This was my 4th cruise overall (1st cruise with RCCL), and my husband's 1st cruise ever. We are both in our early 40's, and selected this itinerary for our honeymoon. Our wedding took place on a Saturday afternoon, we flew from MSP to BCN on Sunday morning, and arrived in BCN early Monday (ship sailed at 4pm, I believe).
Initially, we had wanted to pre-register for RCCL’s "Barcelona Highlights" bus tour from the airport - but were told that our incoming flight was scheduled to arrive about 15 min. later than the "allowable" timeframe (so we were not allowed to register/pre-pay for the tour). However, the RCCL rep told us that, upon arrival at BCN, we could just ask to join the tour if it hadn't left yet (as long as seats were available). In the end, our connection from JFK was delayed by about 2 hours - so we were actually thankful we hadn't pre-paid, as we had no hope of arriving at BCN in time for this tour. BUT (lo & behold), there was apparently a large # of More
prepaid tour guests on our same connecting flight from JFK, so RCCL held the tour for them. Kudos to RCCL in this regard. We were able to just show the tour operator our RCCL boarding docs, and she charged the cost of the tour to our cabin.
The tour bus was modern & comfortable, though the tour itself felt a bit rushed (due the late departure). There was one 15-20 minute stop on top of the mountain (overlooking the city), with a public restroom and concessions; and a second, 2-hour stop in the heart of the old city for shopping/exploring. This second stop included a 20-minute guided tour around another old cathedral and adjacent cobblestone alleys, which were full of shops, restaurants, artisan galleries, and even residences. In between these 2 stops, we drove by most major landmarks and at times the driver would pause just long enough for you to snap a photo out the window (such as outside the huge Olympic futbol stadium), and he was full of information and charisma... however, it was still rushed. For the price of $65/person, I still feel the tour was worthwhile as it gave us much more of an overview of the city than we'd have gotten by simply taking a cab to the port. But, while I was grateful we were able to join the tour at all, I am still perplexed how all those passengers on the same connecting flight were allowed to book the tour in advance (while we were denied)?
Embarkation (and Cabin): An absolute dream! The cruise terminal was not at all crowded, and it took all of 15-20 minutes to sign in and get our key cards. There was perhaps another 20-minute wait in the security line (similar to going through airport security) but nothing to complain about. In no time, we were in our aft-facing balcony cabin marveling at the view. :) We didn't attempt to smuggle on any booze, so I can't attest to how easy/difficult that might be. But, our luggage was delivered by the time we returned from dinner and we had no issues with missing/damaged items. I highly recommend the aft-facing balcony cabins! Although we had a minor amount of soot some days, we were prepared for this and simply wiped down our chairs/table before using them. The extra-deep balcony was fabulous, and came complete with 2 sitting chairs, 2 loungers, and the little round side table for drinks, books, etc.
We probably spent about 75% of our time on our balcony when not in port; our room steward had to keep pleading with us to leave the room every night so he could clean. We kept trying to tell him it was unnecessary, that we weren’t messy people and this was our HONEYMOON (aka “please leave us alone”), but I don’t think we ever once opened our cabin door – night or day – without finding him standing there with his cart. We pretty much felt like we were being stalked after the 2nd or 3rd day, and the poor guy really seemed to fear for his job. I know RCCL has high expectations of their room stewards, but I also expected that our requests for no evening service would be understood/respected? No.Such.Luck. We would hang the Do Not Disturb sign on the door after returning from port, or on Sea Days, simply so we could lay out (and/or nap) on our balcony. But, we were unable to open the door without finding him there, just waiting to ask us “how are you enjoying my service? Don’t you feel that I’m doing a good job?” “Yes, yes, it’s fine, it’s our honeymoon, we just want to enjoy our fabulous balcony.” On every sea day, he would call the room multiple times until we answered (despite the Do Not Disturb sign) just to see if we needed service. On the final night (and after about a thousand “am I doing a good job?” ‘s later), we came back from dinner to find the envelope requesting extra gratuities… along with a survey for our completion. Keep in mind, we had chosen Anytime Dining (so our gratuities were prepaid). We did not feel inclined to leave him anything extra, as we declined the evening room servicing more often than we received it… and honestly, the constant badgering was uncomfortable for us. But we gave him the highest marks on the survey, as I didn’t want to punish the poor guy for simply wanting to do his job… I just wish he would have allowed us a little more privacy.
Layout/Common Areas: The ship is designed well, with modern yet classy décor, and it was easy to get from one end to the other. Chairs/loungers next to the pool were understandably scarce on seas (and is to be expected), but we could generally find something on the upper level. The glass-roofed “Solarium” pool area was especially nice for a whitey like me, and a place that the kids would usually avoid – so you could truly relax here. The casino was alright, but the female bartender here was fantastic! Stopped in once the 1st or 2nd night of the cruise, and when we stopped in several days later, the bartender remembered my husband’s name AND what he liked to drink (Bacardi Limon and diet Pepsi)… hubby was impressed! We hung out in the loungers by the rock wall one sea day afternoon, and the husband did a few climbs (he’s been rock climbing his whole life). The basketball court always had players, and it was fun watching them. Mini golf looked about as fun as you could expect on a boat.
Dining: We went with the Anytime dining, since we wanted the utmost flexibility on this trip. The first few evenings, we were placed with the same wait staff team – who did the job they were tasked with, but with zero personality, charm, or conversation. I was pretty disappointed in this regard, as I’ve had consistently phenomenal experiences on other cruise lines. I ended feeling a bit embarrassed for giving my husband the impression (for months prior) that dining was one of the greatest aspects of cruising! It was honestly a pretty awkward experience the first few nights. But, on the 3rd or 4th night, we saw a table near ours being serviced by someone named Maximus - who was everything I wanted/had come to expect in a head waiter from previous cruises! Picture Ricky Ricardo and George Lopez all in one. ïŠ He was delightful, charming, and hilariously conversational. We asked to be seated in Maximus’ section thereafter, and were always accommodated. The entire dynamic of our honeymoon changed after finding Maximus (who would also be waiting in the aft/balcony area of the buffet every morning for breakfast). He is one of those guys who loves his job and is genuinely enjoying himself on this ship… you just can’t fake that. Truly a talented professional. The food itself was fine, not the “greatest” cruise food I’ve ever had (surprisingly, that honor goes to Carnival), but it was certainly good and I had no complaints. But for me, even mediocre food would be enjoyable with the right wait staff… and Maximus “made” this entire cruise for us. We made sure to ask about his family, kids, and homeland every chance we could, and it was a pleasure to get to know him.
Chef’s Table: We scheduled the Chef’s Table several weeks ahead of our sail date, and chose the final sea day for this experience. Marvelous in every way, and well worth the money. I made a point to try everything, even if I knew it wouldn’t be my “thing” (I don’t care much for seafood, or most red meats, and am sadly not a wine lover, either). Everything was delectable, service was 5-star and the presentation was stunning. My husband is a true meat & potatoes guy, and was impressed with all the dishes. My favorites were the trio of soups, and the desserts (of course)! But the company was the best part; we got to meet so many great people from all walks of life that night, and it was quite memorable. A perfect end to any cruise, but especially for our honeymoon. ïŠ
Entertainment: Lackluster at best. The best evenings we had were spent in the piano bar, but even that got old after a few nights. The broadway-style shows were cheesy and awful, and we’re from Minneapolis (a huge hub for theater and arts). There was no “adult” comedy club/comedians to speak of, which was a disappointment on an 11-night cruise. There was an 80’s style revue that we poked our heads into one night, only to walk right back out. There was the same 2 rotating, lounge-singing acts (one was a solo female, and the other a male/female duet) every day and every night… they just alternated between the pool and atrium lounge, which became VERY old by day 3. I expected a little more variety on a cruise of this duration. I really just expected more from RCCL in general - I thought they were supposed to be one of the “premier” experiences among the affordable cruise lines? In comparison, the 7-night Carnival cruise I took the previous year had MUCH higher-caliber entertainment and variety. This particular RCCL cruise was definitely more about the itinerary/ports than the entertainment onboard. In RCCL’s defense, the Cirque-du-Soleil-esque aerobatic shows in the atrium were GREAT, but these only took place twice on the entire cruise (and lasted only about 15-20 minutes tops)… and the timing was odd, something like 3:30pm or 4pm on a port day? Most people were just getting back on the ship, or showering in their cabins getting ready for dinner, etc. We basically had to short-change ourselves of some precious port time in order to see the aerial show one night. Although these shows were considered a highlight of the cruise, it would have been better had they been performed twice - at 8 and 10pm or something (and preferably on sea days) so that more passengers could enjoy them. It was truly something unique and should be showcased more as a “headline” show by RCCL.
Spa: We did take advantage of the daily specials toward the end of the cruise, a therapeutic essential-oil foot massage (30 or 40 minutes, I believe). I don't remember the price, something like $30/person? It was pure heaven. The overall spa facilities looked breathtaking, although that was the only time we were there.
Cannes (France) : We were tendered into port. The town is charming and quaint; we explored on our own. Walked all around the port area and ate more than my fair share of crepes. ïŠ Walked up the hill to the old clock tower (stunning views), then back through town where we found a very interesting video store (with an open adult section). Spent an hour or two on the beach before walking back to the port.
Livorno (Italy): Took the RCCL excursion/bus tour to Cinque Terre; absolutely breathtaking, a must-see! Don’t forget to bring your own padlock to leave on the “wall” (chainlink fence).
Salerno (Italy): Took the port bus into town, then hopped a train into Pompeii. From there, we hopped on an independent bus tour (w/short hike) to the rim of Mt. Vesuvius, then back to Pompeii where we bought tickets to tour the ruins.
Civitavecchia (Italy): Took the train into Rome and did our own thing (Colosseum, St. Peters Square, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, etc. ). Hard to take it all in with just 8 hours, but we saw enough to make us want to go back someday. Even made it to the Hard Rock to buy a pin for daughter who collects them.
Ravenna (Italy): Ttook the RCCL bus transfer into town and did the walking mosaic tour. Very interesting and serene, well worth the $6/person all-inclusive tickets.
Venice (Italy) : Overnight stay; spent 2 days walking all over and “getting lost”, as they say! Gelato, gelato, and more gelato. ïŠ
Dubrovnik (Croatia): Our favorite stop! Shared a cab with another couple into town, then took the skyride/gondola up the hill (so glad we did). We also walked the city walls and explored the old town within. This is one place we would love to go back to someday and, if that happens, we’d want to do one of the kayak tours. There are several vendors selling kayak tours outside the old walls, reasonably priced (equal to $35-40 USD/person?) but tours looked incredible from our view atop the walls. We simply weren’t prepared/weren’t dressed for kayaking, but wholly regret not doing this.
In general, this cruise/itinerary was everything we were looking for in a honeymoon. To see all these places, plus Barcelona, and an overnight stop in Venice was truly a dream come true. I have no major complaints, and overall we had a truly fabulous time! I would not hesitate to sail RCCL again, but I expect I’d be sailing for the itinerary (and not necessarily the food or entertainment). Was a great mid-sized ship for singles, couples, and/or families of all age groups, and was a nice experience overall. Less
Serenade of the Seas Cruises to the Western Mediterranean
I highly recommend the aft-facing balcony cabins! Although we had a minor amount of soot some days, we were prepared for this and simply wiped down our chairs/table before using them. The extra-deep balcony was fabulous, and came complete with 2 sitting chairs, 2 loungers, and the little round side table for drinks, books, etc.