Our Western Mediterranean cruise in August, 2012 was the 2nd cruise for my wife and I. We had done an Eastern Med 10-Day cruise in November of 2011 on the Norwegian Jade. I'll try not to compare the two that much if I can, because how many folks are going to be comparing these specific two ships, after all! But I can say that overall, each ship had its plusses and minuses, but both were great.
EMBARKATION: We departed from Barcelona. Arrived at the port around 2pm, and it took quite awhile to make it through the line...I'd say it took 45 minutes to get through the line at check in, plus another 30 minutes from there to get onboard, because the lines backed up again. After the prior year, when we spent 15 minutes from arrival at terminal to arrival at buffet, I was a bit disappointed. This was not a deal-breaker, of course, but it was a bit tedious.
Once on board, we grabbed a drink at the nearest bar and then headed to the MDR to see about changing from fixed seating dining to My Time Dining. This was handled quickly and we made our reservations for later in the evening. We explored the ship for awhile, then headed to our cabin, 7th deck, near the front, balcony, starboard.
CABIN: Very nice. As expected, not exactly huge, but we appreciated the layout. The bed was next to the balcony door, and while that was different than what we had experienced previously, it ended up being nice. You could open the balcony door and curtains, then sit on the bed and feel almost like you were outside. The balcony was quite a good size, but if privacy is super important to you, you might be disappointed. There are some modest side walls separating the balconies, but they do not run the entire space. So, let's say the balcony is 7 feet deep. The wall only runs about 5 Â½ feet, and the rest is wide open. So it's easy for a neighbor to look in, and in fact, it's almost impossible not to if you're standing at the railing. Take this for what it's worth...our enjoyment was scarcely diminished.
The bed was comfortable. The rest of the furniture in the room included a small sofa and table and then a decent sized vanity. My wife really liked it because it had a huge mirror and served as an excellent makeup area for her. Closet space, while always tight, was actually plenty for us, even though we'd probably overpacked and it was for 12 nights. The suitcases did not slide under the beds (they did on the Jade), but we lifted them slightly and they went under with little effort.
BATHROOM: We really like this. Yes, it is super tiny, but unlike on the Jade, there was actually some counter space. Not much, but enough for a few items. And, thank goodness, the mirrors actually swung out to reveal some shelves. This was a great help...we just unpacked all the items we used daily. The shower is small and is a tube like enclosure where the walls slide around. But no water leaks onto the floors and there was certainly plenty of pressure. Again, bathrooms are TINY. Don't expect anything but, unless you're springing for a major upgrade. They really are one person at a time affairs.
DINING: As stated, we had My Time Dining. The MDR is on two levels. The lower level and half of the upper level is just for fixed seating. The My Time is just one small portion of the ship. So while theoretically you can show up anytime, I would not advise this. We were encouraged to make reservations in advance, and it was good we did. Even those filled up fast. But they've got the system down cold, so as long as we showed up at the reserved time, we almost always go the same table for 2 and we always had the same waiter and assistant waiter. Maya and Alma were great...so we had the experience of getting to know our staff, but had flexibility in our dining times, which is essential. Norwegian has true ANYTIME dining, which requires little advance planning, but you get someone different all the time. Once I got used to it, the My Time was actually quite nice. By the end of our cruise, Maya & Alma knew all our little habits, and it was so fun visiting them each evening.
On the 12-night cruise, there were 3 formal nights. My wife and I had decided to go crazy and do the full formal thing. I actually bought a tux and she had 3 new dresses. We looked great! To my observation, about 15% of men wore tuxes on formal night. I'd say 50% wore suits. The remainders were a hodge-podge. I never felt overdressed, however, and the photos from those nights are great. I'd say try dressing up a bit (even if not a tux, at least suit & tie)...but that's my opinion. I know this is a hot button item, so I'm just giving my two cents.
We often caught non-dinner meals at the Windjammer Buffet, especially on port days when we wanted a quick meal. I'd have to say this buffet was very similar to the Jade...I'm guessing on lines like NCL and RCI, the buffet experience is somewhat cookie cutter. Some of the food was quite good, other items were a bit sketchy. Seating was sometimes a problem, and while we tried to sit outdoors when we could (they have a nice outdoor area), that's where all the smokers go. We were on the ship with a vast majority of Europeans (we're American) and I was always amazed at the high number of smokers. I'm not being judgmental, but I hadn't realized how accustomed I had become to not having to worry about smoke while eating out.
I think the Sea View Cafe (the off-hours, comfort food place) is being retired soon. Too bad. They had nice items, such as burgers, Cuban sandwiches, chips & salsa, etc. We frequented them OFTEN. It was aft and had ample outdoor seating so we could enjoy leaving port with a nice snack and a drink. The service there was not very good, honestly (the guy at the front who takes your order always looked ticked off that we were coming in)...but we enjoyed the food, view and relaxed atmosphere.
Food was available in the Solarium too, but we never tried it. We did eat one night in Chops, the specialty steakhouse. It was great!
SERVICE: Other than the aforementioned Sea View, we had generally attentive service. As stated, Maya & Alma were top-notch, and the striking lady who ran the My Time Dining area (I have unforgivably forgotten her name, but she was from St. Lucia, I believe) was terrific as well. Our room steward Garfield warmed up to us eventually, and we always enjoyed running into him.
ENTERTAINMENT: On the Jade, we pretty much enjoyed every show, and we saw them all. They were at the same time every night, so we fell into a pattern. On the SERENADE, the show times varied, and thus, we didn't always find time to go. And the quality was spotty. The first show we saw was a magician who was quite bad. He had about 15 minutes of material stretched over 45. The first production show as a sort of pop music history piece, and it was mediocre. The 2nd production show was a Broadway salute kind of thing, where they did several numbers from a few shows. This was generally quite fun, and while the male singers were only okay, the females were good and the technical values were very high. The best show, though, by FAR, were the Beatle-maniacs. The entire crowd was on its feet throughout...I yelled and sang myself hoarse. We'd never done a Beatles show before, thinking it would be too corny, but darned if we didn't have a great, great time.
MISC. SHIP LOCATIONS: This was such a port heavy cruise, there were a few areas we hardly went to. Although we enjoy a drink at times, we seldom found time to go to a bar. After an exhausting day at port, I usually grabbed a beer and snack at the Sea View. By the time dinner (and perhaps a show) was done, we hit the sack, because usually another port awaited. But the bars were all very attractive. We spent NO time in the upstairs lounge at all. We totally skipped the "Newlywed Game" type of attractions they had there. We had enjoyed them on the Jade, but just didn't have time. 12 days, only 3 at sea. We were often pretty pooped (delightfully so).
I did enjoy the outdoor miniature golf, though it was always super windy up there. We spent some outdoor lounging time, but usually aft near the Seaview. The pool was ALWAYS jam packed, so we never tried. We did the hot tub in the Solarium area...but for an adult only area, there were sure a suspicious number of kids who barely (if at all) were above the posted age of 17. IMO, if the Solarium REALLY wants to be a getaway for ADULTS, they need to raise that age. In the evenings, it was taken over by teens.
My wife had a pedicure, but otherwise, no spa services this time. The spa area was attractive though. We did not (shame on us) use the gym area at all. And because on our last day, the seas were very rough (after otherwise perfect conditions) we never played shuffleboard.
The shops were okay. The photo gallery & photographers were a cut above what we experienced on the Jade and we actually bought a small number of photos. Still nothing fabulous though.
DISEMBARKATION: This went super smooth. By the time we got off the ship, our bags were already waiting for us. And the drive from port to airport is quite brief. We were there early on a Sunday morning, and the drive couldn't have been but 15-20 minutes. Your mileage may vary, as they say. But it was nicer than going from Civitavecchia to the Rome based airport.
OTHER THOUGHTS: The Serenade is a lovely ship. It was clean throughout...even some worn areas only looked worn, not actually dirty. The Centrum (the central elevator banks that allow lookouts from several levels down to the bar/dance floor below) is gorgeous and becomes quite a spot to hangout. If you have time, treat yourself to enjoying the artwork that is on each stair landing between decks and in other locations. Pretty nice stuff, thoughtfully selected, mostly.
The casino, where I spent 2 or 3 hours total, is pretty average. Note that the machines pay in coins, not tickets. This is a pain, I must say, and it's inexplicable to me why they do that. Also, biggest annoyance of all was the internet service. Yes, it's slow...that's to be expected. But its unreliable. Wifi is NOT available everywhere. Even the wired computers they have available for you don't always connect to the internet. I had several VERY aggravating experiences during the course of the cruise.
ITINERARY/PORTS: This isn't really the venue to review them, but I will say overall this was a FANTASTIC itinerary. I recommend arriving in Barcelona two days in advance (or more) if you've never been. It was our first time and we had a blast. Cannes requires some pre-planning, I believe, or you might get stuck in a town that isn't terribly interesting. There are gorgeous places nearby, but Cannes itself has a modest beach and really expensive stores. That's about it. We went to Eze. Livorno is far from Pisa, Florence, Lucca, so plan accordingly...you will certainly wish you had more time. Same with Rome. Stopping in Salerno was great, because we did our Amalfi Coast drive right from there and actually had time to climb Vesuvius and visit Pompeii. (This was with a private driver.) The sail into Venice is a true highpoint, actually one of things you'll remember for a lifetime. Our balcony was on the correct side and we just had the most amazing time. The city is great, and having a night there allowed us to do the ultimate tourist cliche, ride a gondola at night. Do it! It's expensive but do it! And don't overlook Ravenna...just do a little research first and you'll appreciate the magnificent art & history this little town has to offer. It's doable at a slow pace. And Dubrovnik is lovely.