First, I would like to say this is my first review on any travel site ever on any subject.
We are a family of 4 (kids - 12 and 7).
This was our second time cruising.
Our first cruise was last year aboard the Norwegian Star. We travelled with 2 other families both with 2 kids each for a total of 12 people. It was the first cruise for all 3 families. We had SUCH A GREAT TIME and were so pleasantly surprised and impressed with the Norwegian Star that we ALL really wanted to cruise again.
This year, we decided to go with Royal Caribbean as we had all heard from EVERY single person we talked to that RC was much better in all aspects (food, service, activities, entertainment, etc…).
We travelled with the same families again, except this year, after hearing our enthusiasm we convinced 3 more families to come along for a total of 24 people. (One family had never cruised before). Kids ranged from ages 7-16. Adults were ages 38-50.
The cruise was from New Orleans with stops in Key West, Nassau, and RC’s private island CocoCay (Sounds more impressive then it was).
I will be comparing the RC Serenade of the Seas to the NCL Star throughout this review as it is all I have to compare it too.
Embarkation was fairly quick and painless. Uneventful and uninviting. Security…Famiily photo… on the ship. Now what?
Compared to NCL Star, on the Star they were playing music and it was like a party atmosphere and was much more inviting and we felt so much welcome to be there.
The RC Serenade was newer and more modern having been renovated just 2 years ago. Although, when we first embarked on the ship, we couldn’t help but smell poop up and down the hallway to our cabin. It was only on the first day, but not a good start.
The ship was well setup and designed.
The main pool was smaller than the Star and did not have a slide, but the adult pool was larger and better decorated. The kid’s pool was pretty much useless as none of our kids ever used it. It was too shallow and only had ONE slide that was meant for really really small kids 5 and under (WAY TOO SLOW).
Pool deck - Had two guys playing some Caribbean style music sometimes and some recorded music. Kind of just background music.
NCL Star had 2 slides at main pool and one on the smaller kid pool. All 3 slides were good for our kids and on some days, the kids never left the pool.
NCL Star had and a 4 piece band also playing same type of music but the band was much more enthusiastic and played more often and involved passengers more frequently to make it more ‘fun’.
Food quality was pretty much the same on both ships. Maybe slightly better quality on RC Serenade but more selection on NCL Star.
Only one dining room and one buffet. NCL Star had 2 main dining rooms and one buffet.
BUFFET - Windjammer
Equal in quality, but I believe NCL Star had a bit more variety and more international items on a daily basis. The RC Serenade had the exact same items for breakfast EVERY day and NO Eggs Benedict or Crepes unless you went down to the Main dining room and order from the menu.
NCL Star had both Eggs Benedict and Crepes at the buffet, without having to go to the main dining room.
Seating during peak hours was a bit difficult on both ships.
MAIN DINING ROOM - Reflections
Service was just OK the first night, we had the 5:30 seating and we all felt very very rushed to get us out for the next seating by all the staff. We genuinely felt like cattle.
Maybe we were spoiled but, aboard the NCL Star, some of us were used to ordering 2 or sometimes 3 appetizers and 2 main courses and probably 2 desserts each adult. One adult loved the desserts, she would save room and not order as much of the main courses and get 5 desserts. We were actively encouraged by the NCL staff to order more items and try new things every night. We could even custom order items not on the menu. If they could do it, they would. For example, one night there was some type of Curried Prawns and rice dish on the menu and it consisted of a bed of rice and veggies with 3 or 4 prawns on top. A couple of the adults really enjoyed the dish abut just wanted to order a plate of extra prawns. The waiter said, absolutely and brought a big plate of full of prawns, and he brought it with a smile.
On the RC Serenade, when we asked for extra items from the menu, the waiters didn’t seem too thrilled about serving us more. When we asked for extra mussels from mussels item on the menu, the waiter promptly told me “No, we can’t do that, the mussels are a just a garnish”. After a moment or two, he said he’ll check with the kitchen and might be able to bring me a few extra and later brought me a small plate of mussels.
This was from the very first night of our cruise aboard the RC Serenade and I felt right from that point, this is not going to be a good experience on this ship.
Later that night we complained to the maître d' while he was trying to get us out of the dining room for the next seating, but he seemed uninterested.
The next day we talked to the Head Maître d' (Pedro). We explained the situation and how the 2 cruises differed in service and he vowed to make it better. That night, and for the remainder of the cruise, we were booked into the private dining room (The Mirage Room) just for our party of 24. We were given the best senior waiter staff on the ship (Cleeven, Cloudeu, Rodney and Ramon), and they did not disappoint. Their service was awesome, and definitely on par (if not even better) than the service we received aboard the NCL Star.
LATE NIGHT DINING – Solarium Park Café
RC Serenade - Almost Non-existent. After 11 pm, good luck!!
There was one place open (Park Café) and barely had any selection to choose from (pizza, hotdogs heated under lamps and a few desserts) LAME, LAME LAME. We are all fans of late night dining, but this ship had almost nothing after the dining rooms closed, and they all seemed to close early.
The Castle pub was open until 1AM and had fun Karaoke and a live musician playing and taking requests (He was really good Aussie guy) but did not have any food at all. Just overpriced booze. What kind of pub doesn’t have any munchies to eat, not even some chips. LAME LAME LAME!
NCL Star had several places open late night, even the buffet was open later and had lots of selection. Even a late night CHOCOLATE buffet (very popular with our dessert loving friend).
Your kids could go get hot wings, chips and salsa at 1 AM if they wanted, no problem.
NO CHOCOLATE BUFFET AT ALL ON RC SERENADE.
They kept pushing to come get fresh grilled burgers on deck. But, they didn’t have a grill anywhere on the boat. There is a huge difference between a fresh grilled burger from a BBQ and a burger cooked on a griddle and kept under a heat lamp or in a stainless steel dish with a burner underneath for hours.
NCL Star had a huge PROPER GRILL on the pool deck on all cruising days. Grilling fresh burgers, chicken, hot dogs, with a much better selection of toppings and condiments. Not just the standard ketchup, mustard, mayo, tomatoes and lettuce. NCL Star also had Fajitas and Taco during the lunch BBQ.
We did not try any of the specialty dining options on either ship.
When talking with other passengers aboard the Serenade, we found they were all having the same less then great experience.
There was 3 separate occasions when we were in the buffet dining room and we overheard people complaining to the staff about the food and the service. When further discussing it with those passengers, they were experienced cruisers and have always felt RC was on the top of the list for cruise lines. And this cruise was a major disappointment. Rating it dead last.
Excellent dinner service every night (except the first).
I couldn’t help but feel that a lot of the staff seemed overworked, not that eager to please and genuinely not that happy to be working on the ship. I didn’t see a lot of smiles on their faces.
Another example, one of our passengers forgot to bring conditioner with her on the trip, she went to guest services to ask for some and she was even willing to pay for it. They told her only the Suites and the Balcony units could have conditioner. REALLY?! Even the scummiest of 1 star hotels provide conditioner to their guests. She flipped out and they eventually gave it to her.
This kind of behavior generally comes from above (supervisors and management). I heard from several of the crew that they were tired and overworked and always in a state of insecurity (unsure if their contract will be renewed for the next 3 months).
I did notice on the last 2 days of the cruise, we were asked many times by various crew members in dining room, if we had a good trip and if they could improve in some way. They kept offering to get things for us and trying to ramp up their service (probably trying to get some points and a good review by the passengers).
On the other hand, Most of the NCL Star staff seemed thrilled to be there and eager to please at all times.
We had regular inside lower level cabin. Slightly larger than the cabin on the NCL Star. It was adequate and what we expected.
The Cabin Steward was pretty good, kept the room clean and left the occasional animal made out of a towel.
NCL Star steward made a different animal every night. The kids couldn’t wait to get to the room to see what animal was left there.
Some nights, only one show at 6:30. Other nights, 2nd show at 10pm.
Comedian – Two African American comedians (can’t remember their names) were hilarious. They had two shows.
Magician/Comedian John Ferrentino was beyond brutal. Not funny and less magical. There was times I thought the room was empty. He should be performing at a senior care facility.
Another comedian on the last night was pretty funny. Used a funny slide show.
Broadway type shows were just OK.
3 Las Vegas Tenors were really good.
Disco – was pretty quiet most nights, music was good.
All our kids were not too interested in the kids club on the ship. They tried it out the first day or two but not impressed.
They ended up playing hide and seek late at night until security told them to stop running around. Some of the older people were complaining.
They did have a 70’s dance party in the center of the ship on the second last night of the cruise, which was a blast. But Party was over at 11pm. Everybody to bed. BOOOO!
NCL STAR had really good acrobatic artists (Cirque type show) from France that were awesome.
Broadway type shows were very entertaining and dancers were awesome.
Really good Italian Magician/Comedian with a huge Albino snake.
Overall, NCL Star had better entertainment and more shows (early and late shows).
Key West – Nice town
Nassau, Bahamas – Nice Beach
Coco Cay (Private Island) – Nice beach, Blue water. When they say ‘Private Island’, they make it sound like it’s some super-secret exclusive place ‘EWWWWW WHOAAAA’. But, you’re herded over there in little boats along with 2000 other people. Oh yeah, and there’s another RC boat docked beside you unloading their 2000 passengers (Not so private island now, is it?). They have big BBQ there on the island with Burgers, Dogs and chicken and ribs and all the fixins’. But wait, still no BBQ grill. Yes, once again, the burgers are cooked on a griddle and kept warm under lights.
It’s their private island but you still have to pay $35 to go down their slide and play on the water park. ??
No point in comparing port stops to NCL Star as we cruised the Mexican Riviera the last time.
Special shoutout to excellent friendly staff on RC Serenade of the Seas:
Cleeven, Cloudeu, Rodney, Ramon, Pedro, Michelle Gallagher, Marco Aerelio
Ship of ‘NO’
NO, we cannot bring you a plate of mussels.
NO, you cannot enter this buffet line up, it is closed, go to another lineup. (Even though it was not roped off yet).
NO, we cannot toast your bread at midnight, the toaster is not working (It was only turned off).
NO, your child cannot go up the rock climbing wall. Free climb is over at 5pm and it is 5:05 pm (It was still open for adult speed climbing).
NO, we do not serve any food in the pub.
NO, we do not have Eggs Benedict here, you have to go to main dining room (After I was told they did by another crew member, and waited in line for 5 minutes)
Coco Cay (Private Island) – Nice beach, Blue water. When they say ‘Private Island’, they make it sound like it’s some super-secret exclusive place ‘EWWWWW WHOAAAA’. But, you’re herded over there in little boats along with 2000 other people. Oh yeah, and there’s another RC boat docked beside you unloading their 2000 passengers (Not so private island now, is it?). They have big BBQ there on the island with Burgers, Dogs and chicken and ribs and all the fixins’. But wait, still no BBQ grill. Yes, once again, the burgers are cooked on a griddle and kept warm under lights. It’s their private island but you still have to pay $35 to go down their slide and play on the water park?