About us: I was traveling with my husband. We are retired and our age group is early 60’s. This was our 8th cruise; our first time in Europe and our 2nd RCI cruise.
Summary: Overall this cruise met all of our expectations. It was a wonderful trip and we really enjoyed ourselves. It was not the most relaxing cruise due to the itinerary; but we are so glad we were able to see what we did. The sea days were a welcomed break. We do highly recommend this cruise itinerary, because it is great for first timers to the Mediterranean (like it was for us), but also, we could do the whole trip again and see totally different sights. There is so much to see.
I have to say right up front that we contribute a lot of our positive experience to the passengers we met through Cruise Critic. We had never used the Cruise Critic Roll Call before and we met some really nice people. I signed up on the Cruise Critic website right after booking our cruise in August 2013, for a June 2014 cruise. I was surprised to see a Roll Call already setup! So, for months I was communicating with other passengers, setting up private tours (instead of RCI shore excursions), trading information from packing ideas, how to tip in Europe, International Internet and Phone packages, whether to bring all our cash in euros (or use the ATMs), to jet lag tips.
Flights and pre/post-cruise hotel: We were lucky to have frequent flyer miles and we were able to fly first class/business class on British Airways; which was really important due to some of my health issues. It is a long trip and we wish we had broken it up into two legs on our trip over, like we did on the way back. Going, we took a 4:45 pm flight out of SFO on June 1 (cruise started on the 4th), this was the perfect time to fly for conquering jet lag. We had a 6-hour layover in London (having stayed up all night, this was excruciatingly painful); we arrived in Barcelona at 8:25 pm, took a taxi to the hotel (30 euros) and were able to fall asleep easily. We had planned a day trip to the Dali Museum for the following day (June 3), but we were too tired, so we just ended up walking around Barcelona. We had no problem adjusting to the new time zone of 9 hours ahead. If we were to do it again, we would definitely plan for a couple more days in Barcelona – it is a beautiful city with a lot to see. We stayed at the Hotel Colon, which was nice, but not plush accommodations; just a clean basic room in a good location.
The trip home was longer, but a lot easier. – First mistake was our departure time. Like most people we were off the ship at 7:00 am and at the Barcelona airport by 8:00 am, we took a taxi for about 30 euros including the tip, our flight didn’t leave until 3:30 pm (at least it was on time). We flew to London Gatwick (mistake #3 or #4), and then took an hour bus ride to Heathrow airport, then a cab to our hotel (Novotel London Heathrow), same price/accommodations as the Hotel Colon in Barcelona, but just 5 minutes away from the airport; the cab fare was minimal. We then flew out the next day (this part I really liked), at 11:00 am, London to SFO. We arrived in SFO at 2:00 pm and had a driver from Elite Limo drive us home. We are having a problem with jet lag. We stayed up as long as we could after arriving home, but we are still (a couple days later) waking up around 2 – 3 am. If I were to do it again, I would plan to arrive home in the late evening as we did in Barcelona.
Embarkation: We had absolutely no problems boarding the ship. We took a cab from our hotel to the port (30 euros, seams to be the standard), and arrived at the pier at 11:00 am. We were on the ship within 30 minutes, and in our cabin with our luggage around 1:00.
Internet/Phone service: In my opinion Internet access should be free by now. We purchased the Royal Caribbean AT&T cruise phone package for $30, which gave us 50 minutes of international calling while the ship was at sea (no time while in port). We also purchased the Royal Caribbean Wi-Fi for access while on the ship. We purchased two hours for about $60 dollars. The Wi-Fi was fine for basic Internet use, but there wasn’t enough bandwidth for Face Time.
Customer Service: Overall the service was fine. Not exceptional, but fine. We didn’t have any problems, but we do miss the old days where the service in the dinning rooms were something to look forward to. It just isn’t the same and it might have something to do with My Time Dinning.
Ship: The Serenade of the Sea was a simple, but beautiful ship. It wasn’t ever crowed. But it is a smaller ship and therefore, doesn’t have a lot of the activities that are on the larger ships. Very clean with some signs of aging.
Cabin: We were in cabin 7046, mid ship, deck 7. It was a normal size cabin with lots of drawers and closet space. Our cabin Stewart kept the room very clean, we were very pleased with the size, cleanliness and location of our balcony cabin.
Food: I have to agree with others; the food was okay. Not bad, just not much variety. Gone are the days of high-end service, exotic food and wonderful desserts. We booked our cruise 10 months ahead of time and both the late and early main dinning options were full. Prior to the cruise we did make reservations for My Time Dinning every night, and we never had to wait for a table. We did eat at Chops and Giovanni's Table. The food at Chops was good, the service wasn’t spectacular and my steak had to be re-cooked. But, we still enjoyed our meal and would recommend it. We really enjoyed our meal at Giovanni's. It may have been the company, but it was our best meal on the ship.
Lunch was usually in port, but on the sea days we did enjoy the food in the main dinning room. We did eat at the Park Café once and the Windjammer twice, which were okay at best.
For breakfast we had room service on all the early port days (same thing every morning). On the sea days, we either skipped breakfast or my husband would get something light in the windjammer
Dress code: My husband wasn’t happy about the no shorts in the dinning room for dinner, even on casual days. I was fine with it. They did enforce the dress code. We had 3 formal nights, 1 smart casual and the rest were casual. The first formal night was our second night (after port), the second one was the first sea day, and the 3rd was the 2nd sea day.
Activities/Entertainment: We did not go to any of the shows. We were too exhausted after port days and were just doing other things on the sea days. But, on the sea days if you aren’t a pool person, there isn’t a whole lot to do. We pretty much didn’t go above deck 6, so I can’t comment about the pools, spa, golf, rock climbing, gym, etc.
Cost/Packages: If cost matters to you, you should watch for sale pricing, even after you have purchased the cruise. After we made final payment, RCI ran a sale that made an entry-level suite only $40 more than our balcony cabin (not per day – total). But, when I called (it was a weekend) they wouldn’t even talk to me because I had used a travel agent. Although they encourage you to use a travel agent, I was unable to get the upgrade. I wish I had my travel agent’s phone number for after hours (lesson learned), others on Cruise Critic were able to get the upgrade.
We purchased one of the beverage packages for $240/$20/day. But, with the cruise being so port intensive, it was hard to get our money’s worth. I drink a lot of water and I probably averaged 2-3 bottles a day and one specialty coffee. I came close to breaking even, but if you were to walk up and purchase a bottle of water you would get a brand name, but because I bought the package I was given an off brand. Not bad water, it was just the point that you get a lesser quality item if you purchase a package.
Ports: We loved all the ports, but the weather was a little too hot. High 80’s to 90’s.
We did private tours with our new friends from Cruise Critic for the first 4 ports and the last port. Nice France, Florence Italy, Rome Italy, Naples Italy and Kotor. We absolutely loved the smaller groups of 8. The prices were less than RCI. We did one RCI shore excursion in Venice.
Debarkation: We had no problems. We left the ship at 7:00 am, got our luggage and took a cab to the airport. We arrived at the Barcelona airport by 8:00 am.
We would definitely recommend this cruise and would go on it again.
We did a private tour (Pisa and Florence,) through RomeInLimo. Our guide’s name was Elizabeth and she was good. She had a wealth of information and was a true Italian, talking with her hands while driving! We stopped for a quick picture of the leaning tower and then went to Florence. It was about a two-hour drive, the Tuscan Countryside was beautiful and Elizabeth kept us entertained the whole way there. The Academia and especially Michelangelo’s David was the highlight of this trip. We did have a local lunch and a little time for shopping before returning to the ship.
This was really a nice surprise. If you have this port don’t overlook it. It is a beautiful country. The sail in is worth watching from the upper decks. We did a private tour with Mont Travelers, our guide’s name was Diko and he was good. They have several different tours available. One caution is that the tour we chose had us going up a mountain road higher then we were comfortable with. My husband doesn’t like heights and I get anxiety on mountain roads. Although it was very beautiful, I would stick to lower grounds in the future. They took us to a town Budva, which was beautiful and I would have liked to spend more time there. If you are a shopper, try to work in at least an hour to an hour and a half. If you are not a shopper, than 30 minutes is fine to see the church, scenery and have a cold drink.
We did a private tour through RomeInLimo. We went on a scenic drive through the Amaifi Coast; we had the best lunch at a local restaurant near Sorrento, great view. We went to Posiano, which was very beautiful and we had lots of time for shopping. We opted for Herculaneum instead of Pompeii because others had already been to Pompeii and we were attracted to the smaller site. We hired a separate guide for Herculaneum through RomeInLimo.
We did a private tour (Half day French Riviera) through Riviera Premium Tours. Our guide’s name was George (we actually had 3 vans of 8 people, each van had a guide). We went to the flower market in Nice, which was nice and the drive to Nice was beautiful. We also went to Monte-Carlo and Ez Village. They were all nice; but we would have liked to spend more time in Nice, less time in Monte-Carlo. But, the whole experience was wonderful and the weather was warm, but not too hot.
Rome Italy – We did a private tour (Rome in a day), through RomeInLimo, I do not recall the guide’s name, but he was good. We saw so much in Rome, but St. Peter’s Basilica was closed. It was hot and the Vatican Museum/Sistine Chapel was extremely crowed. We did hire a tour guide through RomeInLimo specifically for the Vatican and it was well worth the money.
Venice day 1 – We did a ship shore excursion to Murano Island. It was okay, they gave about a 10-minute demo and then put you through their sales floor. We did take a gondola ride at the end of the tour, and if you have never done it before, it is worth doing, but we wouldn’t do it again.
Venice day 2 – We got off the ship early in the morning to beat the heat. We used the ship’s boat shuttle ($28 each), and walked around St. Mark’s square. It was easy to find our way around Venice, but we didn’t purchase tickets in advance and the lines to the main attractions were too long. We saw everything from the outside and had lunch in the square before returning to the ship by noon; due to the heat. The sail away was really beautiful.