My girlfriend and I sailed on Serenade of the Seas on a 12 night Mediterranean cruise. We are in our late 40s. This was our first cruise on RCI and 7th overall for each of us. It was our longest cruise and the first time in Europe for me. In a nutshell we loved the ports, the service, but were disappointed in the ship overall.
Travel to Barcelona: We flew from non-stop from Miami to Barcelona; an overnight flight arriving at 9:30 local time. We purchased the transfer from RCI. The transfer was efficient and relatively fast. The best part was once our luggage was put on the bus, we did not have to handle it as it was delivered directly to our cabin.
Embarkation: Embarkation was fast and we were onboard around 11:00 am. We did receive some disinformation regarding the need for passports for renting a car in France. The staff at the check in desk told us that we did not need a passport to rent a car in the EU. However, that information was false as the rental care company in Cannes required a passport to rent a vehicle. Fortunately, my girlfriend had a passport with her because of a name change and we were able to rent the car.
Passengers: The crowd on the ship appeared to be older than us, with a large amount of seniors. There were very few children. I would attribute this from the time of year and the length of the cruise. The nationalities of the passengers was very diverse, with a substantial population of Americans, British, Australians and Canadians.
Cabin: We had a balcony cabin, mid ship on deck 9. The room was good size with lots of storage, making it easy to store two weeks worth of clothes, shoes, etc. The balcony seemed a little larger then the other ships we've been on. The room was clean and our cabin stewart, Gusti, was wonderful.
Ship: The ship itself was disappointing. The layout felt very closed, making the ship feel crowded much of the time. The concept of the Centrum being the central gathering location for meeting and entertainment contributed greatly to this feeling. There was no "promenade" area where shops and bars would be located. Everything felt hidden and many of the spaces seemed under utilized. For the sea days the ship was crowded with tables of merchandise making certain areas (especially on deck 11 between the Windjammer and the pool area) even more crowded.
Food: The food was the biggest disappointment. While there were a few good meals, the dining room was average at best. Many dishes lacked any flavor, especially, the prime rib and Manhattan steak. Pretty much everything was forgettable in the dining room except for a sea food ceviche appetizer which was flavored perfectly and lots shrimp. The food at the Windjammer was fair to poor. Many of the selections were comparable to those at a hospital. I'm a big guy with a healthy appetite and there were a number of times I could not find anything that was remotely pleasing at the Windjammer. We did eat at Chops and Giovanni's Table. Chops was very average, but the experience at Giovanni's was wonderful. It was by far the best meal we had on the ship and it is very much worth the $25 surcharge.
Entertainment/Activities: The production shows were very amateurish. We also saw the comedian/magician who was absolutely awful. After those experiences we did not go to any more shows in the main theater. There was a duo playing during day on the pool deck and they were ok, except they must only know about 6 songs since they were played over and over again for twelve days. The rock band was pretty good and played a nice variety of songs from the 60s to the present. There were also a few "dance parties" in the centrum with the 70's event being the most fun. The piano guy at the Schooner Bar was better than a sleeping pill. The guitar guy at the pub seemed ok, but we were only in there for a few minutes because of the cigarette smoke. We participated in Karaoke, but did not partake in any other on-board activities. We did watch the pool side contests including the belly-flop competition, the "sexy" man and the guest versus staff volleyball. They were very entertaining.
Ports: In Cannes we rented a care from Sixt. I've rented from them before and found them very good. Our experience this time was same. The staff was very accommodating as there were problems with us not having a passport. Luckily they accepted my girlfriend's passport with a prior name and they ever upgraded us to a BMW!
In Florence, we had a tour with Rome In Limo which was booked prior to the cruise. Our driver, Rafaelle, was fantastic and showed us Pisa and Florence providing information on the history of the cities and Tuscany as a whole. With a small group of 8 in a small van we were able to get into areas of Florence where the big coached were unable to go. This allowed for us to be dropped off right at the steps of the attractions we visited. He also guided us to a great restaurant and brought us to the best gelato we had on the trip. I hardily recommend Rome In Limo for your tours in Italy. See below for our experiences in Rome and Naples. TIP: Buy tickets in advance if you want to visit the Academia to see Michelangelo's David. This saved us at least an hour wait and enabled us to see this great work of art.
In Rome we used Rome In Limo again with the same great results. Our driver Sergio was able to get close to all of the main attractions with his van and our small group of 8. We were able to get up close to the Coliseum and other main attractions without having to walk long distances. TIP: Again, but tickets to the Coliseum to save at least an hour or more in line. Overall Rome is amazing!
In Turkey we visited the ancient city of Ephesus. We used ephesustours.biz, a company we found on line. Without knowing anything about the company, we were pleasantly surprised with the services that was provided. They are also highly recommended. Our guide Betul was gave us some great information about the region where Ephesus is located. During our tour of Ephesus, she shared with us some of the details in the structures as a friend of hers was part of the archeological team at the site. Truly an amazing tour! Our tour included a lunch of Turkish cuisine and then "sales pitches" from a rugs manufacturer and a leather goods store. The way the rugs were made was very interesting as well as the "show" on the types of hand-made rugs available for sale. While they provided lunch to launch their sales pitches, they were very not to low pressure and they did not approach you unless you showed interest in their products. We next saw a "fashion show" featuring leather clothing at a leather store. The best part was seeing one of our new friends dress in a patchwork leather coast strutting his stuff!
In Athens we were also part of a small tour and the sites were amazing. We saw the Acropolis, the changing of the guard, the temple of Zeus and much more. Our guide, Bill, was friendly and knowledgeable and again we were able to get close to all of the attractions. He also shared with us some unfortunate fall-out of the Greek financial crisis such as the 35% unemployment and the lack of police and public works personnel. That may be one reason why Athens was the dirties of the cities we visited.
Santorini. This was without a doubt the most picturesque ports of our trip. Everywhere you turned there were postcard-like views. We did not take a tour here, but rather met up with friends who were vacationing there for lunch and a visit to the Oiya section of the island.
Salerno: We took another tour with Rome In Limo with another great experience. Our driver was named Diego and was just as good as our drivers in Florence and Rome. We visited Positano, Sorrento and ancient Pompeii. Sorrento was beautiful. We were there on a Sunday and the locals were getting out of mass and congregating in the town square. The small city was busy and bustling with activity. It does not seem as "touristy" as Positano. In Pompeii, our tour organizer hired a guide for us and show us around the ancient city. It was well worth the extra cost. Our guide was from Rome In Limo and was also excellent.
Debarkation: We had plans to stay in Barcelona for two days after the cruise, so we were in no rush to get off the ship. For us departing the ship was uneventful. We did however have to wait about 30 minutes to get a cab to our hotel. Again, it was no big deal, since we had no place to be.
Barcelona. We opted to stay in Barcelona on the back end of the cruise. We stayed at the Med Apartments Barcelona and small place in the Gothic section of the city. It was close to the ports, beaches and lots of restaurants and about a 15 minute walk to La Rambla. The apartment was a one bed room with a den and full kitchen and was clean and comfortable. Not luxurious, but definitely a good value at about 90 euros per night. The city itself is beautiful and I would like to visit again. The gothic architecture was amazing and is kept in place despite the modernization of the city. We took the hop on hop off bus and experience the sites and sounds of the city. The highlight of our stay in Barcelona was our visit to La Sagrada Familia, the stunning church which has been under construction since 1882.
In sum, this trip was amazing with great weather, great food (once at the ports) and making new friends. While the ship was disappointing, the design flaws did not take away from great service provided by RCI. We will definitely sail with RCI again.