My husband and I chose our first cruise to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary and joint 50th birthdays and we weren't disappointed. We booked through a local travel agency as, although we are well travelled, we were not familiar with cruising. We flew from Manchester to San Juan via Philadelphia and arrived at the Caribe Hilton - which was lovely - in time for a couple of glasses of wine before bed. Out pick up time the next day was at 1:00pm so we had plenty of time to have breakfast, and enjoy the sunshine. Even managed a gin and tonic before we left!
Had no problems with embarkation. Picked up some bottled water before we boarded as recommended on this site. Our room was ready and we were delighted with it. We expected it to be compact so we weren't surprised by the size of it and it suited us well. I would not have wanted to do the cruise without a balcony. We left our doors open all night, every night and it was lovely to hear the sound of the sea. The only problem we encountered was that one of our suitcases did not reach us until 10:30pm. This was a bit disappointing but wasn't a great problem as dining on the first night was casual.
Food on board was great - plenty of choice. We enjoyed sitting out for breakfast, provided we could find some shade. The service by all staff was excellent and we loved the way they remembered your name, even though they had only met you once - made you feel special.
Went to the odd show but met such lovely people that we were happy to spend out evenings chatting. We elected my time dining - table for two - but soon became a table for four with some friends we met - June and Adam - which was lovely.
The ship never felt crowded apart from the last day when we were at sea and it was a little difficult to find somewhere on deck to sit but we did find somewhere eventually.
I liked that the dress code for Serenade is cruise casual. Everyone made an effort to look nice each evening but it wasn't over the top - simple dresses or trousers for ladies and trousers and shirts for the men. We had two formal nights - Sunday and Thursday when the ladies were a bit more dressed up and the men needed to wear collared shirts with smart trousers. Some wore jackets but this was not a requirement.
Drinks - We enjoyed our early evening cocktails as we set sail and watched the sun set, pre-dinner drinks and wine with our meal, then a night cap. Can't say that drinks were particularly expensive for this standard of ship but we were on holiday so just went for it! Even visited the champagne bar on a few occasions which was lovely!
Ports - Have done a port review below but would recommend doing your research before you leave home and then making trips independently. It's cheaper and allows you time to come and go as you please. Taxis are so reliable you never need to worry about being back on board on time.
Disembarkation - I was worried about having to pack and leave suitcases outside our cabin on our last night but it was no problem and they make the last night 'casual dress' so you don't need to worry about having lots of variations of clothes and shoes available. I was also not looking forward to leaving the ship early as our flight from San Juan not until 4:15pm. However, we had a leisurely breakfast and then met with some friends who also had a mid afternoon flight. We abandoned our transfer to the airport, got a taxi into San Juan with them, piled our suitcases up outside a lovely bar/bistro and spent a couple of hours chatting, with drinks and tapas. What a lovely way to end our trip.
All in all we thought Serenade was splendid and it exceeded all our expectations. The captain was sociable and informative and was often seen wandering around on deck shaking hands and saying hello. We would definitely sail with Royal Caribbean again.