A Long Winded Serenade of the Seas Review 4-11-15
"The One Who Must Be Obeyed and I just returned from a fantastic thirteen night repositioning cruise from New Orleans to Boston last Saturday.
Background We are both retired educators in our mid-sixties. This was our twenty-fifth cruise, our fifth with RCCL, and our first on The Serenade of the Seas.
Pre-cruise We got into New Orleans four days early to enjoy the city and stayed at the Prytania Park Hotel in the Garden District where we met several other members from our roll call. We made the most of our visit and took trips to the countryside to see the gators and tour two plantations. Since I operate a streetcar from New Orleans at the Lowell National Historical Park, I got up early one morning and spent two hours riding sister cars on the St. Charles Line. We were there during a French Quarter Music Fest and took time to enjoy the free live music venues. We had a great dinner cruise on the steamboat Natchez with live music. The highlight of our four day stay was a visit to the World War II Museum, a must see in New Orleans. We arrived shortly after it opened and they "threw us out" at closing!
Check-in and Boarding We arrived at the pier at around 10:30 a.m. via cab, deposited our luggage with the porters and then started the check-in process which was very efficient. While other RCCL cruises have given us a number to be used in boarding, this time they were calling by Crown and Anchor status. When the "gold's" were called it seem as if it was 75% of the waiting area that responded. People were pleasant and we were on deck five of the ship hearing the "ding" of our sea pass being scanned in no time. The problem came with them sending everyone through a narrow door where many folks were making MTD reservations. This caused a huge back-up and the ship's photographers added to the situation. After some hurry-up and wait, we finally made it through to the centrum lobby. We enjoyed a nice lunch at the Windjammer Café. Although it was somewhat crowded, we knew enough to head back to the outdoor tables aft where we met the first of several new acquaintances.
Our Cabin Shortly after lunch, it was announced that cabins were ready. We were in #9536 forward on Deck nine which is a "Superior Ocean View Balcony" for what it is worth. It was very spacious and had plenty of storage and closet space with sufficient hangers. There was a full sized couch which gave us plenty of room to relax. The balcony had two chairs and the standard small table. We found that our luggage had already arrived and we put everything away as me darling wife feels that the cruise does not really being until everything is stored. We are "low maintenance" cruisers and when we met our cabin steward our only requests were for ice daily (for our two bottles of champagne and soda that we brought aboard with us) and a blanket as I love to sit out on the balcony at night and knew that it would get chilly as we moved up the east coast.
Safety Drill and Setting Sail RCCL no longer requires you to wear your life vest to the safety drill, but you do report to your muster station (ours was outside on deck five) where attendance is taken and you have the short safety talk and jacket demonstration. After the drill was over, we waited for the crowd to clear and we headed to the Centrum Lounge to enjoy a cool drink and listen to some music. We returned to our cabin to sit on our balcony for the sail away. Having sailed out of other ports where you are almost immediately at sea, sailing out of New Orleans is different as it takes six hours or more to reach the Gulf of Mexico, although it took us much longer. When we woke up the next morning, we were still on the river and could see land. We were supposed to be in the Gulf. It seems as though a Chinese barge had become stuck ahead of us and we had anchored on the Mississippi for the night. By 9 a.m. or so, tugs had freed the barge and we were on our way!
The Ship I believe that The Serenade of the Seas goes back to 2003 which makes it one of the older ships in the fleet. Nonetheless, it is in excellent shape. We noticed very little wear and tear. It is a smaller ship and we found it very easy to get around and as a result we were familiar with it by the second day. There are only two banks of public elevators, the main bank in the centrum area and a smaller bank in the forward area which was just a short walk to our cabin. At times you had to wait a minute or two for an elevator, but it was no big deal. The first and last day of course caused longer waits as folks boarded and disembarked. We were told that the ship was only 2/3 full which may have helped the situation. At no time did we feel crowded. In addition to our balcony, our two favorite spots to relax were on the deck five promenade and in the Vortex Lounge on deck thirteen which had excellent views and was a great place to enjoy quiet.
Cruise Critic Roll Call Activities This had to have been one of the most active roll calls that we have experienced. As a result there were many activities organized by roll call members on sea days. Our "Meet and Mingle" must have had close to 200 in attendance. The ship provided complimentary champagne and mimosas along with some delicious snacks. The assistant CD was present to welcome us and a variety of door prizes were awarded. One of our roll call members organized the purchase of refrigerator magnets for $1 each and these made for nice souvenirs. Another made special name tags for all of us and yet another purchased plastic holders for them which we wore at roll call organized events. It was nice to be able to put names with faces. We had around fifty of us participate in a slot pull and each of us came out $7 ahead of the game! There was a cabin crawl where some of us were impressed with the suite and aft balcony cabins.
Dining We must admit that we ate too much, but thoroughly enjoyed the offerings on the ship.
Main Dining Room--We had My Time Dining and had dinner in the MDR on ten of the thirteen nights. We did not make reservations, but never had to wait more than a minute or two for a table. We arrived between 7:30 and 8 p.m. each night. We were so impressed with our waiter, Francis, that we requested his area each night and were always accommodated. His service was outstanding. We sat at a table for two each night and usually next to the same folks, so we had a chance to strike up some conversations. Now we know that food is subjective and have found the food to be okay, but not spectacular in the MDR on past RCCL ships. The Serenade has really kicked it up a few notches and we were never disappointed and had some great dishes.
Specialty Restaurants--Since this was a thirteen night cruise, we took advantage of the offer of 20% off of the specialty restaurants if you booked in advance for three nights. We dined in Chops twice and Giovanni's once and enjoyed excellent food and service.
Breakfast--We had breakfast most days in the Windjammer Cafe and usually found a table outside of the aft where it was less crowded and had great ocean views. The offerings were excellent even if it did mean that our cholesterol levels increased. I enjoyed the omelet station in particular. The eggs and breakfast meats can be too much every day on a longer cruise, thus we went to the Park Cafe in the solarium pool for lighter fare such as bagels and cream cheese on some days.
Lunch--We enjoyed the Windjammer for lunch on most days even if the offerings were somewhat heavy. Whereas on past RCCL ships, hamburgers have been like hockey pucks, we found them to be much better this time around. The Park Cafe offers lighter fare and on a couple of days we enjoyed salads and sandwiches with chips!
Desserts--Okay, I have a sweet tooth! In the past we have found that RCCL ships have offered way too many gelatin based desserts for our tastes. There has been a major improvement in this area.
Evening Entertainment Having been on many cruises, we are just no longer wowed by the singers and dancers. We realize that they work hard, but it is not something we enjoy, thus we did not go to the shows every night. We did very much enjoy the comedy if Alfred and Seymour. These guys kept us in stiches. Donovan and Rebecca proved to be terrific acrobats. The demographics of our cruise saw most of us in our sixties and above, thus the retro fifties music of The Diamonds was very popular. On the other hand, if we had to have paid extra to see the magic show of Justino and Daniela, I would have asked for my money back! We looked forward to Segundo's guitar classics in the centrum each evening. We watched the movie "Fury" under the stars on the Lido Deck one evening and enjoyed it. Other excellent film offerings included "The Theory of Everything" and "The Imitation Game" which we had seen in the past.
On Board Activities We don't feel the need to have non-stop activities on board as we are content with sitting, reading, and watching the ocean go by. I did get through five novels! We did enjoy the morning progressive trivia on all of the sea days. We had the same great team each day and won several daily prizes and brought back a collection of highlighters, luggage tags, and ball point pens. Out of the fifteen or so teams, we came in a close second, thus we did not win the grand prize baskets, but we very much enjoyed the experience. I was reading and resting in the late afternoon or taking a swim in the solarium pool, but "The One Who Must Be Obeyed" did go up to some of the afternoon trivia sessions. We did attend some of the specialty lectures on the history and culture of the ports. They were okay, but not spectacular.
Ports Since we had been to all of the ports before, we did not do any of the ship sponsored excursions which we view as overpriced cattle herds, thus we did one private tour and DIY's for all others.
Grand Cayman--We did take a private excursion with Safari Adventures and went to the east end or quiet side of the island to visit the botanical gardens and to see the oldest home on the island in San Pedro. Since there was an island wide power outage, we could not see the introductory film and our guide made up for it by taking us to a private preserve where we saw dozens or iguanas and other wildlife. We had hoped to take advantage of free WiFi locations in town to check in back home, but the power outage prevented that along with the frozen drink that I had promised "The One Who Must Be Obeyed". We had to settle for beer and soda. The upside of the power outage was that the shops could not accept credit cards, thus I saved a few dollars with someone who likes to shop!
Aruba--We have been to this beautiful island several times before, thus we were old pros at navigating the public bus system to Eagle Beach where we rented chairs in shade and I spent several hours in the warm waters. Afterward we went back to the ship to have lunch and go into town for shopping and free WiFI and Starbucks, we were learned that our next grandchild will be a boy!
Bonaire--We know that this has a rocky coast best known for diving or snorkeling and not for its sandy beaches. Research on these boards led us to take a shared van to Sorobon Beach where we enjoyed what is probably the only sandy beach (albeit somewhat small and shallow) on the island. We rented chairs in the shade adjacent to restrooms and a bar with food and enjoyed the warm and shallow waters. We watched dozens of windsurfers and wished that we were younger!
St. Maarten--We wanted a break from beaches and thus took the water taxi into town for shopping for our grand children and me darling wife. She found some "bargains" in the straw market. We had some cool drinks while looking out at the harbor and took advantage of the free WIFI do to some facetime with our daughters back in the states.
St. Thomas--Again, we have been there several times and chose to take a taxi to Emerald Beach which is at the Best Western Hotel. We rented chairs in the shade and swam for several hours in warm and calm waters and just read and relaxed. We again had our I-Pad and took advantage of the free WiFi.
Positives--When you first come home from a cruise, it always seems that it is the best cruise ever, but we have to admit that we really enjoyed the Serenade of the Seas and the itinerary and weather on this one!
We had outstanding service from the crew
Minor Annoyances--I won't even call them negatives. The ship's library has to be one of the weakest that we have ever seen with just one cabinet and a few shelves of books. Since St. Thomas was our first stop on U.S. soil, the ship had everyone line up very early in the morning to pass through immigration. It took us over an hour in a line that stretched from the theatre all of the way forward to the dining room all of the way aft to have an immigration official look at our passport for a second or two and to have the staff put a sticker on our sea pass card. We ran into some "complainers" at meal times and were embarassed with fuss that they chose to make. None of this annoyed us for more than a minute of two and we concentrated on positives.