Serenade of the Seas Cruise Review: December 22nd 2013
We are in our mid seventies and late sixties and live in Canada. This was our second RC cruise and our twentieth overall, mostly on Holland America and Princess. We select our cruises mainly on destinations and for interesting ports of origin. This was our first Xmas cruise and our second out of New Orleans.
We were pleasantly surprised overall and thoroughly enjoyed our cruise but thought RC could do better in a few aspects.
Check in was the worst and slowest we have experienced for a long time. We arrived about noon. Our bags were taken promptly, then we were misdirected a couple of times in the terminal hall, each time into a longer line up. When we finally reached the check in counter the staff seemed disorganized and finally the check in person had to walk a distance and line up to collect our Sea Pass cards. Amusingly she thought my birth place was Germany not Great Britain as my passport said GBR. Unlike Princess, photo identification was a separate process from check in so our Sea Pass did not have a photo and separate photo ID was needed when going ashore. We legally hand carried two bottles of wine onto the ship without problem. Our bags arrived in our cabin over four hours later – a worst ever.
The ship is beautiful internally, if somewhat ugly in my opinion from the outside. It had too many curved protrusions in the upper decks, presumably to increase area for the self serve restaurant and sports facilities. These lateral extensions would have provided good shade for our balcony outbound but unfortunately it was cloudy most of the cruise. The ship was very clean and in good condition and was tastefully but not extensively decorated for Christmas. Our cabin seemed bigger than usual and was well laid out with plenty of storage and hanging space even if the shower seemed smaller than average. The large bed was very comfortable. My wife particularly liked the cleverly thought out full length wall mirrors which were at an angle to each other making an all round view very easy.
The beautiful glass elevators were a constant source of annoyance. They seemed to have their own minds and often ignored passengers. Almost empty elevators would rush past our deck even though called. The ring to announce arrival was so quiet that one could easily miss a distant elevator. Elevators seemed to like to cluster at Deck 2 which is not a passenger deck as far as I am aware. In busy times we resorted to getting into any elevator that agreed to stop, whichever direction it was going, and then redirect it to our destination when we could. It was even worse during the boarding process when several elevators were commandeered by the baggage handlers. Do Royal Caribbean not have service elevations like other cruise liners?
We had opted for My Time dining and were directed to the My Time restaurant on Deck 5 immediately on boarding. There we encountered the one rude crew member on the whole cruise. Everyone else was charming and helpful. We had read the brochures and so naively thought that My Time dining meant that we could chose when we ate. This woman officer would not listen to our request for dining somewhere around 7pm. She said her plan was to spread times out evenly and we could eat at 5:45 or 8:30. Seven was not an option. When I asked why, she said most people had booked that time before arriving on the ship. I asked what time we could eat the next day and she said 9pm. I came back later to ask when the My Time booking desk would be open for us to book our dinners for future days. She just repeated her spiel about spreading out times for tonight and implied that we should eat at the same time every night. Finally I got her to listen to my question. The good news is that when I went to the restaurant on the next and following days, a very pleasant receptionist always gave us close to the 7 pm times we wanted, always a table for two, and we never had to wait long for a table. It was well organized. The restaurant staff were all very pleasant and most were very efficient. Just one team we had twice was slow. Some other waiters recognized us and waved or stopped for a brief chat and on a couple of occasions helped us out by reminding the slow waiters that we had not been served.
We had most breakfasts and lunches in the dining room and were pleasantly surprised by the food quality in all restaurants including the Windjammer cafeteria. The cruise had many young people and we enjoyed sharing tables with them. All were polite and seemed happy to talk with us codgers. We particularly enjoyed our Christmas Eve dinner in Chops. It was well worth the additional cost.
We did not go to any shows but did enjoy the aerial acts in the Atrium viewed from our Deck 9 surround.
Internet as usual with Cruise ships was ridiculously expensive. One thing to know is that you must actively log off using a page that can be difficult to find on an iPad if you don’t bookmark it, or you will continue to be charged, This is despite the link to the log off page clearly saying you can log off merely by disconnecting Wifi networking or turning off your computer. When I objected to the additional charges due to turning off Wifi rather than logging off, the Guest relations staff were very courteous and removed the unjustified charges.
As said before the weather was not very good. Key West was pleasant and the tourist area easily accessible by foot from the ship. We had a drink in Captain Tony’s Saloon and marveled at all the items pinned to the ceiling, ranging from dollar bills through car number plates to underwear. We were intrigued by the tree surrounded by the building, known as the hanging tree, where legend has it that 75 people were executed. We needed to do some mundane shopping but learned that the big stores were a taxi ride away and my wife who has a bad knee was getting tired and we needed to get back to the ship. A man from the hop on hop off trolley line offered us a trip back to the ship for $26 each. We settled for a bicycle-pulled mini taxi with a delightful cyclist / chauffeur called Amy who was in training for a bicycle ride back home to Massachusetts. She offered to take us on a circular tour of Key West and then back to the ship for a ridiculously low fare. She claimed that pulling a couple of people was better for her fitness training than an empty vehicle. Needless to say we paid her more than she asked.
Nassau was a disappointment. Five cruise ships were in port. We opted to take a minibus tour from a vendor and enjoyed the trip. It was crowded and fun but, alas, the air conditioning was not very good, so the driver tried to compensate by passed out brightly colored frozen cool aid. The two hour tour started through the poorer areas of town and up to the tiny Fort Fincastle that had a commanding view of the town. We moved on through better areas to Atlantis where we were allowed to enter the lobby and parade past the expensive shops. The local beer Kalik was very good.
The weather worsened over Christmas Eve with the result that we could not land at Coco Cay on Christmas day and we sailed on for three days towards New Orleans. This was a big disappointment as we had expected the highlight of our holiday to be Christmas day on a beach – our first ever. Still it is better to be safe than a news item in a shipwreck horror story. Three days to relax and enjoy the ship. It resulted us in eating more food and drinking more but so what. These days were cloudy and our balcony was on the shaded side of the ship so we came home with no significant sun tan.
The ship has one magical place that very few people discover. It is called the Congo bar. It is at the very back of the ship on Deck 5, accessed by going past the Schooner bar and the Safari Club where they hold the Art Auctions. The bar was never open during the day and was sometimes closed off by curtains. Totally quiet with easy chairs and sofas, you could be the rear most person on the ship. We watched the completely straight wake reaching to the horizon while totally relaxed with a coffee or a beer at hand and no thoughts in our heads.
Another delightful place was the Viking lounge on Deck 13 overlooking the pool. It is a disco at night but quiet during the day. We even heard some classical music on occasion, a feature notably missing elsewhere on the ship.
From our balcony we sometimes saw flying fish escaping sideways from the path of the ship: small silver objects that flew perpendicularly out of the wake and just over the waves for up to 50 meters.
The passage through the navigation channel in the Mississippi Delta takes a few hours and is well worth staying up for. In the dark, even oil refineries can look beautiful.
Finally check out was as good as check in was bad. We opted to book the morning long New Orleans bus tour which ended at the Airport. We had a very interesting and amusing guide who took us round areas of New Orleans that you would not otherwise visit. It was interesting to see the houses next to the levees, several feet below the normal water level and frightening to see how little the levees are above the water. We were astonished by how big an area of the city had been flooded.
The airport check in was easy and the flights home to cold Canada were uneventful.