My husband and I and two teenaged daughters sailed on Serenade during our Spring Break, March 22-29. We had a great time and the Serenade is a really beautiful ship. I will try to break my review down into parts so I don't forget anything!
Arrival/Embarkation: We arrived in New Orleans the day before departure and stayed at the Hilton Riverside on the edge of the French Quarter. We didn't realize until the next morning that the port was within walking distance to our hotel and, when we woke up and looked out our window the morning of departure, we had a fantastic and very close-up view of the ship. We arrived at the port around 11:30, parked at one of the private garages in the area, took their shuttle and were able to board the ship and get on all within an hour. Once on board we went to the Windjammer, ate a quick lunch and were able to get into our rooms quickly.
Ship: The Serenade is a beautiful ship and, although it is a more medium sized ship than some of the others at RCI that we have sailed on, you never get the feeling that it is small. The ship is decorated in very warm tones and it is very cozy. Some of our favorite places were the Safari Club, the Centrum listening to D'version, the Schooner Bar, (for a pre dinner drink), the Park Cafe in the Solarium, the back of the Windjammer where you get a great wake view and Izumi specialty restaurant. There is lots of glass so there are great views from almost anywhere on the ship. The artwork is usually not something I notice but it was really stunning on this ship. I would sail on this ship again anytime.
Service: Service was good but there were a couple of people that were outstanding. Our waiter, assistant waiter and head waiter were the best I have ever had on a ship. Our cabin steward was excellent and always left really creative towel animals each night. He was very observant and learned our schedule quickly so that he was able to make up our room when we went to breakfast.
Ports: This is my only complaint and it is something that bothered me quite a bit. We had three scheduled stops on this cruise. Key West (which was outstanding), Nassau and Coco Cay. We arrived in Key West at 11:00 am and had time to take a great bike tour around the city. We also had some shopping time before the all aboard at 4:30. I didn't really feel that this was enough time but Key West has a limitation on how long the cruise ships can stay in port. All cruise ships have to be out before sunset because of the sunset celebration in Mallory Square each night. We arrived in Nassau at 1:00 and stayed until midnight and while this was enough time in port, the actual time in port was really not all usable. It would have been so nice to be able to arrive earlier so that we could have had more sunlight and beach time. We didn't feel safe being out in Nassau after dark so we bought a day pass at the Hilton which expired at 5:00 and then ate at Senor Frogs and boarded the ship at around 7:00. The next day we didn't tender at Coco Cay because of rough seas. I think this happens quite a bit and, while I understand about the seas, it was quite disappointing. I wish there was another option to guarantee another port day. Three days on the ship was too much at the end of the cruise.
Food: We ate at Izumi one night and I would definitely go again. Very good sushi! Main dining room was great and our waiter was never hesitant about recommending what he thought was good. He was always spot on. One of my favorite places for lunch was the Park Cafe in the Solarium. The custom made salads were so good and fresh. Their roast beef sandwiches were outstanding too. We usually would run by there again late in the evening after our show to pick up some cookies or a late night piece of pizza. The ice machine there is really good too. There was a definite improvement in food over the last time we sailed on Royal Caribbean two years ago. Much better food this time.
We went to a show most nights and they were well worth our time. The second night there was a comedian that had my husband and teenaged daughters rolling on the floor. Appealing to both age groups was something he did well. There was also a broadway night that was good. The third or fourth night there was a guest group that imitated the Temptations and they were excellent. There was also an italian opera singer (Mario I think) that was outstanding. The band D'version that played in the Centrum at night were my favorites. Lots of Eagles/Fleetwood Mac type music with a little country thrown in.
We were not able to tender here because of high seas and that was very disappointing. If we had not had a couple of hours at the beach in Nassau, we wouldn't have been able to do any beach at all. We were on the ship for three days which was too long. Apparently this bypass of Coco Cay happens a lot. I wish they had another alternative stop since Coco Cay isn't possible about half of the time.
We arrived in Key West at 11:00 am and had time to take a great bike tour around the city with Key Lime Bicycle Tour Company. It was about a six mile ride and we got to stop at all the important tourist spots but we also got to see parts of the town that were off the beaten path. Our tour guide was Sara and she had such a great knowledge of the history and quirkyness of Key West and she made it fun to learn about everything. We also had some shopping time before the all aboard at 4:30. I didn't really feel that this was enough time but Key West has a limitation on how long the cruise ships can stay in port. All cruise ships have to be out before sunset because of the sunset celebration in Mallory Square each night.
Hotel was within walking distance and since we had such a short time in port, that was nice and maximized our time at the beach. It was a nice property but the food and beverage service at the BCHilton lacked a lot! The workers acted irritated we were there and they never came to the beach. We had to go up to the restaurant to get whatever we needed. When I ordered a regular margarita, I saw the bar tender take a glass, wet it down with water and pour table salt around the rim. He then poured frozen margarita into the glass taking the salt with it. It was awful. There were non motorized beach things (kayaks, snorkel equipment) that we were able to use as part of our pass. Our ship stayed in port until midnight; however, we were back on board by 7 pm. I really felt that this was a very short day since we arrived at 1 pm and we had limited time in sun and on the beach.