My wife Kelly and I booked this cruise to Hawaii some 18 months prior to the sailing. We took an E1 class stateroom, an outside stateroom with balcony on 10 deck starboard side. The ship was to depart at 5pm, we flew via United Airlines from San Francisco and arrived at 1:30pm. The taxi to the ship terminal in downtown San Diego took but 10 minutes and cost (with tip) 15 USD.
Upon arriving at the cruise terminal the cab driver removed our three bags and placed them on the pavement beside the car. From that moment on the departure "procedure" became a confusing and poorly executed mess. In a line we trundled toward an apparent area where something related to getting the bags on large carts was happening in a halting and haphazard fashion. Finally what appeared to be a cruiseline employee hoisted our bags onto a waiting cart and we departed to the terminal building to check-in. We later learned there had been a longshoreman's strike action at the pier which caused all the apparent chaos. The check-in process took about 20 minutes, the usual security checks of our carry-on bags and whatever was in our pockets plus (of course) in inevitable shoe removal and xray. Now onto the ramp and up into the Serenade of The Seas.
Once aboard we were directed toward the elevators, these things NEVER performed as elevators are supposed to in regard to stopping at floors with lighted up/down buttons. Who designed this system?! We waited and waited along with a growing crowd as elevator after elevator, sometimes full, most times NOT went past.
Our cabin (#1500) was far forward on the 10 deck starboard. It was a quite nice space, about 170 sq ft. with a sliding door to the balcony with it's magnificent panoramic view. This was the first time we ever had such a room on any cruise we have taken and it made the room seem larger and brighter than the inside cabins we have had before. Well worth the added cost in my opinion. Storage room in the closet was adequate for our needs except that our larger bag could not be stowed in the closet and instead had to be left at the foot of the double bed. We shortly met our room steward with his kindly manner and big smile. The room was always cleaned when we expected and because of my wife's illness he had to work around the oxygen concentrator given to us by the hospital staff onboard at times.
This is a large ship, at 90000 tons she holds about 2300 people though it never seemed crowded no matter where we were. The public areas are quite large and the expansive windows allow magnificent views out over the ocean.
The Centrum is a large atrium midship that with it's glass, large modernist sculpture and elevators became the central feature of the ship. A dance floor with bandstand on the 4 deck was always full and with other public areas about the circumference the music was easy to listen to no matter where you were.
The Windjammer was on 11 deck and was the ship's informal dining venue. Large and with the same expanse of glass it was quite inviting. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were available with a large selection of entries, sandwiches, cold cuts, salads and deserts. Large platters were the manner of serving oneself and though the hub bub of many people (the place was popular!) there was more than enough space to move around the islands of food. While we did take a few meals (mainly breakfast and when Kelly was ill it was convenient for me) we preferred to eat in the Reflections Main Dining Room on Deck 4. Overall I would grade this dining room as 6 on a scale of 10 as many entree items sat too long and became lukewarm and rather uninviting looking, smaller amounts available would have solved this problem easily. Also you should try to get there before near the end of the time of closure of the facility as this will improve the quality of your experience, less people and more and hotter food will be available.
The Reflections Dining Room was a magnificent space with large cloth surrounded pillars and white table cloths stretching out for a hundred feet in all directions. It quickly became our favorite of the entire cruise as our table-mates and wait staff were exceptional people by any measure! Almost immediately we became fast friends and enjoyed telling tales of our lives and families and our activities both on the ship and on the shore. The food was abundant and of very good quality (8 out of 10 I'd rate it) throughout the entire cruise with a special night set aside for the lobster feed (Wonderful!). Our Waiter Cesar was exceptional in his good humor, bright and ready smile and continuous helpful, can-do attitude. He and his assistant MADE the dining experience for us! They were 10 out of 10!
Two other dining venues, Chops Grill and Portofino's were used by out table-mates but not us. I would say that they had mixed reviews for those that I either overheard or talked to, food was very good (7 - 8 out of 10 perhaps) but some service flaws were apparent.
Deck areas were virtually spotless throughout the ship, that and the 4 acres (Yes!) of glass made the ship feel light and airy as well. Distances to/from some facilities can be troublesome for those wheelchair bound cruisers or the elderly. Handrails are used throughout. This ship seemed to roll and pitch somewhat more than our other cruises even though it is both modern and stabilized.
We arrived at the islands Wednesday morning offshore of Kailua-Kona on the large island Hawaii. We used the ship's tenders to go ashore. The entire transfer was efficiently and safely performed by a very well trained crew in very light sea conditions. The weather was perfect. Kailua lies on the dry side of the island with large expanses of lava. We rented a "crossover SUV, a Saturn car from Alamo (156USD for one day, gas included and unlimited miles) and began our circumnavigation of the island by driving north. Mile after mile of black lava flows spotted here and there by graffiti made of white lava, actually quite effective and somehow fitting for the location, a desert of lava. We turned east and crossed over into the wet and verdant green jungle of the lee side of Hawaii. We loved it, stopping for a picnic at a park in Hilo before climbing to see the volcano crater looming above the city.
I mentioned earlier "kelly's illness". On Friday and Saturday after we had arrived at the islands we both came down with a mild illness resembling a cold. Sniffles, itchy, watery eyes and irregular coughs. We discounted the symptoms and thought ourselves lucky as there were quite a few empty spots in the Reflections Dining room in the last few days and we had but these mild symptoms to deal with. Sunday morning she was running a slight fever and wanted only to sleep and we watched Honolulu thru our balcony door. My condition improved but hers did not, with periods of sleeping growing longer and longer. We had dinner via Room Service's rather limited menu and I told her we'd be visiting the ship's hospital the next morning. I was still hopeful she'd improve and we could visit Honolulu the next day. In the morning...the motion told me that we were at sea NOT at the dock at Honolulu! The schedule had included 2 days there but because of the Hilo Iron Man competitions the ship's schedule had changed. We were on the way back to San Diego this Monday morning.
We dressed and I took her directly to the Medical Clinic on 2 Deck forward. After filling out a three page document with her ID information she was taken into the facility, it was 9:15am. At 10:45 I asked if I could see her, the head nurse took me to her bed, she looked pale and drawn and was hooked up to an IV, oxygen and a nebulizer was delivering Ambutol to help her breathe. The doctor summoned me to his office, showed me the xrays and told me that she was very ill with pneumonia in both lungs. I was shocked, additionally so as he said they had discussed turning the ship around AGAIN (more about that later) to evacuate her by helicopter IF she didn't improve very soon. We retired to our stateroom to allow the Cipro to do it's good work. We returned at 5pm for a second treatment and she was looking and acting better even then. The staff was MORE than helpful, very skilled and communicative through the entire illness. Kelly has since improved and has a appointment with our physician at Kaiser tomorrow. I cannot thank or praise the staff of the ship's medical clinic enough, they saved Kelly's life in front of my very eyes with their quick and accurate diagnosis and proactive actions. Our emergency care nurse was equally impressed with the actions taken by the ships medical staff. A 10 out of 10 performance, hurray!