We are back from our cruise on the Serenade of the Seas. This was our first ever cruise, and we really enjoyed the experience. I've broken the review down into segments concerning different aspects of the cruise.
Embarkation – I read several reports that Royal Caribbean does embarkation well at NOLA. Our experience is that these reports are true. From parking garage to standing at the entrance to the Windjammer was about 70 minutes. Well done Royal Caribbean. We did the early arrival, getting to the garage by 10:40 AM. Plenty of agents to check you in. Best service can be gotten by having everything ready – passport.ID, SetSail Pass, credit card, etc. We saw several groups having problems due to not having documents ready. Kind of a bittersweet revelation, though – when the Serenade leaves in April for Europe, it won't be returning to NOLA, nor will any Royal Caribbean ship, at least for the foreseeable future. Tip – when you get your SeaPass card, get it punched at the processing desk if you plan on using a lanyard. That will save you a trip to a busy Customer Service desk later in the day.
Get To Know The Ship – If you boarded early as we did, you probably have one to two hours before your room is ready for you. Take that time to explore the ship. After eating lunch at t,he Windjammer (nice view from the outside seating at the back of the ship), we walked up to the pool deck, thru the Solarium, took the elevator down to the Tropical Theater, walked thru the shops to the Centrum, and then our room was ready. And we knew the basic layout of the ship. Tip – every stairwell on the ship has different paintings and artwork on every landing. Take the time to see them. I suggest taking the elevator to deck 11 and walking down, as opposed to walking up. Extra points for finding the blue cows...
Your Cabin – DW has a slight case of claustrophobia, so we booked an aft balcony. (#7172). Loved it. We can proudly declare we are FOREVER AFT-ers. Spent many hours just sitting on the balcony, eading, watching the wake, listening to the sounds of the sea passing by. After unpacking and meeting our cabin attendant (Ernesto), we sat on our balcony and watched the un-docking progress and watched NOLA recede in the distance. We took the time to walk forward on deck 5 to the bow of the ship, to get the experience of watching the Mississippi roll by. Tip – when you meet your cabin attendant for the first time, get to know them. We found out that Ernesto was from the Philippines, had 2 boys, and had worked on cruise ships for 10 years. He knew our names from the start and gave us excellent service. And if you get good service, tip well and mention them prominently in your after-cruise survey.
Sea Sickness – If you don't know if you suffer from it or not, take the precaution of taking some Dramamine/Bonine/Sea Bands/whatever prior to boarding. Made it thru the first night fine, and thought I was going to be OK. The Gulf of Mexico thought differently. By 9 AM the first morning, I was either flat on my back on the bed or in the bathroom. Finally got some Bonine in me and I was fine by 1 PM. DW didn't suffer as much, just slightly queasy when she got up. She also took some Bonine and she was fine. Knowing now how we are, we will start taking Bonine the day prior to boarding. Tip – Go to the medical facility on the ship. They will have a box full of generic Bonine in the lobby – we grabbed a handful that lasted for the rest of the trip.
Dining – I understand that this is very subjective. DW and I are from a small rural town in East Central Illinois. Our idea of fancy dining is someplace where you don't have to order at a counter and carry your food to a table. Treating ourselves to a nice dinner means going to Texas Roadhouse. With that in mind, here is our dining experience on the Serenade.
This was our first ever cruise, we took it to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, and to have the honeymoon we never had. I signed up for My Time Dining, requesting dining at 6:45 at a table for two. When boarding the ship, we were asked to go thru a line confirming MTD reservations. We did so, and our reservations were correct. We showed up 5 minutes early the first night, and were ushered to our table. Technically is was a table for two – and about 6 inches from a full table for six. OK – so much for a romantic dinner. We were served some dinner rolls – tough but good tasting. Our head waiter came by asking if we would like something to drink. I requested some iced tea. I was informed that head waiters don't served iced tea, and he left. DW and I looked at each other, shook our heads, and drank our water. Another waiter came by and took our orders (horseradish crusted salmon for her, mojo -marinated pork chop for me). I had cut open my roll and put some butter on it, leaving some crumbs on the table cloth. When our entrees were brought, after setting them down, the waiter proceeded to bring out a small comb-like brush and proceed to brush the crumbs off the table cloth. Made me feel like I was some kind of uncouth slob. After our moist almond chocolate cake, we left, having felt we wasted an hour and 45 minutes of our cruise. Walking out, we noticed a table for two that was actually separated from the table next it by a column. We went to the MDR the next day to see if we could reserve that table for the night. We were told it was already reserved, and the lady we talked to didn't seem particularly interested in helping us. So, despite the food being good, we decided to forego the MDR for the rest of the cruise.
We did eat at Giovanni's Table the next night (formal night). It was very good. Our waiter Murat was excellent. We ordered the Focaccie Alla Giovanni for ourselves, and he also brought us the Insalata Caprese Per Due for us to try. Delicious. DW had the chicken breast stuffed with ricotta and mushrooms, I had the veal tenderloins filled with provolone, mushrooms, and ham. Delicious again. Had several desserts off the dessert cart, all in all enjoyable. Close to 2 hours, but a more enjoyable experience. Too bad you have to pay extra.
As for the Windjammer Cafe – we loved it. Were able to get what we wanted, there was a variety of food every meal, and was able to try some different foods (chicken florentine – good, tika masala not so much). There was a different meat each day being sliced and served (roast beef, pork tenderloin, turkey breast, etc), and a place that served grilled items (pork chops, chicken breasts, etc). You could also get omelets made to order, eggs cooked to order, etc. As long as you avoided the busiest times, seating was not a problem. And we ate at our own pace, either leisurely or quickly to get to a show or activity. And I was not made to feel like a hick from the sticks. My tip for dining? Do what make you feel comfortable – it's your cruise. DW and I discussed maybe going with some family members or church friends on our next cruise, and giving the MDR another try. It wasn't worth the hassle this cruise.
Disembarking – We did the self-disembarking on our cruise. The Cruise Compass said that everyone who wanted to do the self-disembarking should report to the Tropical Theater at 6:45 AM. DW and I got up around 5:45, got dressed, hit the Windjammer for a quick breakfast, and reached the theater around 6:40. There were a group of people in the theater waiting with their luggage. I looked out the door leading to the promenade on deck 5, and saw the station that was set up for processing people leaving the ship. There was a couple our age waiting there with their luggage. DW and I decided to join them, and watched the ship finish docking. When they started processing people off the ship, we were 3rd and 4th off the ship. Within 10 minutes we were thru customs and walking to our car. This is the way to go if you have an early flight or just want off quickly. Several people on our roll call had later flights, and just waited in one of the lounges until they had to leave. Tip – Do whichever meet your needs or disposition. I hate lines, so the self-disembarking fit my needs. They can't keep you from leaving when you want.
Our cabin was an aft balcony on the port side of the ship. It was good size room, large enough to have a full size 3 seat sofa, along with the king size bed. The balcony was not very deep, but the right side of the balcony wrapped around the side of the ship. It allowed us to have a very wide filed of view. There were two chairs with foot stools, and a small table. You could have possibly replaced the chairs with loungers, but they filled our needs for the cruise. We used the balcony alot. The sounds from the wake of the ship was like a large white noise generator and was very comforting. The bathroom was small but usable, the shower was round with two sliding doors. There was a dispenser hanging in the shower that had some tyoe of shampoo/body wash in it that was OK, but bring your own if you wish. The room was at the far end of a long hall, so there was not much traffic. It was located over the Safari Lounge, but we didn't notice any noise at all during the cruise.