Our Serenade of the Seas cruise departed San Juan on May 15, 2011. The ship was at capacity, but it was impossible to tell this!! I have been on several Voyager class ships, and there were always long lines at the buffet stations in the Windjammer; there were often no seats available for the theater performances and the fitness center was often overcrowded with people waiting for machines. Although the Serenade was at capacity NONE of these issues occurred!! In additon, this was the most consistently friendly staff of any ship I have ever sailed!!
Shipshape Fitness Center: My husband and I worked out nearly every day of our cruise. There were plenty of workout machines available every time we went (typically between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m.). In addition, unlike past cruises on other ships in Royal Caribbean, there were two trainers who were in the gym almost ALL the time and were very helpful in answering questions during the entire cruise (not just the first day). I did not take any classes, but I was in the gym while the trainers did a spinning class and a boot camp workout class. Both were done well - good technique -- good safety considerations, etc. The gym was ALWAYS clean - plenty of clean towels and clorox wipes were always available.
Cruise director and staff - I have seen MANY cruise directors. Of the 13 cruises I have taken, only one would I have rated as 'excellent', but the cruise director on Serenade - Ricky Matthews - beat excellent!!! I have never - and I mean NEVER -- seen anyone throw themselves so wholeheartedly into the job of making sure guests were happy and enjoying themselves!! During the deck party, typically the staff teaches a few line dances, the DJ plays for about an hour -- and then people are left to their own devices. At that point, essentially, the party is over. The cruise director is usually involved for about the first half hour and that's it. That was NOT the case with Ricky Matthews who not only got the crowd of ALL ages moving to the music, but he STAYED and continued to engage with the crowd -- (we left at about 1 a.m. and he was still there dancing and engaging the crowd!!!)... We had seen the '70's night' party done many times and on the last few cruises we had taken, the party was more about the staff 'having to do it' - or about the staff celebrating their own party. NOT THIS TIME -- and they had their work cut out of them because for some reason on this night, the crowd started out as somewhat 'thin' and no one seemed to motivated to get out on the dance floor, Within 15 minutes, RIcky Matthews and his staff had EVERYONE - regardless of age -- dancing - singing - jumping up and down. He chose not to lose the energy by taking 20 minutes to teach a dance -- nor did he have his staff do a dance while the crowd watched (I have had this experience as well!) Instead, he broadcast simple moves that anyone (even someone like me with two left feet!) could follow - and instead of emphasizing the moves, he emphasized the fun. We left after about an hour because we needed to pack for the return trip, but the party went on for at least an hour more -- incredible!!
Friendliness of staff - This was so consistent that we continued to comment to everyone - including the staff!! - about how wonderful everyone was. We have been on ships where this was NOT the case, and there was a huge difference in the quality of the experience. Our room steward was fantastic (Rodney from Costa Rica) and genuinely sweet and friendly. Our wait staff in the dining room (Katrina from Trinidad and Sonny from St. Vincent) were phenomenal!!!!!!!!! So warm - took time to talk to us - when Katrina heard that one of my husband's bags got lost at the airport, she offered to help find him some toiletry items unti his bag arrived!!!!!! There were two slightly older women in the table next to us who needed a bit of help and Katrina was always there - mothering them - complimenting them -- She was amazing! Even the photographers struck up a bond with us! In short, in the entire cruise, we never met a single staff member who was not engaging, friendly, and gracious.
The food was very good -- consistent with what one would expect on Royal Caribbean, but a bit better than we have had in the past. The meals were consistently well prepared. The only complaint was about the wait at the omelette station in the Windjammer - but I am not sure there is a solution to this one!
Cleanliness - I am a 'clean freak' so this is always a concern for me but the ship was consistenly clean and well-maintained. Although our room could have used some refurbishing (the arms on the couch were worn, for example), there was no issue with lack of cleanliness in either rooms or public areas. There are plenty of purell stations everywhere on the ship, and they ask you to use the purell entering the Windjammer and returning to the ship from a port of call to help reduce spreading of viruses.
Entertainment -- We enjoyed all the shows although the magician was not of the same caliber as other entertainers during the week.
Final comment: While the Serenade is not a 'megaship' like Allure or Oasis, and while it is a bit older and does not offer all of the activities (no ice skating rink, no promenade of shops (there are shops on board, but the area is much smaller than what is offered on Voyager class and above),it makes up for it with such wonderful staff and cruise director that you do NOT miss these things at all!!!!