We booked this cruise fairly late.. six weeks prior to sailing, and got an excellent rate on an outside cabin (no balcony). We flew to SanJuan the night before (4/17) and stayed one night at the Sheraton OSJ using 11,000 Sheraton points for a free oceanside suite. Took a flat-rate cab to the RCI pier at noon, and despite recommended boarding at 5PM we were able to get right on board to start our vacation. I was poolside aboard the Serenade by 12:30, and that included a stop to sign up for the "soda package" (basically, a $90+ donation to RCI profits). I agree with the reviewer who thinks this is a stupid program, but can't really complain because the cruise itself was dirt cheap.
I was somewhat surprised to see that the median age of the cruisers was far older than the last cruise (2008 12 night Med cruise on the Brilliance) - I'm 56 and think the average age was a good 15 years older than me. Ship staff said that relocation cruises and long cruises both attract an older crowd, and the timing (April) was during the school year, limiting "family cruisers" - makes sense after you think about it! There were only 24 out of 2100 cruisers aboard that were under the age of 18, according to the cruise staff, and I'd say another 50 or so under the age of 50.
Our cabin, which was booked as a "Guaranteed cabin" (no cabin number assigned until after booking) was on deck 3 stern. This was lower and farther to the stern than I had ever stayed before (on 6 other cruises) so I was somewhat suspect of it, but it turned out to be just fine.
The 14 night itinerary was San Juan - 2 sea days - Cartegena, Columbia - 1 sea day - Panama Canal Crossing - Puntarenas, Costa Rica - 1 sea day - Huatulco, Mexico - Acapulco, Mexico - 1 sea day - Cabo San Lucas, Mexico - two sea days - San Francisco
However, this got a bit altered due to the swine flu outbreak in Mexico. After our 4/26 stop in Acapulco (complete with 5.6 strength earthquake, but more on that later), the captain announced that we would be canceling our Cabo stop and replacing it with a San Diego stop instead. Oh well. no Cabo!
I'll cover most of the ports in the port review section, but these weren't covered there by CC so I'll cover them here:
The canal crossing was very cool. The history of the canal and the mechanics of it all were very interesting and was presented all week long on in-cabin TV specials, so you had a chance to understand the background and significance of the canal. As we were going under the Bridge of the Americas, gunfire broke out on the north side of the canal. Sounded like automatic rifle fire. We headed indoors from our perch on the helipad where we had been watching the bridge crossing. Someone said it must have been a drug deal gone bad. I guess real bad :(
Puntarenas - We took a rafting/float trip on a river - 90 minutes by bus to the push-off point - lots more paddling and whitewater than advertised, but an excellent time with Howler monkey, crocodile, iguana, and other wildlife sightings, as well as seeing the local (very very poor) people living riverside in wooden shacks and using the river for food, water, bathing, and laundry facilities.
Huatulco -Beautiful littletown where we booked a snorkeling trip that had one good snorkeling site, one not-so-good site. good experience overall. Would like to come here again and spend some time... nice beaches and friendly people.
Cabo- canceled due to the swine-flue.
San Francisco - Went under the Golden Gate bridge in the dark at 5:15 AM but many of us were on deck photographing it! Cool deal. We were docked at 7 and got off around 10:30AM (US Immigration again!). Spent the day in town and flew out on a redeye that night.
Weather - EXCELLENT (80's and 90's, clear skies, cooler nights) until Acapulco, then cooler and some rain from Acapulco to San Francisco (50's and partly cloudy).
Food and Service- Excellent in the dining room (cheers to Royston and Budi, our waitstaff); food suffers a bit in the Windjammer. Got mixed results at the seaview - good wings and Cuban sandwich, but inedible fish and chips and terrible brownie dessert. We ate one night at Portofino (get the seafood skewer!) and one at Chops (Ribeye for me...) both with excellent food and service, but I have to wonder if these will last because both were mostly empty when we were there. Excellent food and service, but I can't help thinking that it USED TO BE like this every night in the main dining room (back in the 70's and early 80's). Oh well. Worth the extra $$. In fact, I would consider booking an entire cruise's dinners in these restaurants.. it would cost you an extra $300 or so per week for a couple to to do that.
Entertainment - nothing great, but nothing terrible either. We avoided many of the extra-fee deals (bingo, art auctions, gambling) and took in the free shows when they fit our schedule. Also took in a couple of movies in the cinema during the chillier part of our trip (the end) when I couldn't be in the sun.
Cost - we paid $2000 for the cabin for 2 of us, an additional $600 in taxes and fees, $450 in excursions and restaurant upgrades, $600 airfare (booked separately, RDU to SJO; SFO to RDU on AA) $650 in on-board expenses (bar, spa, shopping), and about $600 in cash shore-side spending for a total of $4900 for 2 people, 14 days, and a hell of a lot of fun!