My wife and I have cruised on Princess, Norwegian, Holland America, and Celebrity, and decided to give Royal Caribbean a try. We had heard good things about RCL, however our January cruise out of New Orleans on Serenade of the Seas was rather disappointing.
The good news is our junior suite was very nice, somewhat larger and better laid out than similar mini-suites and vista suites on Princess and HAL. The “production” shows in the theater were very good. And on the morning we were disembarking we really appreciated their practice of letting us stay in our cabins until it was time to leave the ship.
To put the following criticisms in some perspective, we had a good cruise. We enjoyed ourselves because we were with good friends. You can have a perfectly good cruise on RCL, but at least in our experience we think the other lines we have been on are better and at least in some cases offer better value for money.
Our biggest disappointment was the food service, especially in the main dining room. The food can best be described as mediocre. There were very few entrees that were really satisfying and many were really disappointing. The prime rib had the texture of poor quality meat that had been overly tenderized. My chicken scaloppini marsala had almost no flavor. I had some supposedly Japanese style dumplings that were like rocks. Most of the soups and salads were disappointingly lacking in interest or even much flavor. A number of dishes like the lobster tail, rack of lamb, and lamb shank were acceptable, but I did not hear anyone at our table raving about them. Their dessert cheese plate is almost laughable it was so mediocre. And food tended to arrive at the table luke warm. We enjoyed our dinners, but the food was nowhere near as good as we have had on other ships.
The tables in the main dining room are so crowded together that it is a miracle the wait staff can get the plates to the tables. And while the staff is willing and works hard, it is like amateur night. Our waiter had a memorized spiel each night about some aspect of the menu, and we got it (loudly) whether we were interested or not. More generally, the main dining room lacks the upscale ambience that we take for granted on all the other cruise lines we have been on.
Food in the cafeteria was typical cruise ship cafeteria food, but we found the cafeteria hours more limited than we are used to. Forget the bedtime treat or the midnight snack. You really had to check the daily activity sheet to know when the cafeteria would be open. It was a big change from the almost round the clock availability of food on other cruise lines. There were some other places you could get snacks, but their "after hours" selection was very limited. And the room service menu is so limited as to be a joke (not to mention the service slow and the quality terrible). We ordered a spinach and artichoke dip that arrived with limp soggy chips. I do give RCL credit for having brewed coffee that is not great but better than the instant swill on some ships.
We had dinner one night in their “upscale” Chops Grill and the ambience and service were very nice and the food good but the preparation rather uninteresting. My wife and I ordered some "spicy" giant prawns, and they were good but little had been done to them to help them taste like anything other than cooked prawns. They were supposed to be spicy but I could not taste much in the way of any seasoning, I might as well have been eating cocktail shrimp. It was not worth the extra $30 per person. And for their best steaks there was a further additional charge. Actually their upscale restaurant was little better than the service and food we have come to expect in the main dining room on Princess and HAL.
And getting around the Serenade can be challenging. During peak times the elevators are difficult to use because of crowding. Going into the dining room for dinner is not unlike trying to board a subway train during rush hour, and the elevators are so crowded that we often took an up car when we wanted to go down, just to get on.
But, again, to put all this in to perspective, RCL’s disappointments were relative. RCL was not up to the standards we have come to expect on other cruise lines. But we were enjoying ourselves with good friends, and nothing mentioned above was a show stopper. In many respects Serenade of the Sea is a very typical cruise ship with the usual amenities. But next time we almost certainly will select a different cruise line with a more polished product.
Great cabin, better than similar accommodations on Princess or HAL.