I will begin this review by saying we are not fly by night cruisers or first timers – our latest cruise on the Serenade was our fourth RCCL cruise with 5 cruises total under our belts. We have sailed on Oasis – Freedom and twice on the Radiance Class Ships with RCCL and one Holland cruise comparable to the Voyager Class of RCCL. So here is my review of the Serenade.
Our first cruise was on RCCL Jewel of the Seas which was phenomenal however after experiencing the Oasis and Freedom Class ships the Radiance Class Ships didn’t seem to be as exciting. But I would highly recommend Radiance or Voyager class Ships for First or second time cruisers.
I will break this review down in segments and give it a 1 -5 Rating (5 Being the Best)
Port of Departure New Orleans (Rating 2.5)
In my opinion this port is very congested and wildly disorganized we have sailed out of Port Canaveral / Ft Lauderdale and Tampa in the past and if I had to compare I would sum it up like this – The security in New Orleans ports are very laid back, understandably we all complain about the added security measures when traveling but there is peace of mind that comes with it. For example at the Florida terminals the customs and security are checking Ship Reservations / IDS and Passports prior to entering the Ship Dock Area – in New Orleans your first Security check comes inside the building which is fine, but Being ranked #6 among American cruise ports (I) you would think it would be a little more secure.
However once you get past all the uncertainty and ciaos things seem to move rather fast
The parking areas are scattered around the port so you have a choice to park your car just about anywhere, however you will be walking a great distance to the port or trying to catch a shuttle or cab to the main entrance – which promotes another problem, there is only one lane traffic so if there is a traffic back-up you are paying a cab fee for sitting. My only suggestion is you park your car at the terminal parking area which is adjacent to the port terminal but still a 5-10 min walk depending how far from the door you are. You can leave your bags with a porter before parking but keep in mind whatever luggage your hand carrying on board you will have to walk with through all the security check points and onto the ship.
The other down fall of leaving out of New Orleans is that it takes approx. 5 Hours for the ship to get to the Gulf and an additional 4 Hours before Casinos and Stores are open – In our case the Ship left the dock at 4pm and the Casino and stores opened at 10am the next morning, this is just an FYI. This is due in part because ships have to follow duty free laws and duty free generally goes into effect approx. 4 hours off any U.S Mainland.
Lastly if you are looking for the cruise port terminal on your GPS – Verify where it is – we typed in Port of New Orleans with the address and it took us to a restaurant on the opposite side of town, so do some research on this one first and please note you are looking for the “Julia Cruise Terminal for RCCL”.
Luggage and Room (5.0)
Upon boarding we headed to the windjammer for lunch which was open and ready for service – we were told through the grapevine staterooms would not be ready until 1:00pm and luggage to soon follow, so with past experience we figured about 2 – 2:30 but to our surprise the doors opened at 1:05pm and our stateroom was ready and low and behold our luggage was outside the door waiting for us too. So this is an advantage to a smaller vessel for sure. – We actually had time to unpack, get our room situated and get ready for dinner. So this was an absolute plus. Nice Job RCCL Crew
State Room (Rating 4.5)
We stayed in State Room 4536 which was down the hall from the Centrum and Customer Service desk this room had its pros and cons. The room was quiet and we rarely heard any noise from the Centrum. In fact we heard a lot more noise above us. The noise we heard were kids running around see as we were on Deck 4, I can only assume these were kids running along Deck 5 which is the outside walk way but this was sporadic and didn’t last long maybe 9-10pm if I recall.
The Centrum as aforementioned was located down the hall from us although surprisingly you didn’t hear any noise it is the central area for shows and ship gatherings. I can only imagine if you were closer you might hear some noise but I was extremely surprised we didn’t hear anything from our Stateroom that involved the Centrum Activities. However, if and when there was activities in this area the access to your stateroom was compiled with getting through crowds of other passengers or you could walk to the elevators located at the front of the ship and bypass all the extracurricular activities which again was not a big deal just kind of annoying because other guests assumed you were trying to get the front line of the venue and you had to keep expressing to them you wanted to get to your State Room. Hence the reason I rate this a 4 out of 5
Main Dining “My Time Dining” (3.5)
We went to our “My Time Dining” our first evening out to meet our waiters and well I was somewhat disappointed. We generally do this so we can meet the waiters and get a feel on the service and activities in the main dining room. We were welcomed by are main waiter and his assistance, the food was ok but the service and wait time was more than I would deem acceptable. I will go on to say that we met another couple on board and even tried a different area of the “my time dining” and the service was no different so I am not exactly sure what the issue was but it was slower than I expected. Overall I have to say we only seen our main waiter one time and for the life of me I can’t remember his name or even remember if we were introduced – However his assistance Moncef was incredible and an asset to RCCL he was always around and always lending a helpful hand to us during dinner / Lunch and Breakfast.
We always enjoy the windjammer – I am not sure if it is the ability to come and go as you please and experience the different types of food or the friendly one on one with the waiters / waitresses but never have a complaint here
Windjammer Buffet Food (4.0)
I will not sugar coat this – buffet food is buffet food with our many travels on cruise ships and dry land buffets I don’t think I have ever had one better than the other – If you are cruising because you heard the food is out of this world please don’t be naïve – the only difference is there’s more of it and you can have as much as you want. Now with that being said here are a couple things to keep in mind first and foremost the Serenade offers fresh cook specialty meals in the Windjammer every night I am partial to the pasta night as they will make your dish to order – they also had Stir Fry night / Fish Night and Pork night, these dishes were great and freshly made and yes you can go for seconds or thirds. The buffet was not bad it’s all about preference and what you like – for example the pasta sauce is more tomato tasting then what I make at home but it was still enjoyable. So seeing as you can’t please 2500 people take it with stride. I heard a lot of people in the past mention how bland the food is – well again cruisers think about the 2500 people on board, it is easy to add spice / salt or pepper to any dish to exact it the way you like – it’s impossible to take these ingredients out when there is too much for someone to consume. So to error on the side of judgment it is safer for any Chef or Cook to leave the pallet open and keep the spice / salt / pepper etc.. down to a minimum. Over all depending on the food you like I still think that it was pretty good food
On Board Live Entertainment Headliners (5.0)
The on board entertainment shows were great we seen the Performances by “Finis” a musical genius and impressionist if you ever get an opportunity to see him do it. We also seen “Horizon” a Detroit Michigan based 4 Man Mo-town group – again this was a great show. I can’t speak of the other shows like Love and Marriage etc.. But heard no complaints from anyone on the ship.
On board Entertainment / Pool Deck (3.5)
I do think that there were enough afternoon festivities on board i.e. trivia games at the lounges etc..
The live band playing on the pool deck was extremely loud – I am no stranger to music as I dabble with playing my drums on occasion and loud music doesn’t bother me however, when you have to literally scream your drink order to the waiter and or scream to talk to other people that are seated inches from you then it’s entirely too loud – that also applied to the late night TV I finally had to tell someone to lower it down – there was only 10 people on the pool deck and I couldn’t hear my self-breathing let alone the conversation at hand in my opinion this was a gross oversight by the Cruise Director and his or her assistance.
Being a Christmas cruise we were impressed that the crew celebrated Christmas with a Santa Claus visit for the children that was really nice – and the passenger Christmas sing along was also and additional feature that we enjoyed very much, however we were a little disappointed in the decorating of the ship for Christmas although Hanukah was very noticeable on board, Now please don’t take this the wrong way I am no way saying Hanukah should not be celebrated in fact I am very much happy to see it was, however the vision of Christmas décor was not apparent on the vessel which was more of a surprise than a disappointment.
Shops onboard (3.0)
The Shops are located on Deck 5 and are pretty standard: liquor, jewelry, Serenade Wear, perfume. The stores were never crowded and much of the logowear went 50% off on the last day of the cruise. These are pretty basic – again being a smaller ship these venues are suitable for their needs.
Specialty Restaurants (2.9)
The specialty restaurants included Rita’s cantina / Giovannis / Izumi Asian / Chops Grill and Café Latte-tudes which is a coffee house – We visted Rita’s Cantina and although the food was mediocre at best the service was slow and honestly the few dollar cover charge didn’t make for anything spectacular, the Lattitudes specialty coffee is always great to me as I am a big coffee consumer however the wait time was very disappointing – there always seemed to be a long line and only one service employee – definitely something RCCL needs to improve on – this is an additional cost of course but I seen just as many people walk away from the line as there were in line so in essence this was lost revenue for RCCL
Like any cruise we have ever been on we certainly can identify with specific people and crew members and this cruise was no exception
Michael Martin – Our room steward was excellent – always there when we needed him and always smiling and making sure we had everything we needed even when we told him we needed no special treatment he went above and beyond
Moncef – Was our dining steward in the Windjammer and Mytime Dining He was beyond his professionalism – smiles and service was beyond our expectations this man is a definite asset to RCCL. He is the nicest person we have met on our cruise endeavors he was very personable and always smiling and even found time to stop us in the windjammer to see how we were doing and if there was anything he could do for us A+++ if any one travels on the Serenade ask for Moncef (He sort of resembles Dwayne Johnson “The Rock”) and is and exceptionally great person to be around.
Shusant – The Chef in the Windjammer was always there to greet us in the mornings or afternoons smiling and ensuring our meals were top notch, again an absolute gentlemen and professional.
Michael Martin – Our room steward was excellent – always there when we needed him and always smiling and making sure we had everything we needed, We even advised Michael we didn’t need any special treatment we were easy going yet he still went above and beyond.
Aninke Van Antwerpen – The guest Services Officer Was beyond our expectations – She is absolutely wonderful – We only visited Guest Services a few times during our cruise but we always waited to ensure she was on duty and we could get her assistance even if it meant waiting longer in line and she would always smile and acknowledge when we were in line.
All of these people exceeded our expectations and we hope RCCL will acknowledge their excellent work ethics and customer service – They truly our why we continue to cruise with RCCL
Conversely and only to be fair, I will say overall the crew seemed to be over worked and looked extremely tired, rumor was Royal Laid off 300 Employees – Honestly with the type of revenue cruise lines make - I can’t see where cutting jobs adds to customer service. Hopefully this is not true but if it is RCCL may want to reconsider.
Serenade Cruise and Activities Director (2.5)
Based on other cruise directors onboard RCCL I rate this one a (2 out of 5) – although this may vary from passenger to passenger this is my opinion – It seemed to me that this cruise director (John Blair) had to force himself to smile – acknowledge passengers and or entertain the passengers, Now I don’t mean this is a terrible way – I mean this in a “Not a very personable person / his personality does not fit that of some of the cruise directors we have had on the past” the best being Allan Brooks or Joff Eaton.
Now to sum it up, in the mornings when I seen him it appeared to me that he just woke up, dabbed some water on his hair put on the same Serenade of the Seas Sweat Shirt he wore the day before and pranced around the ship (hence the reason why I didn’t purchase one) and he wouldn’t make any eye contact with passengers unless the passengers reacted to him first. Now I am not saying he must engage with all passengers but the reality is, it’s his job to keep the entertainment alive on the ship not when it’s a convenience, and further I found it a little uncouth for him to have to mention in one announcement that his assistance was his wife, in my opinion that was TMI. The only real entertainment I seen from him was during the time he was trying to set up the Charity walk on the pool deck – it was a side show watching him and the others try to arrange tables and chairs during a windy day – again it seemed very unorganized but yet it was entertaining to say the least.
The Serenade Ship (4.7)
Overall the Serenade is a nice ship – It was well maintained and very clean – the only complaint I have which again is rare – was the crew was Wood Staining the Deck 5 hand rails and failed to put any signs up so passengers including myself would come out and naturally lean or hold onto the rail and yes you guessed it – either their clothes stuck to the rail or the varnish stuck to your skin.
As aforementioned although the Serenade is a nice vessel we would be more prone to cruise on the Oasis or Freedom class ships from now on – this is our preference. If you enjoy a more intimate one on one ship and mixing and meeting with other cruise passengers and by far more personable the crew then this is absolutely the ship class for you, as I said we have never had bad experience on RCCL ships with the crew although bigger ships may be a little less personal with the crew members we always find a few stand outs that we get immediately attached too and vice versa. The one huge difference we missed on the Freedom Class Ships that the Radiance Class Ships don’t have is the “Promenade Deck” it makes the ship seem like so much more with a lot more room to move around and more people to meet.
Overall I would give this cruise a 4.15 out of 5.0 this does not include the Port of New Orleans as I feel the Cruise Line has no control over this operation
State Room (Rating 4.5)We stayed in State Room 4536 which was down the hall from the Centrum and Customer Service desk this room had its pros and cons. The room was quiet and we rarely heard any noise from the Centrum. In fact we heard a lot more noise above us. The noise we heard were kids running around see as we were on Deck 4, I can only assume these were kids running along Deck 5 which is the outside walk way but this was sporadic and didn’t last long maybe 9-10pm if I recall. The Centrum as aforementioned was located down the hall from us although surprisingly you didn’t hear any noise it is the central area for shows and ship gatherings. I can only imagine if you were closer you might hear some noise but I was extremely surprised we didn’t hear anything from our Stateroom that involved the Centrum Activities. However, if and when there was activities in this area the access to your stateroom was compiled with getting through crowds of other passengers or you could walk to the elevators located at the front of the ship and bypass all the extracurricular activities which again was not a big deal just kind of annoying because other guests assumed you were trying to get the front line of the venue and you had to keep expressing to them you wanted to get to your State Room. Hence the reason I rate this a 4 out of 5