We booked at Southern Caribbean trip in mid-August 2010 on the Serenade of the Seas. The trip from the mainland to San Juan was uneventful, and from earlier checking, we knew to take a taxi turistico to the port. That also was fine. The line when we arrived was something else. It took about 1.5 hours in the sun and heat for us to get to the registration area, and after a few problems in registering, we were finally allowed on the ship. The luggage took its time; we didn’t see it for several hours after we boarded.
Our two rooms were separated, and on the cruise, the rooms between us had a water/sewage problem that required a carpet replacement. Maintenance came in to our room to check on water, but, fortunately, we were dry throughout. Our room stewards (a married couple as it happened) were both very good - our two rooms were properly prepared as soon as we left for the morning.
Every day, the ship’s intercom in the cabins came on at about 1100 and the Captain announced position and other news. That was new to us, but we sailed at a time when the weather was unsettled in the Eastern Caribbean. His announcements were less about weather issues than routine ship’s news and trivia. We learned at one landfall of a major hurricane (Earl) a few days behind us, but the Captain didn’t mention it; in the end, it didn’t matter to us, as we were long gone when Earl reached the sea near Puerto Rico.
The kid’s club was mostly unsuited to our daughter. The stuff that they offered was more suited to much younger children, so we passed.
In general, the service was very good to excellent on the ship. Trays were cleared promptly in the Windjammer, decks scrubbed and generally, requests received prompt attention. Many of the staff were notably cheerful and very helpful, and most responded to any request at once. We considered the service one of the highlights.
Food was not outstanding, but it was both plentiful and very good, especially considering the number of people served. We were assigned a table in an out-of-the –way place, probably because of our 11 year old – ironically, her manners were better than those of many of the adults in the area to which we were assigned. While this annoyed us, we elected not to push this issue because we had a fairly quiet location and very good service. Our waiter and his assistant did a very credible job in seeing that we got served promptly and accurately over the 7 days and it was disappointing to see so many empty seats in our area on the last night. The head waiter and the wine steward were present, but it seemed to us that they were less interested in good service than in the possibility of tips. Coffee was an extra charge, as were sodas.
Through our waiter, we got a chance to tour the kitchens under the guidance of one of the sous-chefs and saw how the evening meal was prepared. That was very informative.
The Serenade is a medium-sized ship, and while we didn’t feel especially crowded most of the time, though there were occasions where we noticed the press of others on the ship. Finding spots in the solarium at most times and at the Windjammer for breakfast wasn’t always easy because of the others also trying to do the same. Elevators were generally crowded, and the aisles between the dining and the theatre were especially jammed. Exiting the ship for excursions was also a bit slow, even though we didn’t need to tender at any of our ports. Returning also was slow on occasion because of the security screenings.
RCL had a clear focus on cleanliness. Hand sanitizers were everywhere and they always encouraged us to use them. We did, and we had no problems at all.
We didn’t bother with the ship photos, with the various ship’s sales of watches, jewelry, or with the bingo games or the casino. We went to one port lecture and, after seeing that its focus was completely on shopping, we left and then ignored the others. The girls used the (overpriced) spa once but they enjoyed the experience. We bought a wine package, some coffees and some sodas.
Entertainment was ok. We attended several of the shows in the evening; one was a juggler, one a comedian and one a singer. The juggler was the most impressive, especially because he performed during a fairly rough sea.
We visited Curacao, Aruba, Dominica, St. Thomas and Puerto Rico. We were fortunate to be the only ship in harbor in Curacao, Aruba, Dominica and St. Thomas.
Two of us booked a ship’s tour to the Curacao aquarium, while some of us took a privately booked tour of part of the island of Curacao. The tour covered the liqueur distillery, a souvenir shop on the SW side of the island, and a trip back though Willemstad. The tour took about 2 hours. In retrospect, it seems expensive for what was provided; however, walking though the town later, we saw that once away from the immediate area of the port, there were a lot of locals just sitting around and watching. If you aren’t a beach/scuba person, and aren’t a shopper, there wasn’t a lot see in Curacao and it wasn’t a place where you could just walk without paying some attention to your surroundings.
Aruba was next, and once off the boat, we took a taxi to Eagle Beach. We arrived between two storms. The first storm had arrived just as we docked in Aruba and the second arrived just after we reached the beach. It cleared quickly, and, afterward, amazingly, we had the beach mostly to ourselves. It was really spectacular: clear water, few people and white sand. After a few hours of sun and sand, we caught a local bus back to port. The port is a busy place with a lot of shopping but not much character.
Dominica was next. This time, we took a ship-organized tour of the island. We went to the Emerald pool, the falls and other sights. Fortunately, our ship was the only one in port, as each site we visited was fairly crowded. We navigated the narrow, always-under-construction roads outside of Roseau, and at Emerald pool we joined the line walking to the pool and its falls. This was not much for anyone who hikes, but any more cruise ships in Roseau harbor would make this hike even less impressive. The falls are seen at a considerable distance, and the pool is jammed with those who have decided to swim. Neither is all that impressive, considering the time required to reach them. Roseau is not a place where one feels comfortable to just walk around the city; the poverty is palpable and again, the locals are just sitting and watching. Again, this is a place where the tours, especially those away from the capital, are probably a good idea.
We have visited St. Thomas several times previously. When we arrived, we learned about hurricane Earl, which was less than 2 days away and headed for the island, so most of Charlotte Amalie was starting to prepare for the storm. We ignored the taxi drivers’ pitches and walked the few blocks to the tram up the hill near the cruise terminal. There, we saw the bird show and enjoyed the view over the harbor. The show is a lot of fun and the view is very good. We caught a tram down, caught a taxi into town and did a bit of shopping before walking back to the port. Charlotte Amalie is another place where it seemed that staying in the major shopping areas was a good idea. Sad, it wasn’t that way before when we visited.
Next, we returned to San Juan. We had a post-cruise excursion booked, so we left the ship fairly early and without any problems. Our excursion went to old San Juan, to El Moro and then to the airport. The tour operator seemed to have forgotten that, on Sundays, the courthouse in old San Juan was not open. The shopping stop in the old quarter was taken up by finding a tea shop that was open – most everything else wasn’t! El Moro was better; we saw the old fort and got a chance to see the darkening skies to the NE caused by Earl. Then it was off to the airport and the flight home.