This cruise exceeded our expectations. RCCL treated us fantastic from beginning to end with almost no exceptions
My sweet wife and I flew in a day early on Saturday after flying from SFO to IAD on a red-eye and then down to San Juan. We stayed at the new St. Regis Bahia Beach was quite a treat. I was able to use my AARP for the first time to get $70 off the room. No age requirement, just be an AARP member. The resort was beautiful, and the rooms were out of this world. The bathroom at the St. Regis was bigger than our stateroom on the Serenade. Amazing pool and iguanas. We picked this resort to relax after coming off three stressful months of work and moving. Great spot to hang out though its way from most things except one of the BioBays and the Rainforest. Meals are great but expensive. Drinks take your breath away at $18-$20. Ouch! We abstained since we were on a budget.
Heres the link to my TripAdvisor review which is much more detailed:
Since we were at a great resort we maximized our time there and thus were one of the last couple to board the ship around 6:15. We had a bit of panic as we returned our Hertz rental to Isla Grande Airport next to the Pan Am pier and couldnt find the place to return the car for a few minutes. We just sailed thru getting on board which took all of five minutes from when we stepped out of the taxi to stepping onto the ship.
We were first time cruisers and I wondered how we would do in such a small room. I am a big guy and I wasnt sure quite how I would fit in the bathroom particularly. Turns out it was a problem at all. There was plenty of storage space in the room, more than we needed in fact and the bathroom size was just fine. When the toilets flush there is a high velocity Woosh and one morning the toilet flush was stuck open and wouldnt close. Pretty darn noisy! We called housekeeping, went to breakfast and it was fixed on our return.
We were in an outside stateroom on deck three and it was fine. I think we felt the ship rocking more because we were fairly far forward on the ship. Really wasnt an issue though even with waves a couple of days up to 5 since we were sailing during hurricane season.
Our cabin steward took great care of us and kept the room clean and tidy. Since we had arrived so late the first evening Lockwood didnt have time to make us a towel animal, The next day we mentioned we were looking forward to seeing his creations. Voila! That night there were two towel animals and they were hilarious. Each day after that we had a bat, aardvark, elephant or some other creation and just loved it.
We had My Time Dining and loved it. We generally sat down to eat between 6:30 and 7:00 pm and enkoyed the flexibility. Three nights we sat with new friends which was easy to arrange since they were also on My Time Dining. Loved it. One night we dawdled over dinner for 2 -1/2 hours. While they stopped refilling water and coffee after about two hours we never felt pressured to leave and it was a great experience.
Having eaten in many fine restaurants all over the world, Dining in Reflections on the Serenade is absolutely at the top of my list for service. Our waiter Govind and assistant waiter Michael were fantastic from the start. Govind always had recommendations which sometimes we listened to and sometimes didnt. All the waiters work as a tight team and they would refill water glasses or grab whatever you needed even if there werent assigned to our table. The service was definitely a highlight of our trip.
Sometimes we were at a table for two, sometimes four and sometimes ten. We liked the mix.
We typically ate breakfast and lunch in the Windjammer. There was a huge amount of food to choose from. All of it was good, but rarely great quality. Great service though, friendly and helpful every single time.
On Monday night we ate in Chops and had a fine meal. My steak was a little undercooked (I has asked for medium rare and it came on out the very red side) They asked me to cut it open when it arrived and I wanted it cooked a little more. The whisked it off back to the kitchen and were back with it exactly to my liking in two minutes. Wonderful service. Dessert was sensational in Chops.
Cruise Critic is really informative in so many ways. A number of reviews we read before the cruise were critical of some of the shows. We werent looking to go every night anyway so it helped us select. The comic ___ who appeared twice was hilarious. A few times my sides were hurting from laughing so hard. El Gaucho was the headliner another night and was fantastic with a versatile show of music, tricks and comedy. My wife went another night when a former Foreigner band member was appearing. I had read several critical reviews so I was out in the centrum relaxing. She came back later and said it was mediocre. So the entertainment had highs and lows.
A couple of nights we were in the piano bar and enjoyed it. There was also music elsewhere in the Centrum which we wandered by and stopped to listen a few times. My wife went for trivia twice, bothe during ports days. The first time she was the only person besides the Activity crew member and the second time there were five or six. This cruise is just so port heavy that the ship is empty during the day.
I had just finished working sixty-five 10-14 hour days with one day off and I came on this trip beat up and exhausted. My wife was tired as well. The first day was at sea and everything was busy around the ship. The pools were jammed. The second day though we were in port in Barbados. Having read the reviews I wasnt interested in any port activities and so we stayed on the ship until early afternoon, at which time my wife made me go do some shopping in port. That morning was fabulous. The pool was empty, the hot tub was mine to enjoy, the ship was exceptionally quiet. It was just the right medicine for my weary soul. Just because the shipped is docked doesnt mean you have to program every minute of it. When I explained why I wanted to just stay on the ship, peoples jaws dropped. They just couldnt understand how someone wouldnt be interested in exploring EVERY port.
Here was our take on the ports.
We only left ship for only about 90 minutes. Downtown has shopping, but its not nice at all. We should have stayed onboard. Some of our friends who went out on activities had a great time though.
We went out on Spencer Ambroses Island and Sea Tour. There were ten of us, mostly Cruise Critic folks. Had a great time. Spencer really gives a great tour. History, food and sightseeing. We had about 90 minutes at Jalousie Beach and a great lunch. You are stuck over in one corner of the beach away from the resort folks, which was a bit weird and felt second class. The boat trip back was fun an informative. We loved this island and are thinking about returning.
We had planned on a full island and stingray city tour with Gordon, but couldnt meet the four person minimum even after posting it on Cruise Critic. We joined the folks from CC who were heading out to Valley Church Breach. Ahhh! The water was so beautiful and we rented some chairs under the shade of a palm tree and had a great time for a half day. Gordon has some great songs and is a great tour guide. Our group used him more for transport so we only got a short dose, but you cant go wrong with Gordon. The beaches were off the charts!
Some of our friends convinced my wife that St. Maarten was shopping heaven so thats what we did. It was a very hot day so that took away from our enjoyment even though we started early in the day. Had lunch at a so so Indian restaurant. The food was actually decent, but the smoking area was air conditioned and the non-smoking buried in a dark part of the floor was not. When the smoking got bad we moved and it was awful. The restaurant was on the second floor off Front Street.
As with Barbados we didnt have much in the way of plans. Quiet morning and lunch on the ship (Very Nice) then took the shuttle van to Sandcastle beach. It was a slow time for the resort, but the beach was great. Schools of tropical fish just a few feet into the wtare near the rocks.
We found the folks on the island to be mostly surly. Our friends from Vancouver went on an Island tour and it was so bad they and most of the folks on their bus tried to get their money back. It was that awful!
San Juan was a real treat for us. On the way to the cruise we just wanted to relax at Bahia Beach. Coming back after the cruise we want to see San Juan. After disembarking around 9:30 we went to the Sheraton in Old Town San Juan to drop our bags, then walked to the Cathedral for mass. Very hot day again. Mass was of course in Spanish (Warning it was 90 minutes long), but my wife enjoyed it. After mass we went to the Castillo del Morro. Very interesting, but it was oh so hot and we were feeling so time pressure so we didnt wander around as much as I would have liked. Had a great Tapas Lunch at El Convento Hotel. Expensive, but never seen such large portions at a Tapas Restaurant.
Selection of Ports, Dining staff and room steward. Most of the entertainment
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Our prepaid specialty dinner wasnt listed in the ships computers. It took a couple of visits to Guest Relations to correct it and because I didnt have a printed copy of the reservation with me, about $20 in internet charges to download my email confirmation.
This was our first cruise and we both loved it. We enjoy traveling and will cruise again, but maybe not for a few years. We prefer renting a house in a community for a week somewhere whether its in the States, Bali or Paris. On a cruise you just cant pick up on the flow of a place when its a new port every day. That having been said, we liked it much more than we thought and having not traveled much in the Caribbean before it was a nice way to sample lots of great islands. If you want to be pampered and meet other travelers cruising is a great way to go. It also was very cheap for all that was offered. We didnt go crazy with purchases or side trips and actually came back under budget.
The Serenade was a great ship for us. I think I would have been swallowed up by the Allure or Oasis.
Even after all that food we both came back with no extra pounds which was a nice surprise.