I'm a bit late in posting this review, but just booked our next cruise (which has prompted me to review the last one)! As it was our honeymoon, the memories are still front & center in my mind. In short, it was everything I had hoped it would be - the experience of a lifetime. This was my 4th cruise (1st on RRCL), and my husband's first cruise ever.
Embarkation: Serenade was scheduled to sail from Barcelona on a Monday afternoon. As our wedding took place that Saturday, we had a flight from MSP on Sunday morning with a 4-hour layover at JFK. The 2nd leg was not scheduled to arrive at BCN until 9:30am Monday - so although we tried to book the RCCL "Embarkation to Ship via Barcelona City Highlights Tour", we were told our flight did not arrive early enough to guarantee on-time departure (so RCCL would not let us pre-book). We were told instead that upon arrival at BCN, we might be able to join the excursion on a "space available" basis if we could make it to the meeting More
place on time. Our flight ended up being delayed by almost 2 hours, and apparently a LARGE # of passengers on our flight were, in fact, pre-booked on said City Highlights tour - so RCCL held the tour until our flight arrived (WHY these other passengers were allowed to pre-book this excursion, I'll never know). But, we were able to join the excursion after all, which I thought was a great value for the price - about $65 USD/person, I believe. Because of the late arrival to BCN, the tour itself was cut a bit short (some of the sights ended up being "drive-by" only, with no time to actually stop & exit the bus for photos as they normally would) - but we still got to see many key landmarks and cultural areas of the city, along with short (20-min?) stop at one scenic vista/rest area, as well as a subsequent 1-hour stop in the "old" town for lunch & a bit of exploring. At no time did we feel unsafe, our tour guide was FABULOUS & provided lots of insightful information about the city (as well as precautionary tips to avoid targeting by pickpockets). The bus was locked & secure whenever we stopped. It was great to see Barcelona for a few hours, and we left feeling like we'd definitely want to return for a longer stay. I would highly recommend this tour/transfer, and props to RCCL for holding up the tour for our flight.
Boarding the ship was swift and organized, the longest wait was for the security screening - but if it helps to ensure our safety on board, then I'm not one to complain. I don't think it took more than 15-20 minutes to get through the security checkpoint (similar to the process at any airport). I thought the terminal was clean and comfortable, no complaints whatsoever.
We had booked an aft-view cabin #9258 and LOVED the extended balcony. It felt so huge and romantic, and came furnished with 2 regular chairs, 2 loungers, plus a small table . We spent a LOT of sea time napping out there in there in our loungers! It was especially great for eating breakfast from the buffet, which we would carry down and enjoy in peace while pulling into the various ports. Our cabin steward was great, in the sense that our room was ALWAYS clean. In fact, the guy was borderline obsessive about waiting outside our door every morning/every night to clean for us (we were never able to open the door without finding him there, just waiting for us). We made it clear on the first day that it was our honeymoon, hoping he would take the hint and give us a bit of privacy (especially on sea days), but there were several days where he actually called our room around noon - despite the "Do Not Disturb" sign displayed - just to see if we'd be leaving anytime soon. He always said it was "very important" for him to provide us with great service (and was afraid we'd be unhappy if he couldn't clean). Despite our assurances that we just wanted to relax on the glorious, extended balcony we'd paid extra for, he persisted to pretty much stalk us for the entire 12-night cruise. I can't fault the guy for his efforts, but my room stewards have previously been a little more "stealthy" with other cruise lines. On the last day, he went out of his way to provide us the Survey card and practically got down on his hands & knees begging us to give the highest rating(s) on everything. All of his stalking was for nothing, as I would have given him the hightest ratings if he'd just left us alone. ;)
The food was great, I can't say we ever had anything "mind-blowing" but absolutely no complaints either. We had selected "anytime" dining which I ended up regretting, our wait staff for the first week would of course vary - and they all did their job of serving food/drinks very well. But none of them ever went out of their way to make conversation with us, as we saw happening with other tables (or as I'd experienced on other cruise lines, even with "anytime" dining). One night, we sat near a couple who had assigned dining with a fabulous head waiter named "Maximus" - who was EVERYTHING you'd dream of in your wait staff He was hilarious, engaging, provided recommendations and very obviously LOVED his job. We asked to be seating in Maximus' section (if at all possible) going forward, which changed everything for us. We would see him at the breakfast buffet every day after that, and were greeted with the same enthusiasm and shining personality as at dinner... we made sure to tell him what a remarkable difference he'd made for our cruise! He was very grateful for the feedback, and actually sat with us a while to explain the various reasons why he truly loved his job, told us a little about his family/background, etc. People like Maximus truly deserve your "extra" tips!!
The ship itself was beautiful, plenty of food and drink options, entertainment, etc. We were, of course, looking for relatively low-key & romantic ways to spend time, and several nights we sat in the piano bar where we'd found a few regulars from our CC roll call. On sea days, finding some cushioned loungers in the Solarium, or even loungers anywhere near the pool area was (as expected) a challenge - but we could usually find something in the non-prime areas of the upper deck... or else we'd just head back to our awesome aft balcony. :) The poolside entertainers were a bit lackluster, always the same couple doing mediocre, karaoke versions of pop hits from the last 30 years. I remember have a little more rotation/variety on other cruise lines, but we could always count on this same lounge-singing act on the Serendade - poolside by day, atrium at night. The highlights were, of course, the Cirque-like aerial shows held a few times thoughout the cruise (the shows are different each time) - but find your viewing spot early, as all levels of the atrium will be packed! Also worth mentioning was the "scavenger-hunt" show in the gorgeous Safari Room one night, led by cruise director Casey - it was an absolute riot! It's always amazing to see what people are willing to do to win a contest (with or without being intoxication). ;)
The various ports (Cannes, Livorno [Florence], Civitavecchia [Rome], Salerno [Naples], Venice, Ravenna and Dubrovnik) were all amazing in their own rights. We did some CC and internet research ahead of time, which allowed us to do most ports successfullly on our own. In Cannes we simply walked through parks, along the beach, and up to the highest-point in the city (topped with the historic clocktower). We did book one RCCL excursion to the northern coastal villages known as "Cinque Terre" - about 1.5 to 2 hours north of the Livorno port. It was far enough away that we didn't want to worry about an independent tour operator and potential delays in getting back to the ship in time (whereas the RCCL excursions guarantee the ship will wait for you). Cinque Terre is a UNESCO world heritage area, comprised of 5 separate picturesque fishing villages - some of which can only be accessed by train or tour bus. It was the best money we spent on the entire cruise, we were able to hike up a steep mountainside trail (for breathtaking views), enjoy authentic pizza and gelato in tiny, hole-in-the-wall cafe's, explore beautiful beaches, and purchase unique, handmade-souvenirs from local artisans. It felt very "non-touristy" for the most part, and was a welcome change from the usual commercialism found near other cruise ports. Although we had a hard time choosing between a day in Florence or a day in Cinque Terre, I believe we made the right choice for our honeymoon. My dad told me that, since we were visiting other big cities this trip(such as Rome, Venice, etc.), we might appreciate seeing the italian coastline of Cinque Terre - the best of both worlds - and he was absolutely right. We'll just have to explore Florence on the next cruise! :) Took the regional BIRG train from Civitavecchia to Rome and explored the Colosseum and other landmarks by foot (your BIRG ticket is good for the subway). In Salerno, we again took a regional train to Pompeii and joined a local (independent) tour up to Vesuvius in a massive, Humvee-like, all-terrain bus... an adventure in itself! There are tons of these tour stands on nearly every corner of Pompeii (offering other excursions around the area as well). From where the bus drops you off, it's about a 20-minute hike up to Vesuvius' rim along a very well-traveled path - easily doable if you are in any kind of reasonable shape (saw quite a few kids doing this w/their parents). Upon returning to Pompeii, we quickly walked through the ruins for an hour or so before making our way back to the train station... wish we'd had more time inside the ruins, but had missed the earlier city bus to Vesuvius (runs about one every 45-60 min.) and therefore had to wait a while for one of the vendor tours - still had a great day, and we didn't want to spend our honeymoon "rushing" everywhere... but ideally you'd want a full 2-3 at most to absorb/appreciate the ruins of Pompeii.
Venice is simply magnificent (no further description needed)!! Also VERY easy to do on your own - pick up a city map before you go (just to get your bearings), but most street corners and alleyways have signs pointing Piazelle Roma to St. Mark's Square and back again. It's about a 2 mile walk from the port to the Piazelle Roma, but again, if you like walking it's beats cost of paying for a transfer (you'll see lots of other people walking as you leave the ship, so it's easy enough to follow them). Best time of our lives was getting lost in Venice. :) Ravenna was incredible if you like culture & museums - you really have no choice to but to take the ship's transfer from the port (I believe it was around 10-12 miles to the city center, with a whole lot of empty countryside in between). Buy the local pass at any of the 6 major cathedrals/museums, it's about $6/person and gets you into all of them - the mosaic murals are well worth the cost of this pass. Dubrovnik (Croatia) ended up being one of our favorite ports, and one we'd like a make a point of getting back to someday. Here we walked the famous city walls and then took the skyride (gondola) up to the mountaintop. There's a very nice-looking outdoor restaurant up there where you can grab a late lunch or just sit and have drinks (which we didn't do), or you can find many cafes/restaurants/gelato stands within the old city walls. There were some vendors offering sea-kayak tours for around $40 USD (?) / person, and if we'd known how gorgoeus the water would be here we would have dressed for kayaking - as this seemed like a great way to spend a few hours here. It's definitely on our bucket list of things we'd like to go back & do someday.
Disembarkation was as organized as could be expected, and we had a10:30am flight from BC that we had no trouble making. Kept our luggage with us, and were off the ship as early as possible. Hopped a cab and was at the airport with plenty of time to spare. A cab to the airport ran about $55-60 USD (inlcuding the $10 "exchange-rate penalty" for paying with USD). Do yourself a favor and keep enough Euros on hand to cover the cab ride to the airport!
Overall it was an incredible iteinerary on a beautiful ship, I wouldn't hesitate to sail on RCCL (or the Serenade) again. It's probably quite a challenge to keep people happy for a full 2 weeks straight, but RCCL rose to the occasion and it was a perfect way to spend our honeymoon. Less