We sailed Royal Carribean's ship Serenade of the Sea departing San Juan on October 30th for a 7 night adventure, with ports in St. Thomas, St. Kitts, Aruba and Curacao. My parents are repeat cruisers who have sailed several different lines. RCI has been their favorite hands down, and the Serenade of the Seas is their favorite ship so, when my husband and I were booking our first cruise to celebrate our 22nd wedding anniversary, they encouraged us to sail on this ship! In fact, my parents got so excited, they booked a room and joined us on this adventure to the Southern Caribbean.
SIZE: This is a beautiful ship! They said it boasts more glass / windows than any of RCI's fleet per square foot, and all of the natural lighting makes a big difference for never feeling like you are trapped inside a boat when at sea. The ship has a beautiful central atrium (the "Centrum") with glass eleavtors and many windows on the port side providing extra natural lighting during the day. This size of the ship is really nice. It is small enough that there were little or no lines for any of the meals or activities, you can meet and get to know a lot of the fellow passengers, crew and staff, it is easy to find your way around decks, and there was always a seat for the nightly shows. But, the ship is also large enough to boast many great activity options, such as the rock-climbing wall, basketball court, minature golf course, stadium seating movie theater with surround sound, etc. We tried out everything, and had a lot of fun! The only thing we did not fully enjoy was the movie theater. It is unfortunately located in the back of the Casino and does not have a door that closes. Guests enter through a hallway that curves to block outside light and noise, but it does not block the cigarette smoke from the casino from wafting in. Breathing the smoke fumes for 2 hours was not pleasant! If you go to a movie onboard and are sensitive to smoke, I recommend sitting on the first 2-3 rows to be as far away from the entrance as possible.
EVENTS: There were always fun events planned on this ship and plenty of ways to interact with fellow passengers and get a good laugh. The cruise director Ricky Matthews is about the most wild and crazy man we've ever met! His enthusiasm was contagious and really got all of the passengers to let loose and enjoy themselves. Largest activities are held in the Centrum, which allows observers to look down from the 7 balconies above, as well as be on the floor. We particularly enjoyed the Halloween Party + Costume Contest, and the nightly music and dancing. Competitions are frequently held on the ship, and top 3 winners receive gold, silver and bronze medals. My husband formed a dodgeball team and they won the bronze. As a professional singer, I was excited about the Karaoke contest event. I love to entertain, and all the prizes were really awesome (grand prize was a cruise!). I felt I had a pretty good chance of winning something and I was looking forward to singing. However, I found out it was being held in the Vortex, an adult-only club on the top deck that allows smoking. Cigarette smoke is the absolute worst torture on a singer's vocal cords! I cannot tolerate it, and I am sure most others cannot either, so it is very unfortunately a singing contest was placed in that venue, and I did not get to participate.
ALCOHOL: I noticed that almost all activities on the ship are always programmed around a bar in order to encourage passengers to buy more drinks. (Alcohol sales seems to be the number one money-maker of the ship) Even though I assume this is the norm on all cruise ships, it was a bit annoying how many people got especially tipsy the longer the event took place. When returning to the ship from port excursions, passengers should be prepared to go through extensive airport-esque security. They are not looking for terrorits, they are looking for smuggled alcohol, and they WILL confiscate it.
EXCURSIONS: We purchased excursions from the cruiseline in every port. All of them were great experiences! If you sail to St. Thomas I highly recommend doing the WATER ISLAND ADVENTURE. That was one of the very best excursions of our entire cruise. The island history is fasinating. Your mountain biking activity is very personalized, the bikes were in good condition, and the event ends with swimming in Honeymoon Bay which is a stunning beach with pristine white sand, clear warm water, and no crowds. Other excursions we enjoyed were snorkeling on St. Kitts & Curacao, and Kayaking in Aruba.
ENTERTAINMENT: The RCI contracted singers and dancers were top notch! Their broadway review shows were fabulous. Their headliner male singer was Hugh Maynard, a rising star on London's West End. The sets, costumes and lighting pyrotechnics were all Broadway quality! The guest performers were a bit hit and miss. The group Legacy was excellent, but the comedians were not very funny.
FOOD: The formal dining was excellent. There were many gormet choices, and if you couldn't decide, you were welcome to just order everything and try it all! (Yes, my husband and I are guilty as charged). The informal dining in the Windjammer is a lovely open buffet. Breakfast offers made-to-order omlettes we enjoyed, and all the lunch options changed each day. We did not like the desserts offered, and the icecream was always the same flavor. But, you want to save room for dessert at the formal dinners anyway, since they are always delicious.
PEOPLE: One of the best things about cruising on this ship was the chance to interact personally with so many of the passengers, crew and staff. It felt quite intimate. I could not get over how friendly and cheerful everyone working on this ship was! They were genuinely happy to be there, and must be treated well. We got to chat with the Captain personally on two occasions, and we met the RCI performers several times. Our interaction with them is a fun memory. We also made several new best friends who were fellow passengers.
1. Deck 4 is a great deck to stay on because it is the same level as the main Centrum lobby, and the formal dining hall entrance. Rooms are more economical on this level because they do not have balconies, but they are spacious and sport large windows (not port-holes). If you have your heart set on a balcony room, I would recommend staying on Deck 5. That way you have easy access the theater, upper entrance of the dining hall, and can take the stairs to most any deck avoiding waiting for an elevator.
2. Book your excursions early! The most popular fill up very fast. We also learned that crew and staff that have a leave day in port are allowed to fill in any empty spaces starting 48 hours prior. So, don't wait until 1 or 2 days before booking the one you want or it will likely be full!
3. Don't miss out eating in the little outdoor cafe located behind the basketball court on the upper deck (under the miniature golf course) Most people must not know it is there, so it never had a line, and it's a nice chance for some private time with your spouse or friends. It serves the best Cuban Sandwhich we've had in a long time. The view of the sunset from their outdoor seating was lovely.
4. Take the stairs. Each landing has beautiful artwork and sculptures to enjoy and it helps burn off a little of the many calories you will consume!
Overall, this was a very lovely ship. Beautiful, clean, inviting, with awesome staff. We would definitely enjoy returning to this ship in the future. We have heard a rumor that it may go smoke-free in the future, which if true would be a big selling point! We also hear it is slated to have a "lengthening" done, which expands the ship. I have mixed feelings about that, since I like the smaller number of passengers, but I am sure it will be lovely - since RCI seems to be a very classy cruise line.