My wife and I returned last week from a 12 day cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas. The cruise began and ended in Barcelona, Spain with scheduled visits to Cannes, France; La Spezia (Florence/Pisa); Civitavecchia, Italy (Rome); Salerno, Italy; Ravenna, Italy; Venice, Italy; and Dubrovnik, Croatia. We did not visit Ravenna due to high winds and high seas. The Captain made a wise decision, which was rendered academic since the port did close. Nevertheless, there were passengers on our ship who complained about skipping Ravenna. Some people show little common sense, unfortunately.
We chose to make our own hotel reservations since the hotel arranged by Royal Caribbean was quite expensive. We stayed at the Eurostars Gran Marina near the port. It was mildly pricey, but very nice and very close to Las Ramblas. We arrived the morning of the day before the cruise. The hop on-hop off bus stops at the hotel and we toured part of Barcelona on the day before.
We arrived at the port around 11AM. It was about a five minute taxi ride. Less than ten minutes passed between walking into the terminal and boarding the ship. Not many people had shown by that time, so the terminal was not full. Royal Caribbean does a great job handling the process.
Since we did not book the trip until the month before the cruise, we had little choice on staterooms. There were no balconies available and we did not want an interior room. We were left with an outside stateroom (4002), which was at the front of the ship, below the Tropical Theater. I was concerned about being at the front due to the ship’s motion and below the theater due to sound. Neither was a problem, even though we had a couple of nights of rough seas.
The stateroom itself was nice; although it is pretty much like any other outside stateroom on most cruise ships. I have a hard time recognizing one over the other.
PORTS OF CALL
I purchased excursions through Royal Caribbean only in ports where the main sights were a distance from the ship. Excursions were purchased for Pisa, Rome, Pompeii, Venice and Ravenna. Since Ravenna was skipped, Royal Caribbean automatically refunded the money paid for the excursions. On a side note, this would have been difficult if not impossible had I purchased an excursion privately.
We decided to remain in Cannes and just tour the city on our own. We considered visiting Monaco, but I read where it’s mainly loaded with tourist shops, so we opted out.
Cannes was the only port where we had to take a tender to shore since there was no place for the ship to dock.
My wife and I spent the day just walking around the old town and near the seashore. I enjoyed Cannes, but it was my least favorite port.
We booked a tour that took us by bus to Pisa. It is a bit of a distance walking from the bus parking area to Pisa’s Cathedral Square and, despite our advanced age, we had no problem with the distance. Of course, it was in the fall and the temperature was mild.
Our tour guide, Jordana, was very informative and very pleasant with a sense of humor. I recommend this tour.
We took the private train booked through Royal Caribbean that took us nonstop to St. Peters station. The two-car train is old and not the most comfortable. The seats face each other and it’s rather cramped. I would have preferred a bus.
While the train was booked through Royal Caribbean, I booked a separated tour of the Vatican Museum directly through the Vatican’s website. This was touted as being a private tour and much preferable to any other way of visiting the museum. There was no separate line for the private tour, as advertised, and we merely walked in with everyone else. We were each given small audio receivers with ear buds with which to hear the tour guide. This was necessary since there are many tours going on at the same time.
At the beginning of our tour, and as the tour guide was explaining a few drawings outside the visitor’s area, a very rude man assaulted my wife and another, forcing them and others to move out of his way so he could begin his tour. Apparently, he was conducting a private tour. Our tour guide halted and said, “sorry”, before beginning again. I found a Vatican tour official and complained to him, but all he could say was that the rude man was not conducting an official, sanctioned tour.
Due to the noise of the rude man, I could not hear what our tour guide was saying and decided to take out the ear bud. Frankly, I heard very little of what was said on the tour.
The Vatican overrates this tour and I do not recommend it. I wish I had visited the museum on our own, since we did miss a lot.
We decided to have lunch in the Vatican cafeteria and chose a salad. The cafeteria staff were very rude.
After visiting St. Peters square, we took a taxi to the Coliseum and walked around, taking a few photos. We then returned to St. Peters station and boarded our train for the ship.
Salerno is a beautiful city and well worth visiting. We opted for the tour of Pompeii, which turned out to be a great choice. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and personable. He was probably the best guide on the entire cruise.
If you have a problem with walking a bit of a distance on uneven surfaces, I would not recommend it. Again, we had little problem despite being near age 70.
I would not recommend touring Pompeii on your own, unless you are quite knowledgeable on the history. Here was an example of how valuable a tour guide can be.
Venice was probably the most beautiful city we visited on this cruise. We sailed through the Grand Canal in the afternoon enroute to the port and spots on the bow were hard to get. Many people were taking tons of photos as we passed by very colorful buildings.
We were informed that in the near future, cruise ships will not be allowed through the grand canal and will dock elsewhere.
We arrived in the afternoon and remained overnight before leaving early evening the next day.
We booked two tours, the first to Doges Palace in the evening followed by a gondola ride and a tour to Burano Island the following day.
The Doges Palace tour was interesting, but photos were not allowed in most areas. Following Doges Palace, we went to a Murano glass outlet where we saw a demonstration of glass blowing and visited their showroom.
After the Murano glass, we took a ride on a gondola. There were two couples on our gondola, even though most held six. It was drizzling, cold, and dark in the canals. Our gondolier was busy holding the oar with one hand and looking at his cell phone with the other. Not a very personable guy. Frankly, the gondola ride was my least favorite. At the end of the ride, the guy helping us out of the gondola said one thing, “Don’t forget to tip”. There was a box with tip money in it and I just passed by it without leaving anything. I am usually a generous tipper and tipped our tour guides, but I will not tip when I feel the service was lacking, or if they beg for a tip.
Several of our shipmates took a panorama tour of the city by boat that evening and all complained that they could not see a thing. After much complaining, Royal Caribbean refunded most, if not all, their money.
We booked the Taste of Ravenna tour, however, were told by our waiter the night before that docking in Ravenna was a bit “iffy”. That next morning, we were told that we would not dock in Ravenna due to high seas and high winds. The Captain explained that it was too dangerous and he made the choice not to stop there. Even though it was a very good decision, some passengers complained about skipping Ravenna. This I couldn’t believe, but I guess some people are not happy unless they complain all the time.
We did not book a tour in this city and chose to venture out on our own. I didn’t feel like walking any large distances, and decided just to venture around in the walled city.
I had wondered in advance why we should visit Dubrovnik, but I’m glad we did. Dubrovnik is a beautiful city and well worth the visit.
We opted for early seating (6:00PM) and were seated with four other couples whom we truly enjoyed sharing dinner with.
I was a little disappointed in the menu choices in the Reflections dining room, but I guess the times are changing. One used to get lobster and filet mignon as a choice on one night, but no more. The menu shows lobster and steak, but it is at the bottom of the menu and there is a price attached. As I recall, it was $34.00 for lobster alone and more for “Surf and Turf”.
Despite the changes, the food was still good and our waiters, Pablo and Angelo, were awesome.
If you watch a show in the Tropical Theater and remember that this is cruise ship entertainment, you will not be disappointed. Despite advertisements, I believe Las Vegas type shows are found only in Las Vegas. Personal opinion.
One show stood out to me as great and that was the comedian with the violin. He put on a great performance.
On the last day, there was a talent show in the afternoon featuring the passengers. A lady from Australia stole the show and won the competition by singing an operatic piece. Outstanding!
Royal Caribbean offers a late check out for $35.00. You can stay on the ship until 1:30PM or 3:30PM. We opted for this since we knew our hotel room wouldn’t be ready. We left after lunch in the Windjammer and had a smooth departure.
Since our flight back to the U.S. and ending in Texas left very early, we stayed overnight at the TRYP hotel at the Barcelona Airport. The hotel was not near any attractions that you could get to by walking and the hotel restaurant was about the only choice for food. For the price, it was adequate, and the hotel provided transportation to the airport very early in the morning, so that was a plus.
Royal Caribbean did an excellent job on this cruise. I did have one problem with the internet (expensive!) and lost some time. When I talked to a lady in Guest Services, she didn’t seem to care. After writing a complaint mid-cruise, I was contacted by another person who apologized for the problem and handled the situation to my satisfaction.
Serenade of the Seas is a beautiful ship, loaded with glass. I did miss the Promenade that we experienced on Voyager of the Seas, but I must remember this is a smaller ship.
This was the last Western Mediterranean cruise of the season and at the end of our cruise, left for New Orleans on a repositioning cruise. Several of the passengers on our cruise remained with the ship and continued to New Orleans.
Even though we were cruising in late fall, we were lucky with the weather. We did experience a little rain in one port, but were dry for the most part. At least we did not experience the crowds, which I believe are present during the warmer months.
There were a few families on board with children and younger couples, but most of the passengers were elderly…many much older than my wife and I! There were activities for the children and all were well-behaved and a pleasure to be around.
I highly recommend this cruise.