We were looking for a relaxing cruise with new and interesting ports for our family of 5 over the holiday season, and this was a great itinerary on a fantastic ship. There were a couple of hiccups and problems but otherwise it was a solid, fun, relaxing option.
1. Ship. The Serenade is not one of RCCI's new mega ships, but it's a well-laid out, charming space that punches above it's weight. We loved the public spaces which had a lot of lovely nooks and crannies for sitting around with a drink or a project and looking at the ocean. Embarkation and disembarkation were very smooth and easy on both ends, and we had access to our cabin immediately.
2. Cabin. We had two next door balconies on deck 9 for our family of 5, which was lovely. Guest Services were able to give us a key to the room where the kids were staying so we could get in and supervise when needed, which was much appreciated. We loved having a refrigerator and there was plenty of storage -- I didn't need my shoe organizer or hooks at all. The bathroom was tight, but had plenty of hot water and storage as well.
3. Dining. If you're expecting old, midwestern style supper club food, you'll be well-pleased with the main dining on the Serenade -- lots of steak, prime rib, duck, mashed potatoes, etc. It would have been nice to have some lighter and more modern options, but everyone found something they liked to eat every day and in some ways the traditional menu is the more exotic. We didn't eat at Chops or Giovannis, because the majority of those menu options were available in the MDR and so we didn't see the value. We did eat at Izumi for a birthday and were significantly underwhelmed -- if you're a big asian/sushi person, this may not be for you. (The mild case of food poisoning suffered by 2/5th of our party sure didn't help, either...)
4. Entertainment and activities. We loved the meet and mingle, the mystery/escape room, and trivia programs. My teenager loved the teen program, which had a great balance of hang-out time and organized activities. The kids program was more hit and miss. Our 7 year old loved the kids club and rarely wanted to be out of it. Our 11 year old (who is painfully shy) was bored and had a hard time communicating with the staff that he wanted to leave. Despite giving him the ability to sign out at will, the staff made a very big deal of him wanting to go, calling us every time. When that made him uncomfortable enough to cry and want to hide, we were yelled at for 10 minutes in public by the staff about how he/we would be written up for this. This definitely reduced everyone's happiness and trust in the Adventure Ocean staff, and I definitely wouldn't recommend planning on using that service if you have a kid who is shy, quirky, special needs or doesn't stand up for themselves well.
5. Service. Apart from the Adventure Ocean staff, everyone that we interacted with on board was lovely, kind, polite and very willing to go the extra mile to help us do whatever we were doing -- from the moment we arrived at port to the moment we got on our shuttle out, the customer service was flawless.
6. Ports and Shore Excursions. We booked the majority of our excursions independently for this trip, through Viator or other online services. This meant that we went to many of the same places as the cruise line excursions (since several of these ports were new-ish and are still developing their tourist infrastructure) but in groups of 5-8 rather than 50-80, which made all the difference. In Costa Rica we did the Torturgero Canals, which was far cooler than anticipated. In Panama we saw Fort San Lorenzo and the new locks -- in hindsight, we probably would have made the trek to the fancier and more developed locks closer to Panama City with the kids, because they would have gotten a better appreciation for the canal. In Cartagena we wandered around independently, and did a chocolate-making workshop, which was the best day of the cruise according to the kids. Aruba was the only port where we did a cruise-line excursion and it was a major let down; we were snorkeling and sites that were chosen had significant current, cold water, and were on the choppier side of the island, meaning that the snorkeling was really unsafe for adults and kids (several folks from our party needed to be rescued with life-preservers by the crew, who were fantastic). If we had it to do over again, we'd do the submarine excursion or stay on land in this port. Curacao was lovely and our second favorite port of the itinerary -- we took a private excursion to snorkel with sea turtles, which was a bucket-list dream come true, and then had a lovely wander through the old town.
We would definitely go again, and are looking at another cruise on the Serenade in Alaska for 2021.
This was booked as a "6-in-one" tour, but was basically a drive through the rainforest and a trip through the canals, and then a drive past a banana plantation out to a shopping site where the guide got a commission on what we bought. We liked the canals much more than we'd anticipated and got a bit of a flavor of Costa Rica, but I think in retrospect I would have preferred either the free walking tour of the city offered by their tourism group or a trip out to one of the animal sanctuaries -- too much time in the car, too little interaction with the country.View All 11 Best of Puerto Limon Reviews
We booked this independently through Viator, and had some trouble hooking up with our tour guide in the beginning. We visited Ft. San Lorenzo, which was lovely and very cool, and then the Gatun locks. The Gatun locks don't have much of an interactive visitor's center, just a film and an observation deck. As I said above, I think we probably would have preferred to go out to the Miraflores locks which are closer to Panama City but have more interactive things for kids... but then we would have lost out on exploring the pirate fort, which would have been a shameView All 108 Panama Canal Tour Reviews
This was by far our favorite port -- We explored independently, bought emeralds and learned to make chocolate at the Chocolate Museum, which was fascinating and so much fun!
Be aware that if you're planning on getting a taxi into town, you'll need to have cash before you leave the ship -- despite the enormous entertainment complex they've got set up, there is not a single ATM between the dock and downtown.
I had heard that snorkeling in Aruba was dodgy, and that was completely correct. This was a two-site snorkel, in Catalina Beach and at the wreck of the Antilla. Both sites had very, very strong current and were (in my opinion, as someone who grew up snorkeling around the world) were NOT safe choices for kids or beginners. While most folks did okay on the first snorkel, there was a lot of fighting the current and people who weren't strong swimmers or were with kids really had a lot of trouble. The wreck snorkel was absolutely not safe at all, and shouldn't have been attempted in the first place -- the crew had to dive in and pull 5-6 grown adults back to the boat due to the strong current they had to swim against. While we didn't have a great day and the wind and choppy water contributed to the problem, I wouldn't book this excursion unless everyone in your party is a strong swimmer and experienced snorkeling in tough conditions. I wish we'd chosen to do something else in Aruba.View All 185 Snorkeling Reviews
We chose an excursion up to Playa Piskador in order to snorkel with sea turtles. This was a bucket-list dream excursion for one of our kids, and was fantastic -- we saw 15 or so turtles of all sizes, and got great pictures. Absolutely a dream, great tour guide, and fantastic to see more of the island.View All 52 Snorkeling Reviews