I have been on 2 cruises in past, both with RC (Navigator, Rhapsody) and wife has never cruised. She finally got the chance April 2014 on Serenade out of New Orleans on a 7 day Caribbean. I must stay that I was victimized by taking the Navigator in 2003 and then sailing on this smaller ship. Its hard to go big and then go small. Especially since the Navigator has had so many upgrades now. Anyways, my review and my $0.02.
I stressed how the lines were going to be long so we prepared early and printed out guess booklet and paperwork. Arrived at check-in counter to learn we didn't have the stupid paper with barcode info to scan us in. I told lady I printed out everything it said to print and bring 30 days prior to sailing, under the CHECK-IN tab. She said but you have to go back and print out the single paper a week prior to sailing that allows you check in quickly. So I brought like 70 pages worth of paperwork/info when they did not even want any of it and only wanted the single sheet with the barcode that I didn't print out. Nonetheless, was still at the counter less than 6 mins after waiver and medical forms filled out so not gonna complain. How did I do it? Read on.
Boarding on the ship was SUPER fast! Our cabin was on deck 3 and deck 3 boarding was printed for 3:00pm boarding... year right, like I was gonna wait until 3 when you can board at 11. Of course special needs and Pinnacle, Diamond, Platinum were all allowed to board 1st at 11:00am first, but guess when they called my class of Gold... at 11:20am!! we were boarding the ship 20 mins after boarding time was allowed! Conclusion... board anytime between 1st boarding and when the ship leaves. =)
Arrived on ship and process was flawless and fast. We took advise of cruisecritic tips and packed a duffel with change of clothes and went straight to oceanview cabin. Room was nice as expected and we were off to snap photos of everything out of pure excitement! We checked out everything they had to offer on every floor until we got hungry around 5pm. Also took cruisecritic advice and stayed away from the packed Windjammer Café on deck 11 and sought lunch elsewhere. We found Park Café on same deck with few but wonderful options. It was deli style so sandwiches and light meals were on the menu. I had a Cuban Panini, wife had sandwich wrap, which were both excellent.
Dinner time came and we met our wait staff Hugo (aka Hugo Boss) from Portugal and Walter from Columbia. These guys went out there way for us the entire trip and we will always remember their names and the service they offered!
Wife anticipated 1st stop at Key West. I wasn't looking to forward to stop because I wanted to sail somewhere that wasn't considered in the USA but I knew the waters were excellent so I made the best of it. We decided to go with local excursions and not RC. Great choice! Found professional jet ski tour for $130. Talked guy down to $100 which was $50 each to take 1 ski. About 11 in our group with great instructor. Took us around entire Key West island (27 mi) for 1.5 hours duration. Did not shop because common sense tells you that you are still paying USA taxes in FL and prefer tax free duty free shopping in Bahamas.
Even though I didn't care to much for Key West, it was quite enjoyable and I only chose this RC itinerary because most sailings only offer Nassau from like 7am-1pm. Its Nassau for Petes Sake! Only 6 hours? This itinerary had Serenade docked from 1pm-midnight which was more to my liking. It is a must to take the Atlantis Tour but more on that in a second.
We enjoyed our days at sea. We totally booked ourselves on the days at sea with activities until worn out. We played bingo, shot pool, played putt putt golf, rock climbed. I think we were the kids on the boat. =) All you heard everyday was Nassau Nassau Nassau all over the ship regarding shopping there. Made it sound like the diamond capital of the world and how good the deals were. Had my wife looking like a 3rd grader going on field trip to Disney World in the face! They stressed all shops closes at 5pm and shopping needed to be done prior to 5pm in order to collect free charm bracelets and other low cost free gifts for visiting multiple stores. However, this conflicted with out Atlantis Tour we had scheduled at 2pm with 2.5 hour duration. Wife was having no negotiating with shopping after the tour and questioned if we could collect our Atlantis Tour tickets and take the tour without a guide in order to shop 1st which was no problem. Only exception was had to be done with tour by 7pm so we figured we needed to start tour no later than 4:30 to allow the 2.5 hours duration time. We collected our tour tickets and headed off to the so called one-in-a-life-time opportunity to shop in Nassau.
Upon arrival to stores... not impressed at all! Wife saw a ring and asked how much, was told $11k but would sell for $5k. Wow! Negative. Saw another ring and said was $600 but would sell for $500. Really? 5 grand off 1 ring and $100 bucks off another? So we realized we were mislead and wasted our time and should have gone with guided tour. Its ok tho, Im a fast learner, fool me once!
Stayed in town and checked out more stores before realizing we needed to get to Atlantis. Took taxi, guy offered $4 but we wasn't ready. Got 3 blocks away and decided we were tired of walking and took taxi that offered $12. His vehicle was much better than the other so I paid diff instead of negotiating, plus Im sure he needed $$ way more than I needed that $8.
How was unguided tour of Atlantis? Imagine being dropped off at Times Square NY and saying have at it. You don't know where to start. Was totally our fault. We decided to check out the hotel and took some wonderful pictures and got tired and hungry. So we wrapped it up and headed back to ship. We had every intention of cleaning up, eating FREE dinner onboard, and living up the nightlife and music until midnight and we fell asleep after eating. LOL. Darn 5 star food ratings! Nassau was still enjoyable but would totally do things diff next time.
Headed to Cococay, then the dreaded announcement came on that waters too rough and was headed back to NOLA with extra day at sea. Noooo. We looked so forward to kayaking and snorkeling there. Oh well, excursion refunded.
I will admit the extra day at sea made the cruise a little bit more boring with the limited activities and entertainment onboard but I refused to used the B word when your on a RC ship that just left the Bahamas so we tried to make the best of it. But the large ships did have surfing, ice rinks, and other stuff. Comes in handy when your at that active age of 34 yrs young. Just saying.
We enjoyed bingo with Deb from The Netherlands, such a sweet girl, throughout the cruise. But if we could do it again we would only play the last day which is x2 for $1000 and other for free 7 day Caribbean cruise on ANY ship they have. Guess who won cruise? Our dinner partners! Who were sitting right next to us! She did like 3 cart wheels when they yelled bingo. LMBO. Great time with Samantha and Tonya. So we witnessed why its good to play bingo on final day 1st hand. Other days are pots of like $300 bucks which you end up splitting with 4 other people so not worth playing until last day.
That wraps up the trip folks. Great service, great time, 10's on reviews all the way across the boards. I will have to say I will limit myself to Voyager, Freedom, and Oasis and above class ships from now on. Bigger ships will have better experiences. Not sure if this is proper place but I would like to share some tips I learned as follows...
-Sat with a couple for lunch who said they have been on 14 cruises, inside cabins only, until they hit Diamond status and got free upgrades to balconies. Spend $0 onboard, enjoyed free meals, free lemonade/tea (Arnold Palmers) mixes and water, used cruisecritic for best places to visit and walked the city together. Arrived home with $0 additional dollars spent I said... Amazing. I wanna do it.
-Played bingo 3 days, they sell paper card for $22 and electronic machines $55 with 30 cards built in. 4 games played with purchase. Out of 12 games, machines won 9, you do the math!
-Prepay gratuities and drink package with cruise cost. It sucked paying $385 on seapass for drink package when we could of added it to our monthly payments we were making to pay for cruise.
Hope our experience helps make your experience better. Happy sailing!