Background. We have been married 28 years, are in our mid-50's and have done 6 previous cruises with Royal Caribbean in the past 4 years.
This cruise started and terminated in Los Angeles. This meant that there are almost 10 full "AT SEA" days of the cruise. If you are not fans of "at sea" days you really need to take this into account when considering taking any Hawaiian "circle" cruise. That said, Hawaii is fantastic as each island is so different from the others. Hawaii is a must see destination.
We had been on Radiance class before and all of the ships in this family are identical. The Serenade was in excellent shape and we always saw people cleaning and maintaining the ship. This would probably be our favorite class except that it does not have a skating rink, and I love to skate.
Embarkation. We got to the ship just after 11AM and we were processed straight away. The only line up was getting your picture taken and this was 10-15 minutes long. Disembarkation was very quick once your color was called. All in all these processes were painless.
We had cabin 1102. This is a tenth deck D1 category that is a true aft balcony. The balcony is approximately 11 feet long by 8 feet wide. It came with 2 chairs, a small table and 2 deck chairs. The view was fantastic and it gets a ton of sun. It is situated right under the Windjammer which for the most time was not an issue. On 2 nights we were woken up by a loud scraping noise at 4:00 AM. We could not figure out what caused the noise as the tables directly above our cabin were fixed to the deck. A little noise once or twice was a small price to pay for the location of this cabin. It is quite a walk from the elevator to the room but again a true aft balcony cabin just blows away all other cabins.
The Windjammer. This is a buffet and people need to understand that as a buffet the food was very good to excellent. I never had an issue with any of the food and there was a lot of variety. On occasion we had difficulty finding an empty table and on more than a few occasions we had to clean up from the previous people. We usually went to the outside dining area of the Windjammer so we could look at the wake.
Main dining room. We found the food here to be good to very good. The days of people comparing shipboard cuisine to 5 star restaurants are long over. I used this cruise to try items that I normally would not try in a restaurant. On the first I did try the Black Angus steak, which in the past has been very good, but on this occasion was not very good. But, the food here is probably far better than what you will make at home and you don't have to cook it or clean up afterwards.
Chops. It is as wonderful as everyone says. The service and food were to die for. This is now a "must do" on all cruises.
Service. Our cabin attendant was excellent and took excellent care of us. We couldn't ask for a better person.
Our waiter and assistant waiter were good. We had a table of 10 but had only 8 people for the first few days then 2 more were added. On the first day there were a few hiccups that made us worry such as forgetting to bring salad dressing for a salad, drinks were slow in coming but starting the second day everything went as it should.
Our headwaiter was almost invisible and I never knew his name.
There was a situation at our table of 10 where 2 people had raw chicken served to them and it was not handled very well. Although we were not served the chicken I can attest that it was raw. The issue was that they put frozen Chicken Cordon Bleu into the oven but only cooked it for the length of time to cook thawed chicken. It came out cooked only about ¼ inch deep and the rest was absolutely raw. As Murphy's Law would have it the chicken was served to the only people at our table who were chronic complainers. One of the "offended" passengers and her husband went ballistic so much so that 3 couples, including us, at our table were so embarrassed that we actually considered asking to have a new table assigned to us. We decided to give it another night and the couple never returned to our table, instead eating every meal at Chops or Portofino's gratis. The head and waiter, maitre d' and executive chef just fell over themselves to appease these people. They basically gave them whatever they wanted. They just wanted this situation to go away. The staff should have apologized, given a few freebies such as dinners and wine, then warned the couple that their actions were unacceptable and any further outburst like this would be dealt with severely. Instead they were fawned over. Talk about reinforcing poor behavior. The other "offended" couple who handled it better were upset at not getting the same freebies or attention that the other couple was provided. She then devoted her cruise to complaining and getting as many freebies as possible.
The passengers. Overall a great mix of people. We met some wonderful people through the Cruise Critic Mix and Mingle. We also had, at our table, another couple we traveled with and an absolutely wonderful couple from L.A.. This made dinner something we looked forward to every night. Our table was always one of the first to arrive in the dining room and our table was always one of the last to leave. So much depends on who you get at your table and we just happened to win the jackpot.
Issues. Some of the things that did not sit well with me were the number of people in the dining room wearing jeans, shorts and t-shirts. Nothing was done by the staff to correct the situation. I asked our waiter if this was common and he nodded. As well the chair hogs were in fine form. Each morning people would appear with an arm full of towels and save chairs for when they required the chairs hours later. They did this in full sight of the pool staff who preferred to do nothing. My issue is this. If you have rules enforce them. If you ignore or do not enforce the rules then eliminate the rules.
Tours. I will only cover tours that we did that were bought through the cruise line. Kona. The ladies did the "Highlights of Kona" tour and were greatly disappointed. The tour did not go to every destination that was on the itinerary and the driver said very little of interest. The boys did the Kayak and Snorkel. One of us had a great time and the other did not. It was me who did not. The secluded bay is actually quite open and the waves were quite high. I spent about 2 hours chumming for fish while my friend snorkeled and had a great time.
Honolulu. All 4 of us did the Little Circle Island tour. It was tremendous.
Ensenada Mx. Take everything that is bad about Mexico and you have Ensenada. The number of beggars is staggering. We saw children around 2-3 years old begging with their mother. I gave a few dollars to one child who appeared to be alone and within seconds a crowd of young children surrounded me with their cups raised up. This was so sad. The streets are also filled with vendors who are friendly but very, very persistent. The same goes true for the people in the stores. All you are is a walking talking wallet. Should we ever HAVE to stop in Ensenada again to satisfy the PVSA act we would not get off the ship.
I asked for some input for this review from the others at our table at here are some of the things they said. 1. The Medical Facility is very competent, understanding, and friendly. However, once onboard you may be quarantined in your cabin for 48 hours should you have any possibility of a virus. That happened to us. 2. The art auctions appear to be a farce. Art expert passengers couldn't believe the prices of some questionable items. These art auctions are on all the Royal Caribbean ships that we've been on. 3. The Sea View is a small dining treasure on the top deck. Most passengers never discover it. And when they do find it, they ask if there is a charge for the food... It's very nice. 4. Wine selection included many inferior wines. Very disappointing. 5. The Internet Wifi seemed surprisingly faster than on other cruises we've been on.
Overall, this was a fantastic cruise. The islands we visited, the ship, the crew and especially our dinner companions made this a wonderful and special cruise. The little things that went wrong did not affect our cruise in any way. It is such a shame that RCI is discontinuing the Hawaiian Circle cruises as they are so wonderful.