Great Itinerary except for Sunday in Rome: Serenade of the Seas Cruise Review by Sagacious Traveler

Serenade of the Seas 5
Sagacious Traveler
Member Since 2012
16 Forum Posts

Overall Member Rating

Great Itinerary except for Sunday in Rome

Sail Date: May 2012
Destination: Europe - Western Mediterranean
Embarkation: Barcelona
My husband and I had looked at doing a Mediterranean cruise for a few years running. I wanted an itinerary that predominantly focused on Italian ports of call and, due to political instability, ruled out any stops in Greece or Egypt. Due to our respective businesses, we were limited to sailing dates in either mid-April or mid-May. The best itinerary in this time frame was the May 17th sailing of Serenade of the Seas. I was so excited to see a 36 hour port of call in Venice that I didn't realize we hit Rome on a Sunday and that the main site I wanted to see - The Vatican - would be closed to the public.

We booked over a year in advance primarily because we wanted a specific aft cabin on the 9th deck. Also, the trip was contingent upon us being able to use air miles for our travel which needed to be locked in 11 months in advance. I thought the price was quite reasonable and with this being such a port intensive cruise, couldn't see spending the money on, perhaps, a more More upscale cruise line given we'd be off the ship more than on it.

We came into Barcelona a day earlier and were met at the airport by Barcelona Day Tours for a 1/2 day private tour. Fabulous overview of Barcelona and worth the money. We stayed at the Marina View Bed & Breakfast. We had the harbor view Captain's Cabin room for both a one night pre and post cruise stay. I think it's a perfect location for cruisers. Terrific location directly across from the marina and easy walking distance to Las Ramblas, the Gothic Quarter, and everything the Marina area has to offer. 5 minute walk to the cruise ship shuttle(the RCCL is not walkable.)

Given our close proximity to the ship, I was talked out of arriving at the terminal early. Good call! Shuttle ride was quick and cheap. We arrived at the terminal about 1:45pm, baggage handlers took our luggage, no one was in the security or check in line so we practically walked right on to the ship. I asked were the crowds were and was told I had missed them. This was the easiest embarkation ever.

On to the ship...

We knew the Serenade of the Seas was going to be a smaller ship than a few of the Carnival ships we had been on (Victory and Spirit). In that regard, we liked this size. It was quite easy to navigate. Even though this ship is scheduled to be refurbished later this year, I will say that the overall decor in public areas was less glitzy and more tasteful than on Carnival. The theater did not seem to have any blocked views and was never crowded at the few 9:00pm shows I attended.

Cabin: We chose the aft cabin because of the view and a larger balcony. We liked this balcony better than on the Victory because more of it was covered, a great feature when it rains.

Our cabin steward was friendly, kept the cabin clean, and made daily towel animals. The layout was very similar to Carnival however there were some features that I think made the Carnival cabin better. The bed frames were so low on the Serenade that it was difficult to get our luggage to slide underneath. Even though each of the two closets contained two bars for hanging clothes, it was poorly designed. If you lowered the second bar, you couldn't hang the longer articles of clothing - i.e. suit, dress, blazer, get the picture. And on a 12 night cruise with a dress code that included formal nights and alleged business casual get the picture.

There was plenty of room for two people. One positive for the Serenade was there is curtain that could close off the little sitting area from the bed. Didn't recall that on Carnival.

But where were the amenities? Although it's been a few years since our last cruise, on 4 previous Carnival cruises, our cabins always included bathrobes and a little basket of hand soap, lotion, toothpaste, a razor. Not on RCCL. And no little chocolates on the pillow at turndown service either! Our room steward said except for suites RCCL stopped all that a few years ago as a cost cutting measure.

The other thing I didn't like was that the all the pillows smelled stale. On a positive note, we thought the mattress was comfortable and neither of us woke up with back or hip pain any time during those 12 nights.

As to the food: Folks, I have to say I think Carnival's main dining room was better. I had always assumed that RCCL's dining experience would be a step above so in that regard I was disappointed. There wasn't anything particular bad about Serenade...lamp chops and prime rib were delicious. But there was nothing very exciting or outstanding on the menu and,on a few nights, the menu selections were so uninspired that I regretted not having listened to my husband and just gone to the Windjammer deck. We'd peruse the Windjammer deck after dinner and it always seemed they had an infinitely more interesting and varied selection of dishes than were offered in the main dining room. Alas, it appears that lobster is not offered unless you're willing to pay an upcharge. I thought surely it would be offered gratis on at least one formal night. Nope. As for desserts. Mediocre. They were like desserts we'd find at all-inclusive resorts - pretty but lacking in flavor. Everyone in my family still raves about Carnival's chocolate pots, just a sinfully rich and decadently delicious molten mousse.

We did order a Platinum wine package in advance of our cruise. Most of the actual selections were fine, a couple selections were not up to the quality we expected for the price.

As for service: Our maitre'd was charming and quite personable. Our main waiter was always quick to suggest we order a second appetizer or entree to split when we vacillated on a selection. Both of these gentlemen were very kind when I arrived solo in the dining room when my husband was not feeling well. They insisted on bringing me soup and other items to take back to the room for him. Our assistant waiter was inconsistent in bringing bread or coffee. Speaking of which...on Carnival, an after dinner espresso or cappuccinos were offered at no charge in the dining room. Not so on RCCL. Another upcharge.

Other food: We used room service for breakfast almost all mornings. Delivery was prompt, especially important on those days we had early excursions booked. Husband used room service for dinner he was down for the count with a cold. We enjoyed Windjammer for lunches and like the onion rings at whatever they called the deli -type restaurant above the Windjammer.

Entertainment: I'm not the right person to review entertainment options. The musicians I heard while walking through areas of the ship sounded great but we didn't linger to drink or dance. Most of the days we had early excursions and only saw a couple of shows but the ones I saw were just fine. They had trivia games galore on a daily basis (yes!) but only seemed to offer karaoke a couple of times during the cruise. The cruise director and his assistant were a hoot and I liked watching their promos on the CCTV. The library on our deck was a nice touch and kept open 24/7.

Dress code: This was frustrating. RCCL stated on a 12 night cruise there were 3 formal nights and I can't remember how many "business casual" nights, and then simply "casual" nights in the main dining room. I had my husband way over pack accordingly (no tux but suit, dress slacks, shirts, ties and blazer). I'm here to tell you that there were only 2 dress codes: Formal and casual. And even on formal night, there were more than a few men who only wore long sleeve shirts (no jacket) and quite a few men dressed in just a sports coat with our without tie on formal night. Frankly, it appears no one is going to be denied entry to the dining room on formal night because they are not wearing a coat, tie, or tux. Maybe RCCL is quietly following suit with some of the luxury cruise lines have done away with formal night and replaced it with business casual. There were some passengers in tuxes and gowns but they seemed to be in the minority. So if you want to dress up, dress up but you won't be out of place if you choose not to.

Solarium: This was a nice, peaceful area but smaller than I expected. It fills up quickly and gets mobbed if there is rain.

Gym: Ample treadmills and other equipment during non-peak times.

Excursions: We booked all of our shore excursions through RCCL primarily because I didn't want to stress over what would happen if our long tours into Rome or Florence were delayed getting back and we missed the ship. I know RCCL excursions got priority on tenders leaving the ship. I was pleased with the caliber of tour guides we received. We opted for what was probably the most expensive excursion to Pisa and Florence but I think it was well worth it. This 10-1/2 hour semi-private tour (8 of us) also included admission to the Uffizi and the Accademia. Our sit down lunch was held in an exquisite hotel and the caliber of the meal more than exceeded my expectations. One one of our tours Florence there WAS a major traffic delay on the way back to the ship due to the streets being closed off for a race. The tour guide was getting nervous but I didn't stress because it was a ship sponsored excursion. That alone was priceless.

Private Excursions: Through the Cruise Critic roll call board, there are a number of folks who get other passengers to share their private or semi private tours through reputable companies. For the most part it seems that the PP cost is exceptionally reasonable when joining someone's group. When I learned I had to spend an extra day in Barcelona, I contacted Barcelona Day tours again and inquired about their full day Montserrat/Cava tours. I learned that if I became "tour leader" and we were able to get another 2 people to join us, it would be considered a small group at half the price. If we got a total of 6-8 people, the tour leader's fare would be paid for. So..this is something to consider if you're booking early and want an alternative to ship sponsored shore excursions. I was pleasantly surprised to find when the mini bus arrived that that BDT added another couple to our group tour bringing the total up to 6 people which meant my fare was comped. What a deal!

Disembarkation: Our original flight home was cancelled and I did not believe we would be able to make a 10:00am flight so we opted to spend an extra night in Barcelona. We had a tour company meeting us at the dock at 8:30am. I asked the purser's office what time we needed to be ready to leave the ship. He said disembarkation was quick and that 8:00am would be sufficient. I didn't believe him and opted for 7:30am. We were at the front of the terminal, luggage in hand by 7:45am. Didn't see a customs agent so guess the don't clear customs at this port. At 6:00am we saw a long line of taxi cabs waiting at the dock so for people willing to haul their own luggage off the ship, disembarkation started at 6:15am so there is a possibility you might make that morning flight. The disembarkation was also the smoothest I've ever encountered!

All in all, I was pleased with the Serenade of the Seas and it certainly met my basic expectations. However, it wasn't an exceptional enough experience to warrant my devotion to this particular ship or cruise line.

For next cruise (possibly Panama Canal, return to Alaska, or transatlantic) I'll keep my eye out for itineraries, prices, and other cruise reviews. Less

Published 07/07/12
1 Helpful Vote

Cabin review: D29260 Superior Ocean View Stateroom with Balcony

On aft cabins, you may see sites after everyone one else but you have a panoramic view! This deep balcony provided a lot of privacy and the covered portion sheltered us from sun and rain. It's a quiet location.

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Port and Shore Excursions

City Tour

We booked two tours with Barcelona Day tours. The first was a private 1/2 day city tour in which we were picked up from the airport, shown quite a bit of the Barcelona and then delivered to our bed and breakfast when done. Right after disembarking from our ship, the second tour was a day long trip that combined a Freixenet Cava winery tour and tasting followed by a few hours in Montserrat. We were picked up from the ship, taken on these tours, and afterwards participants were taken to their respective hotels.

Cannes Walking Tour

It was a 4 hour walking tour that unfortunately, got hit by pouring rain about an hour into it. For those of us with umbrellas and/or tenacity, we stuck with it and got a gist of this small, charming town. We were there during the film festival which made it quite exciting.

Exclusive Pisa and Florence

This was a very small (8 person) group tour that gave us a pretty good whirlwind tour of the important sites on this 10-12/ hour excursion. We hit Pisa early before the crowds and had about 45 minutes or so to wander about. We had a good walking tour of Florence, breezed through the two major museums, marveled at David, had enough time for a gelato on the Ponte Vecchio, had a terrific lunch with a lot wine at an upscale hotel, and got panoramic views of the city. Inside and outside of the museums, our tour guide provided a lot of information. My only complaint was with some of the fellow passengers who apparently did not read the disclaimers that this was a fairly strenuous tour in that it required a lot of (fast paced) walking. They had difficulty keeping up which slowed everyone down.

Accademia Museum

It exists to house the David.

Field of Miracles

Wish we had more time to explore the churches and buildings but the Leaning Tower was the primary draw.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Didn't go in. Wasn't necessary. Just seeing this iconic site in person was very special.

Ponte Vecchio

Crowded with overpriced jewelry shops. Not our thing.

Statue of David

It's the David. Enough said.

Uffizi Museum

Wish we had several hours to explore.

Walking Tour

Ravenna is not listed in the drop down menu of ports of call so sorry for the confusion. I wanted to list it because it was so good! We booked this tour last minute on the ship and were glad we did. The terminal is about 10 miles from the town so if you didn't take a cruise tour, you could purchase a shuttle ticket from the ship to explore on your own. This is not a very popular port so this charming town is not overrun with tourists like us. Our guide was terrific but the unexpected surprise was the absolutely stunning Bascila di Vitale and the Mausoleo di Galla Placida, World Heritage sites for their mosaics. The Vitale was the most understated and beautiful church I've ever seen. The small town was easy to navigate. Our tour included the shuttle so we were free to explore on our own, have lunch and a coffee in town, then take the shuttle back whenever we were ready to leave.

City Tour

We chose this excursion for two reasons -- our port of call for Rome was on a Sunday, a day many of the sights we had wanted to see were closed to the public. The other reason was health related - a concern that my husband's knee might not be up to three consecutive intensive days of walking (Florence, Rome, and Pompeii. We figured with so much being closed, perhaps this panoramic bus tour would be a good choice. We knew that of this 5 hour bus tour, 3 hours would be spent traveling to and from Rome and the cruise ship terminal. From what I read on other sites, we understood that certain streets are off limits to traffic which would prohibit us from seeing many sites from the bus. But we booked, knowing all this beforehand. So, not counting looking at the countryside between Rome and Civitavecchia, we had only about an hour of actually seeing any sites of Rome. The bus never stopped which meant, at best, it was difficult to take pictures from your side of the bus and impossible to get shots if the site was on the other side of the bus. Then there was a 45 minute stop outside St. Peter's Square, long enough to buy gelato and use a rest room. It did give us a glimpse of Rome and whetted our cultural appetites to know that someday we'd like to go back to Rome and spend a few days thoroughly exploring this amazing city.

Pompeii Walking Tour

More than ample time to explore this huge, important archeological site. Our guide spoke excellent English and provided us with a lot of historical information. Part of the tour included a visit to a cameo factory (directly across the street from the entrance to the ruins and where the restrooms are located.) It was very interesting to see a cameo artisan at work (he was in 70's).

This was a port of call in which we didn't book a excursion but wish we had. It was easy enough to take a tender from the ship and walk around and inside the walled city that now contains a plethora of little shops and cafes. It would have been nice to have had someone explain the historical significance to us.
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City Tour

We had a full day and half port of call in Venice. We docked at 1:00pm and were on the tender for this tour by 2:15pm. Our guide was very pleasant and knowledgeable but she was rather soft spoken so between that, her strong, Italian accent, and the background noise of the crowds, we had some difficulty understanding or hearing everything she had to say. On top of that, in the Doges Palace, there was another RCCL tour group whose guide had a booming voice and kept commandeering spots in front of artwork we were trying to see. Our poor guide would try to give us a brief description but it was hard to hear her while the other guide kept talking. Other than that it was a fascinating tour. No talking is allowed in St. Marks and tourists are quickly shepherded in and out. Watching the glass blower was interesting and were shown beautiful but expensive pieces in the showroom. When the tour and scheduled free time was complete we opted to follow the group back to the tender only because it was such a crowded madhouse at the dock, we were concerned we wouldn't be able to figure out which tenders were the ones designated for our ship! (Pathetic, I know.) The following day we walked to the people mover train and took it to the Vaparetto Station to pick up Vaparetto #1 which goes up and down the Grand Canal. We bought the 12 hour pass and had the day to explore Venice on our own. Ship departed at 8:00pm so this was really a great, unrushed port of call that provided enough time to explore and enjoy this city.

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Sagacious Traveler
Member Since 2012
16 Forum Posts
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