We just returned from a great sailing aboard Serenade of the Seas to the southern caribbean. Our trip got off to a stressed start due to our late start to the Tampa airport. Driving in the pre-dawn hours at record speeds put us at the airport within 35 minutes of our takeoff time. So, I recommend to all to leave home in plenty of time to arrive at the airport at least an hour before takeoff. Due to a computer problem on the plane (while on the tarmac), we were forced to deplane the aircraft and re-board another plane, which put us nearly 3 hours behind schedule. As the ship did not leave port until 8:30 PM we had some time for the delay, but in future cruises we will plan on arriving a day early, as most cruisers do. Thanks to jetBlue we arrived into San Juan near 2 PM. The San Juan airport upon arrival appeared to be an old airport facility (as compared to Tampa) and was not too impressive. A quick 10 mile jaunt by taxi to the port ($25 with tip) put us at the ship by 2:30 PM.
Entry onto the ship was fast and easy and was done within 10 minutes. The lines were still rather long at this time, but being Diamond members speeded our progress thru the lines. (make sure you complete your Seapass documents 100% to speed you thru the process) Since we have been on the Radiance (sister ship), the Serenade deck plan was familiar to us and it was easy to find our way around the ship. I would not recommend getting a room at the stern end, as there are no stairs (or elevators)nearby, which creates for longer walks to your room. (no big deal- but it would be better to stay near mid-ship if possible) Our deck 9 D-1 balcony cabin room attendant (Gabrelle) was excellent and always attentive to our every need. RCL now does not place ice in the room and only does it upon request. We purchased soda in St Thomas and had no issue bringing it on-board.
Serenade is an older ship (built in 2003) but we found her to be in excellent condition. The dining room color scheme (1970 retro style gold colors) was a dis-appointment, as compared to other ships. The putt-putt golf course on deck 13 was in very good condition. Overall, the ship was in excellent condition and seems to be cared for very well. The cruise director was Ricky and he was very good at this position. Ricky was one of the best cruise directors we have seen and his high energy and use of new material (jokes) when communicating with the passengers was good. I rarely saw the rest of the cruise director staff during the cruise, but the times I did see them they were full of energy. Since this cruise originated in San Juan there were many locals on-board, which was a bit challenging due to the cultural differences and the use of Spanish in all announcements. We much prefer leaving from the US mainland, as most of the passengers are more similar to my culture. (using english to speak)
Several area of the ship require special mention. The fitness center was very good and we enjoyed to use of the Lifestyle Fitness treadmills and there were plenty of machines to use (even during busy morning times). The steam room and sauna were superb (best at sea). We mostly used the Windjammer for meals, but did find the food in the dining room to be a step above in quality and a very nice experience indeed. We used the Seaview Grill Cafe several times and the food quality was very good. The solarium area was very nice (not as nicely decorated as the Radiance)and the solarium cafe (good staff) was a good stop for snacks during the day. The Tropical Theatre color scheme was odd, with various colors used in odd combinations. The Master of the vessel (Capt Stahre-Jansen)was a woman (1st ever) and I found her to be of an interesting character. I did not find her subject content to be very informative at the C&A Meeting and was disappointed on not learning about the current state of RCL, its ships and what is planned for the future. Other Masters seemed to really inform guests, rather then just spew about their past life on the high seas. Of course, my annual question to the pursers desk (after preparing them) concerning the current price of RCL stock was again met with a total blank stare. No ship has ever been ever to tell me the price of RCL stock (not even close), which I find quite amazing. Even the 1st officer tried to bluff me when I asked how the RCL stock was doing that week, as he claimed the stock went up "a little bit"- was actually down $3 for the week! Do I dare ask any any of the officers of the last RCL earnings?
The casino slots were good the 1st night and them mysteriously tighten up the remainder of the cruise- so gamble early in the cruise and quit!
The BAD- I do not want to be harsh, but one area RCL continually falls short Carnival is king in this area) is in late night dance entertainment. DJ Ron (Vortex Night Club) had to be rock bottom. The 80's night dance music was a disaster. Not only were the songs played a weird mix of 80's techno version music (not the good old basic songs), but to make things worse, DJ Ron would magically clear the dance floor with a poor song selection and it was all downhill from there. My suggestion is to 1st send DJ Ron to DJ school (in the US) to learn what songs to play (keep to the basics that people know and like)and to learn when you have a full dance floor do not muck it up by playing a poor song selection. There must be another ship in the fleet that has a successful DJ that plays good music that can be copied- maybe getting a CD with 20-30 songs that work well might be needed here. Just put the CD in at 11 PM and hit play and the job is done- hense, no need for a DJ anymore. I believe DJ Ron had the best job on the ship, as once he cleared the dance floor of dancers he could go back to bed (and he probably did as I left)...DJ Ron needs to be replaced ASAP.
Diamond status was great with a free nightly cocktail every night and upgrade drinks at the morning breakfast in the dining room. Very nice RCL!
All kids on this cruise were well behaved and acted very well. I was surprised that the kids did not take over the hot tubs at night, as they do on most other cruises. I did note that on one occasion that kids were not allowed in the movie theatre (why this happened I was never able to figure out).