First a little about us, we are a couple in our late 40's/early 50's with no children, husband is a chef and is fully aware of the logistics required to provide quality meals to hundreds of people! This was our 9th cruise all of which have been with Royal Caribbean but this was our first on the Serenade. We have done this cruise before three years ago on the Brilliance of the Seas and enjoyed it so much we had to come back and do it again. This was our first cruise as Crown & Anchor Diamond members.
We had decided to stay in Dubai for a couple of nights before the cruise and had organised our flight, hotel, and cruise direct with RCI. We flew out from London Heathrow T3 with Virgin Atlantic which wasn't great. Its been a few years since we flew Virgin but our impression was that standards have dropped, the seats were uncomfortable, the food was bland and dry, and the entertainment system had very poor sound and picture quality. After an overnight flight we landed tired and grumpy, but once we were off the aircraft things started to look up, There were staff with Serenade of the Seas signs at each step of the way checking our names off, making sure we had all our luggage, and showing us which way to go next. Just over an hour after landing we arrived at The Grand Hyatt Hotel, our base for the next 2 days. The hotel was excellent, it was immaculately clean, the staff were very polite friendly and couldnt do enough to help you, the room was huge and very tastefully decorated with everything we needed including complimentary water and a fruit basket which were both replenished daily. Its location was great for us, although relatively near the airport, there was an endless supply of taxis and the most expensive journey we made was only 30AED. We would definitely stay there again but would probaly add at least one extra night as our first day we were really too tired to fully enjoy ourselves.
On embarkation day the transfer process was very smooth. We had left our luggage in the room and apart checking that it was actually on the transfer coach we didnt see it again until later that day in our cabin. Getting onboard was possibly one of the fastest we have ever done, from getting off the coach to getting onboard was less than 15mins. Our cabin was an E1 balcony on deck 7 towards the front, we had gone there as soon as we boarded and were very surprised when within 30mins our luggage arrived. The cabin was bright, comfortable, very clean, plenty of storage space, flat screen TV, and in a very quiet location. With only one set of neighbours who we only saw once it was a very quiet and secluded balcony. We would certainly book this cabin again.
We loved the ship, even though she is a sister ship to the Brilliance we much preferred the Serenade. The ship was bright, clean, and appeared to be in very good condition throughout. There were plenty of spaces to relax without having to go looking for chairs. The only exception to this was loungers around the pool on the sea day which got very crowded. We like to have some personal space around us when we are relaxing, whereas some people seem to be quite content lying so close to others that they are touching! At this point we decided enough was enough and we retreated to the seclusion of our balcony. We really liked the additions of the outdoor movie screen next to the pool, the Park Cafe, and the aerial shows in the Centrum. The staff were excellent, without fail, every member of staff that we passed in the corridors or around the ship had a smile and a "Good Morning" or "Good Evening" for us.
We were on My Time Dining which gave us the freedom to eat when we wanted. Our waiters were usually Yasar and Harry who were some of the best waiters that we have experienced in our 9 cruises. We ate in the dining room most nights and always had very good meals although I did sometimes struggle for choice as I dont like meat. Husband thoroughly enjoyed his meals, frequently having steaks that in his words were "cooked to perfection". We did eat in the Windjammer one night and were slightly disappointed as the choice that we both had was so heavily laden with garlic that it was inedible. We only ate in the Windjammer once for breakfast which was very tasty with plenty of choice. The Park Cafe was our preferred lunch time location for eating with its excellent fresh salad bar, roast beef sandwiches, paninis etc.
The whole purpose of this cruse for us was to relax and unwind therefore we did not do many of the activities available to us. We didnt do the fitness centre, Spa, Rock Wall, golf or any of the demonstrations or talks. We went to a couple of shows, we really enjoyed the production show Stage to Screen, but the music show which I think was called Vibology was not great and we left before the end. The two aerial shows in the Centrum were excellent, well worth watching but dont try for front row seats on deck 4 as this is not the best view, try higher up on 5 or 6.
Most evenings found us in the Diamond Club which was very relaxing and friendly, the Diamond Concierge Rami was very helpful with whatever we needed, including sorting out our return flight boarding cards.
As we had done this cruise before we did not get off at Fujeirah, in Oman we got the shuttle to the port gates before wandering around the harbour to the Souk. In Abu Dhabi we did our own thing and made our own way to the Grand Mosque where we did one of the Mosque's own free guided tours. A bit of a warning here, although taxis in Abu Dhabi are relatively cheap, the ones that are queuing up in front of the ship in the port are quite expensive and want to take you on an all day excursion trip, they are not happy if you wanted just a single trip regular taxi ride. Discussions had got a little heated on the dock as I refused to pay 300AED for an all day trip when all I wanted was a 40AED ride to the Mosque, we ended up taking the free shuttle to the Marina Mall then grabbing a taxi from there to get to the Mosque. Whereever possible I like to do my own research and organise our own trips rather than use the ship excursions. However, this has only happened over time and with experience, I have had some excellent ship excursions in the past and would continue to use them if I was in a location that I was not confident about.
Disembarkation was the only aspect of our cruise that we were slightly annoyed by. Our flight was at 11am and our disembarkation time was 5.30am. Our bags were waiting for us and put on the coach which left soon after and we were at the terminal by 6.10am. We then found out that the check-in wasn't open and not due to open until 8.15am! We had 2 hours to spare with nothing to do, I would have rather stayed in bed at least another hour. What made it worse was that as it got closer to checkin opening and more people arriving in the area, we found out that some people who were on the same flight had a disembarkation time of 6.30am. Why were we not all taken off together? Why did we have to get to the airport an hour before other people on the same flight from the same cruise with transfers organised by the same company? Bizarre!
Overall we had a brilliant cruise, we loved the cabin, the ship, the staff and the location, we will defintely do this one again. Our ratings are based on how we enjoyed our holiday, if we didnt do something then we havent rated it.