ARRIVAL IN SAN JUAN: We flew non-stop from Boston to San Juan the morning of the cruise. We were fortunate with the Boston weather and actually arrived a little ahead of schedule.
It was gray and rainy in San Juan upon our arrival and we quickly learned the weather had been that way for several days. We were a little concerned about what that meant for our first stop in St. Thomas the following day.
EMBARKATION: Arriving at the pier, we found the line was not all that long and we were probably on the ship within 25 minutes. Our ocean view cabin on deck three was smaller than those I've had on Adventure or Freedom, but had plenty of storage and the famous cylindrical shower stall. While a tight fit for shaving, we really liked the shower. The adjustable shower nozzle height and fantastic water pressure were wonderful. We thought the beds were really comfortable - that's saying a lot since we both sleep on Select Comfort/Sleep Number beds at home and are pretty choosy about mattresses. Some folks on deck 3 found themselves too close to the engine room and experienced a lot of noise. We were located about half way between the two elevators and it was very quiet there both day and night. We were very pleased with our cabin and our attendant, Maria, was really great.
MyTIME DINING: This was my second cruise using the MTD option, my first being on a much larger ship, Freedom of the Seas. We went to dinner the first night around 6:45, in order to be done in time for the 8PM Muster Drill. Our table for two was very close to the table of a couple from North Carolina and we found ourselves chatting with them all evening. The next day, we bumped into them and made arrangements to eat together at 6:30PM. We got a great table by the window, which the head waiter promised to us for the remainder of the cruise if we'd agree to eat at 6:30-ish every night. We had a GREAT waitstaff - Rupesh and Katherine. Dinner time was a treat each night, with our wonderful new friends, Shirley and Roy, and our fantastic waiters. We tended to linger there, not wanting it to end!PORTS OF CALL: ST. THOMAS: Having so enjoyed St. John on a previous cruise, we set an early wake-up call in order to hurry off the ship to catch the ferry over to the smaller island. We awoke to pouring rain. We got off the ship briefly, but had to reboard. It was way too cold and rainy to risk the cost of the taxi to Red Hook and ferry ride to St. John, only to find ourselves huddled under a tree in the rain! We ended up doing some souvenir shopping in St. Thomas when the rain subsided to something less than down-pour status. After that, we spent the rest of the time exploring the ship.
ST. CROIX: Expecting that we would be spending the previous day hiking on St. John, we opted for a relaxing beach day in St. Croix. We took the transfer to Sand Castle Beach. The transfer van is only $3 each way and use of the beach resort just $5, including lounge chairs and use of their small ocean-front pool. The storms that had been in the area had robbed the beach of about half its sand, making the beach both narrow and rocky. Hotel guests we spoke to told us that the erosion had occurred over the previous four days! The resort was nice and close to the ship, but not really suitable for swimming due to all the huge rocks and rough surf.
ST. KITTS: We booked an island tour with Jim and Rose. We were with a group we'd met on-line here at Cruise Critic (Hi, Katherine & George!). Rose did a wonderful job. I don't typically book these types of tours because I prefer more active excursions and get antsy sitting in a bus or van for too long. While it was more driving around than I like, Rose was informative and entertaining and we got to see a whole lot of the island. We stopped on the road to the Batik to see a man with a diapered monkey who would allow you to hold the animal for a photo opportunity - for a small fee, of course. The rest of the group waited patiently while my daughter and I delighted in handling the adorable monkey and taking pictures. The Batik was gorgeous - amazing views and gardens made the grounds even more interesting than the factory. Brimstone Fort offered more amazing views. It was raining lightly by the time we hit the Black Rocks, but we all piled out to take photos of this truly amazing area featuring lava-structures from past volcanic activity. Then it was onto Cockleshell Beach, home of Wilbur the pig. It was a nice beach, but VERY crowded. We broke our own rule of never eating off ship, being lured by the delicious aroma from the Reggae Beach Bar. While the food is good, it is VASTLY over-priced and the service there is absolutely horrible. We spoke to other passengers who experienced the same thing. The waitstaff all but totally ignores you. It's not worth it! Snack on your granola bars until you return to the ship. Don't be tempted to purchase lunch on the beach!!
DOMINICA: I booked this particular cruise because it visited my two favorite ports of call: St. John (via St. Thomas) and Dominica. While we were rained out of St. John, Dominica did not disappoint. We booked with Bumpiing Tours, along with a group of Cruise Critic friends from Massachusetts (Hi, Jackie & Bill!). Levi is as incredible as his reviews suggest! Our dinner mates paid $20 more per person to do only one third of the tour we got with Levi!! First stop was Titou Gorge, where part of the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie was filed. An amazing water-filled cave with rock ledges, crevices and waterfalls, it was like nothing else I've ever seen. The water is cold, but you do get used to it! (Really!) The next stop was Trafalgar Falls. While not as magnificent as Sari Sari Falls, where we'd visited on our previous trip to Dominica, it was a FAR easier walk!! Many of us continued on to the base of the falls and out to some hot mineral springs. It was like sitting in a hot tub. Levi was so great helping people in the tougher parts of the hikes, even folks who were not part of his tour group. He never stops smiling. You'd think he'd be bored doing the same thing day after day, but he seems to thoroughly enjoy his job and he makes it fun for everyone. The recent storms made visibility at Champagne Reef questionable, but five of us in the group wanted to give it a try anyway. It turned out to be terrific. I had trouble with the beach, which is made up of nothing but small rocks. Coming from New England in the winter, my feet were not tough enough to handle walking over the rocks! PAINFUL!! But the area was gorgeous, the reef was great and the water was warm. We were back in town in time to do some shopping by the pier before boarding the ship.
BARBADOS: We had purchased tickets for the Pirate Ship Excursion in Barbados, but discovered it was canceled at the last minute, due to rough waters. We'd planned on joining some other CC friends from Maine on that excursion (Hi, Chrissy!) and were disappointed. We got a taxi to Payne's Bay Beach. Barbados was so strikingly different from undeveloped Dominica. Large resorts abound in Barbados and the beaches are wide with soft, white sand. While seemingly less poor than Dominicans, the vendors in Barbados were extremely pushy and nowhere near as courteous as those in Dominica. Their heavy-handed tactics were extremely irritating. Despite having a lovely day on the island, I can't say I'm really anxious to return. Before we could even pay the taxi driver, we were bombarded by groups of people wanting to rent us chairs, jet skis, snorkeling excursions. It was overwhelming. It was as if, while our wallet was open to settle with our driver, the beach vendors were trying to get their hands into that wallet to get their share of our money. We ended up paying for a snorkeling trip which took us to a ship wreck and then to the area where the catamarans come to feed the sea turtles. Both locations were incredible. Many of the ship wreck snorkeling sites on the islands offer little to see, but that was not the case with this one. It was amazing. And the turtles were close enough to touch - which I did, several times. Be sure to take lots of smaller bills to the beaches of Barbados because they WILL NOT make change. You will KNOW they have it, but they will insist they do not and want to keep any extra as a "tip" before any services have even been provided. It was a good excursion, but I resented being forced to pre-pay a tip - not to the tour provider but into the hands of the over-zealous salesman on the beach.THE SHIP: Prior to this cruise, my favorite ship was Adventure of the Seas. I was concerned I would miss the Royal Promenade. I have to say I did miss it a little at the beginning, when the Serenade felt a bit small to me. However, there were many things about the smaller and more open Serenade that I really liked. It’s a big positive to be on a smaller ship when the itinerary is so port-intensive. Without more sea days to meet other passengers, a smaller population makes getting to know fellow passengers much easier. Having participated actively in the CC roll call in advance also helped us a lot. We knew the folks on both our St. Kitts and Dominica tours through our roll call.
Always being able to see the ocean – even in the elevator – is another huge plus. Serenade has such an open feeling. We LOVED being able to eat outside at the Windjammer. Having previously sailed on Carnival ships, it was something we missed when we switched over to Royal Caribbean. I wish they’d offer this outdoor dining on all RCL ships.
The Serenade staff, as everyone always says, is superior. Omar, the activities director, was wonderful to us. With his out-going personality, he’d make a fantastic cruise director. Carlos, who hosted the karaoke events, went out of his way to expand the venue, even adding a competition to the last night. My daughter is hugely into singing and loved having that outlet on the ship. Maria, our cabin attendant, was so helpful and friendly. She felt like family. Our waitstaff in the MDR, Rupesh and Katherine, were the best. You could not ask for better service!
We did our best to squeeze the most out of our trip. My daughter and I wore matching formal dresses to the MDR for the first formal night. We brought brightly colored go-go dresses and go-go boots to wear the night of the 70s party. Many people thought we were part of the staff! I served as a judge for the sexy legs competition. Our team was extremely competitive at the Quest event, which I really preferred in the smaller venue at the Safari Club, as opposed to the ice rink on the Voyager Class. We danced the night away at the Votex nearly every night. The fact that we were celebrating life on the ship surely did not go unnoticed, and boy did we have FUN!!!
SAN JUAN AIRPORT: It's a ZOO. Granted, it can't help but being incredibly crowded with thousands of people flying on the same day, but they are also incredibly disorganized. The screens displaying the flights and gate numbers were showing THURSDAY'S flights...on SATURDAY! People on our plane were issued boarding passes with different gate numbers, and no one seemed to be able to confirm which gate number was correct. Our flight was only about an hour delayed, but the chaos at the airport was stressful!
IN CONCLUSION: I would definitely cruise on Serenade again in the future. She’s a great ship with a fantastic staff.