar.com) and a porter came right over to take our bags. We did not tip him, and it did not appear to be expected like it is in the U.S. Check-in at port went very smooth and didn't take very much time. We had forgotten to bring the credit card we had signed up online with for all ship charges, so had to make an adjustment to our account while checking in, which took a little bit of time. Everything else went very smooth and probably didn't take longer than 40 minutes. There was a duty free store for shopping prior to getting on the ship (after one of the security check points, but before the second), but RCCL was confiscating all alcohol bought here prior to boarding the ship. We were on the boat by 12:20 pm.
After We Checked In and Were on the Ship:
We proceeded to head to our cabins (deck 9) to drop off our luggage that we had carried on, but were stopped when exiting the elevator and told cabins wouldn't be ready until after 1:00 pm. So, up to the Windjammer we headed!
Since it was still early, the Windjammer wasn't too crowded. We all loaded up on the honey stung chicken since we know it's only offered on the room service menu and embarkation day. It's definitely not to be missed. After lunch, we were able to go to our cabins and drop off our carry-ons. Our cabins had the old style "tube TVs", and Ken's dad's cabin had a flat screen TV. Otherwise, all 3 cabins were all identical. I asked our cabin stweward for an egg crate mattress since the bed seemed a little firm for my comfort. Our balcony had 2 chairs and a table and was plenty big for the two of us. Our luggage arrived a few hours later, and we got everything put away. Once we stored the suitcases under the beds, filled the closet and drawers and found "homes" for all of our items, the cabin size was not an issue.
The Serenade of the Seas
We were originally concerned about the condition of the ship since we knew it was going into dry dock at the end of the year. The ship is showing normal wear and tear, but nothing stood out at being horribly worn. The TVs in the staterooms are outdated (we still had the old tube TVs, although some of the cabins do have flat screens). We were happy to see that the ship was broadcasting Euro 2012 so we were able to catch up on the soccer games while getting ready for bed at night. The crew is constantly cleaning the stairwells, carpets, dusting, etc. I am disappointed to hear they are doing away with the Sea View Cafe as it was one of our favorite places for snacks. We also heard they are reducing the size of the Windjammer, which I find hard to believe as it wasn't always easy to find seating.
The staff all seem very friendly. Jeffrey was our cabin steward and he did a wonderful job. We teased the boys that he was hiding under our bed because we would leave for a few minutes, return to our cabin and it would be made up/or turned down! Our waiter was Judas and our assistant waiter was Sami. Sami was a kick and kept us laughing. Judas warmed up to us after the 3rd night and was quite honest with us on more than one occasion when we chose an entree or dessert ("and you're 2nd choice will be?"). It was quite funny, and he was right on 100% of the time!
Our cabins were near the front of the ship but that was not a problem. The ship really isn't that large and walking to the back for meals never was an issue. We were right near the elevators and staircase and never heard any noise from either one.
As for meals, we had 3 formal nights: Day 2 (cruising), Day 7 (Ravenna) and Day 10 (Rome). The MDR was empty for the 3rd formal night as most people didn't get back to the ship until late and were too tired to 'dress' for dinner. I think by the 3rd formal night, passengers were tired of getting dressed up. We opted to go to the MDR for all formal nights and only ate in the WJ for dinner once, on a casual night. Although we did walk through the WJ each evening to see what was being served, the food in there was quite impressive and often looked better than that served in the MDR. We weren't impressed with the MDR food and felt it has gone downhill since our last cruise on Freedom 2 years ago. We do enjoy eating a 'sit down' meal for dinner as opposed to a buffet since we tend to eat less when being served and you can eat together instead of someone always getting up to get something else. The MDR is just a little more relaxing to us.
We ate all of our breakfasts in the WJ so that we could disembark early. They had two omelet stations, eggs cooked to order, and the usual breakfast foods including smoked salmon, pancakes, French toast, bacon, sausage, donuts, cereal, oatmeal, etc.
As for lunch, we ate two lunches in the MDR. The MDR has a WONDERFUL salad bar during lunch that is not to be missed! Definitely beats the salad bar in the WJ! We also visited the Sea View Cafe on several occasions where you can get cooked-to-order American comfort food like cheeseburgers (better than the warming tray WJ ones), hot dogs (Nathan's as opposed to generic sausages in other venues), fish strips and chicken fingers, salads, and an awesome Reuben sandwich!
On our last 2 ships, soft serve ice-cream/yogurt was readily available on either the pool deck or the promenade. On the Serenade, it is in the WJ in the back by the desserts. The boys were quick to locate the self-serve machine and it became a staple for them, much like coffee in the morning!
We attended 2 of the shows: The Welcome Aboard Show and the Magician/Comedian. We were either too tired to attend any of the other shows or they didn't interest us. The ones we did see were typical cruise shows, nothing to write home about and rather forgettable. On evenings that we didn't attend the shows, we walked around the track on Deck 12, walking 2 miles each evening. The weather was always very pleasant during the evenings.
Shops on Board:
As we had always sailed on larger ships, we were disappointed in the souvenirs in the gift shops. It was very surprising that they had absolutely no t-shirts for children. Also, they had quite a few items for Greece (which was the itinerary before and after ours). We never visited any Greece ports, but sadly they didn't change out the 'gear' for the Italy ports. Sizes for the clothes on hand were very limited as well.