SHIP - My partner and I are in our 60s, 6th cruise, 4th on RCI. We love the size of the Serenade, the enclosed pool, the ease of navigating around the ship, and the elevators with glass overlooking the ocean. It’s not too big, not too small. We sailed on the Serenade back in 2008, so we were curious what the newly updated ship looked like. The main updates were in the Centrum: where it used to be a pleasantly pastel-colored, rather quiet gathering place for a drink, it is now energized with dramatic lighting, and has become the venue for a lot of ship activities. The decor is now mostly white with baroque curly-cues backlit with multi-colored LED lighting, changed for different events. Alas, a dramatic glass staircase was removed, presumably to make more room. Unfortunately, there still isn't enough spectator or participant space for big events, and people crowd the main floor and fill every balcony, bobbing around trying to see over all the heads. A small-scale Cirque du Soliel style acrobatic act was added to the Centrum, but it only played once (briefly) on our cruise. A scheduled performance was cancelled due to mild ship movement.
CRUISE - Our cabin (9210) was not much updated, but was fine. The bulky CRT TV set was replaced with a flat screen TV, but little else was changed. The old, beat-up couches were still there! Generally, though, we were pleased with the cabin, which had plenty of storage, and was clean and well managed by the capable, if not overly friendly, staff. A slightly worn sofa does not ruin a good cruise.
Our cruise was the "7-night Western Caribbean Cruise" on March 1, 2014. We arrived in New Orleans three days early and enjoyed a stay in the Residence Inn New Orleans Downtown on St. Joseph St., a pleasant loft-like hotel only a 3 blocks from the cruise terminal and about a mile from the French Quarter. Recommended. Embarkation in New Orleans was slower and more congested than any we've had in 6 cruises, but the New Orleans terminal is small compared to the much larger Florida terminals. Baggage handling both coming and going was fast and efficient.
EXCURSIONS: The excursion at Falmouth, Jamaica (FYA5 - High Tea at the Good Hope Estate) was a pleasant trip, recommended for people who don't need high-octane entertainment. This was our third time in Grand Cayman, so we just walked around the main street of the town. In Cozumel we took the Tulum excursion (CZ02), but barely had time to do it all: we were among the first off the ship, and were the last ones to board before departure. Don't even think of doing this on your own! The Tulum trip is excellent for those who enjoy archaeological sites, but the guide information and the two leisurely gift shop stops left a lot to be desired. Overall, though, it was a good excursion to a unique site. I have a more detailed review in the excursions section.
ENTERTAINMENT on the Serenade is up to the high RCI standard: comics were good and the production shows were excellent. First shows were sparsely attended, but the second shows were crowded. John Blair and his Bette Midler-esque wife Katrina were the best cruise directors ever: real talent beyond the usual happy talk. John can really sing well, and both are genuinely fun.
The Serenade is easy to get around in, but our favorite spot is the Solarium, an indoor pool that not every RCI ship has, unfortunately. It's adults only, and the water is heated. We have seen outdoor pools on other RCI ships that were frigid and not used much. We have found food on RCI cruises to be excellent, and this trip was no exception.
DEPARTURE - We love the RCI Luggage Valet service at the end of the cruise: you put your luggage in the hallway on the last night, and the next time you see it is in your airport at home. Incredible! Unfortunately, it is only available at five RCI ports, and New Orleans is not one of them. So we decided to rent a car (Hertz is in a building only a couple of blocks from the cruise terminal) and took an excellent day trip to the Oak Alley plantation, about an hour east of New Orleans, a truly beautiful place, not to be missed. We then dropped off the car at the airport.