Ship: Royal Caribbean International Serenade of the Seas
Dates: April 23, 2005 to May 7, 2005
Itinerary: San Juan, Puerto Rico - St. Thomas - St. Croix (brief stop for fueling) - Aruba - Panama Canal (cruising) - Fuerte Amador, Panama - Puntarenas, Costa Rica - Huatulco, Mexico - Acapulco, Mexico - Cabo San Lucas, Mexico - San Diego, California. 4264 nautical miles, 4907 statute miles.
Overall Evaluation: This review is intended for Cruise Critic readers and RCI staff. It is long and detailed so the summary is presented here. You can read the details of you wish.
The cruise was simply fabulous but somewhat uneven. While the ship is beautiful with exquisite amenities and a wonderful crew, the food in the Reflections Dining Room was somewhat disappointing and we found the cocktail and wine prices to be unreasonably high.
Otherwise, this Royal Caribbean cruise represents outstanding value and is highly recommended.
Embarkation: Went very smoothly. Porters at the Pan Am dock took our luggage from our cab and directed us to the check-in area. There were separate stations and queues for the different decks. An expediter redirected passengers to vacant stations. We checked in early, 1 PM for the 10 PM sailing. The Windjammer buffet was open for lunch. By the time we had lunch and a brief tour of the ship, our luggage was outside our cabin door at 3 PM. A great start to a great cruise.
The Day 1 Cruise Compass, the daily briefing, had a list of Cruise Highlights for the entire fourteen days - very handy.
Ship: I can add little to the previous reviews. It is simply beautiful. The dEcor and art are very tastefully done - each themed venue was gorgeously decorated: Solarium covered pool created as a slice of Bali art and culture; the Schooner Bar on an old sailing theme; the Safari Club with African and masculine motifs; the Centrum, extending from Deck 4 to Deck 11, is quite attractive yet fairly typical modern design.
The elevator layout is unusual but works better than we expected. The main elevators are amidships on the port (left when facing forward) side of the ship. The two interior elevators have a view of the Centrum; the four outside elevators have a view of the sea. There is an additional set of elevators forward and another reserved for crew aft.
There is another anomaly in the ship's layout - when the Windjammer Cafe is closed before 7 AM, there is no passage through to aft Decks 11 and 12. One must go up a deck and back down to watch the sunrise from aft. Coffee, tea, juice and pastries are available near the Windjammer Cafe on Deck 11 from 6 AM to 7 AM.
The jogging track on Deck 12 forward measures 6 laps to the mile, 4 laps to the kilometer. It circles the Shipshape gym with many and varied exercise machines and weights.
Public areas: Restrooms - They are large, elegantly decorated and spacious; however, the stalls in the ladies' rooms are quite small - hard to maneuver when in formal attire. Seats are well-worn, in some cases broken, and all should be replaced. The sinks are modern and attractive; however, they overhang the countertop. Water collects on the rim which gets on one's clothes while reaching for soap. The paper towels are generally across the room, not near the sinks. Pools: There are two saltwater pools for adults, one for children - the aforementioned enclosed, air conditioned Solarium with fresh water shower, the Main Pool and Kid's Pool Area. The two adult pools have shallow perimeters which are great for sitting and cooling off.
RCI has a policy forbidding reserving lounges in the pool areas. Their signs in two languages state the rules and are consistently ignored in two languages. At any time on sea days, only about ¼ of the lounges are occupied by people. All of the rest, ALL of the rest, are productively occupied by towels and/or paperback books. There is no enforcement of the policy. I saw one couple reserving FOUR lounges - two in the sun and two in the shade. So if you want a lounge after about 9 AM on sea days, you had better go to the pool and reserve one, just like everyone else.
A cruiser's secret - there is a secret hideaway for sunbathing behind the Vortex Disco on Deck 13 with plenty of un-reserved lounges. Check it out. The lifeboat deck, Deck 5, also has lounges and sea views.
Cabin: Larger Stateroom, Category H, Deck 3, aft of mid-ships. Our outside cabin of 170 square feet was well appointed with a 1.5 meter diameter porthole/window - cozy, clean and quiet.
The bathroom was also cozy. The usually bothersome shower curtain has been replaced by molded plastic doors enclosing a circular shower of about 1.0 meter diameter - small but tolerable. We missed the terry robes offered on other cruise lines.
Our cabin attendant, Marvis, was just "marvelous" keeping the cabin spotless, made-up and always ready with ice.
Even though we were located rather far aft, there was no sound or vibration from the propulsion system. The Serenade uses gas turbine (jet) engines to power the generators that power the ship and propulsion system. Very quiet with no smoke.
Dining: Windjammer Cafe - Located on Deck 11 Aft, the buffet style restaurant has individual serving kiosks with two of every dish and very little waiting.
In addition to the buffet lines, at breakfast there are two omelet stations. At lunch there are stations offering pizza, pasta, Mexican food, salads and other dishes.
Desserts are given their own two stations.
At lunch the food is quite good with a large number of choices. The salad bar is especially good. There are always one or more fish dishes, a pasta station and Mexican selection - tacos, quesadillas, and fajitas rotate.
A new innovation, for us at least, is the substitution of large oval plastic plates for trays.
The downside includes fairly slow table clearing and a lack of self-serve coffee and tea, instead offered at one or two bars. Also at these bars are trays of pre-filled ice tea, juices and ice water. This avoids lines for these beverages but self-serve coffee would be even more efficient.
The Seaview Grill - Located on Deck 12, outside and aft, features cooked-to-order grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, pizza, pasta, sandwiches, onion rings and fish and chips. Orders are placed at the entrance and delivered to one's table. There is also a small bar. The onion rings are especially good. Inside seating is limited although there are many tables outside. There is no extra charge for the Seaview Grill.
The last day of the cruise, there was a poolside bbq with beef and pork ribs, chicken, corn on the cob and potato and macaroni salads.
Dining: Reflections Dining Room - The main dining room is two-level, beautifully decorated and furnished with ample space between tables. The best feature of our evening meals there was our table crew, waiter Chris and assistant waiter Ruben - they are a terrific team, happy, efficient, informative and pleasant to be with. At the end of the cruise we over-tipped with gusto. We even gave them the maitre d's tip.
The menu offers appetizers, soups, salads and main courses. Early courses are good, salads fresh but not outstanding. An occasional seafood appetizer offers some variety. Main courses are varied with a good selection of fish, seafood and vegetarian dishes. There are always a set of optional dishes offered - steak, fish and vegetarian. The steak with herb butter is a good choice.
Food quality is adequate. We understand that RCI is a mid-range cruise line. A continual shortcoming is that the dishes usually are not served hot enough.
The dessert menu is offered after dinner along with a variety of ice cream. Good coffee is served promptly.
Wine service by Ruben (there are no wine stewards) is fast and efficient. White wines are kept well chilled. Hint: Be careful when ordering older, expensive red wines as the ship's storage is less than ideal.
At the end of the meal ever-supportive Chris previews the next night's menu highlights. The menu is posted at the dining room entrance every afternoon.
Tony's Toast - After a few nights, the maitre d' made an appearance at our table to ingratiate himself and establish a link between tips and his face. He asked for comments on the dining so far and our tablemate Tony let him have it - Why is there never sufficient toast in the Windjammer Cafe during breakfast? When the Cafe is the least bit busy there is no toast. The maitre d' promised to look into ti and Lo!, the next evening Tony reported that the toast situation had been rectified and was entirely satisfactory in all respects.
Lobster night was so-so. And gratefully, there was no Baked Alaska Parade! Baked Alaska was on one dessert menu.
The Grande Buffet was beautiful; we missed the Chocolate Buffet - even we have limits.
Dining: Portofino Speciality Dining - A excellent five-course meal served with outstanding attention and friendliness, well worth the $ 20 per person surcharge. Among the dishes we enjoyed were: for aperitifs, roasted garlic, and assortment of breads, tapenade of fresh tomato (bruschetta), another of mushroom patE and still another of olive and anchovies; antipasti of Prawn Risotto and Goat Cheese Souffle; Cream of Asparagus soup; Pear and Gorgonzola Salad; pasta of Pappardelle with Roasted Mushrooms in Mascarpone Cream Sauce and Spaghettini with Lobster Chunks; entrees of Filet of Halibut and Veal Medallions with Proscuitto. We were too full to enjoy one of the artistically styled desserts. All in all a grand dining experience.
Each course has three to five choices. The menu doesn't change during the cruise.
Bars: As with wines in the dining rooms, all drink prices in the bars have been increased recently - but RCI's are eye-popping. Wines are priced at about three to four times retail. An example, Korbel Brut Champagne, $ 9.99 retail, always $ 7.99 at stores, goes for $ 29.00. Caliterra Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, $ 8 retail, $ 22.60 with the discount program mentioned below.
A discount program is available, Wine and Dine packages. Diamond, Platinum and Gold packages offer discounts up to 25% on 5, 7, 10 and 12 bottle packages. If you generally have wine with dinner, we recommend this option.
The Champagne Bar on Deck 6 offers a variety of expensive champagnes, caviar and regular bar service. The hot canapEs are the feature here.
Besides the grand view, the Vortex Disco on Deck 13, becomes a Martini bar from 5 PM to 8 PM every night with modest discounts on specialty Martinis as well as regular bar service. The Bar Manager, John Bragg, claims he invented the ship's Chocolate Martini. Regardless, it is very good. Mixed nuts are offered.
The Schooner Bar, with the excellent Paul Stapleton of Ireland at the piano, is a fine place to await the 830 PM late dinner seating or dinner at one of the specialty restaurants. Friendly bartenders and peanuts.
Entertainment: The Tropical Theater on Decks 5 and 6 is a beautiful three-tier theater with perfect sight lines, comfortable seats and outstanding technical facilities. RCI is known for its entertainment and on this cruise they delivered. We didn't attend all of the shows, but these stand out in our memory:
The eight Royal Caribbean Dancers and the four Royal Caribbean Singers put on two great shows during the two week cruise. In addition, the singers gave a fine concert in the Centrum along with members of the Serenade of the Seas Orchestra.
Tian Jiang, a classically trained pianist put on a terrific show with the Serenade of the Seas Orchestra. The next day he gave a brief recital of Debussy, Beethoven and Chopin.
The now 83-year old Marty Allen and wife Katie Blackwell gave a fun performance.
A special Mexican Folklorico Festival with local artists from Acapulco was a special surprise treat.
The Caribbean-Reggae band, Hott Sands was excellent. The four-piece pop band Horizon was good and offered dancing under the stars at the Main Pool once during the cruise. We would have enjoyed more.
Activities and Programs: There are a variety of activities and programs each day, but they seemed sparse on sea days - arts and crafts classes, destination lectures, gardening lectures and an occasional cooking demonstration.
Public address announcements highlighted those involving additional revenue: the casino, bingo, Centrum Shops, art auction, etc.
Tours: We handled our own on-shore tours in order to save. But on Aruba we enjoyed a snorkel catamaran and lunch cruise booked through the ship.
The Los Arcos / Land's End tour on Cabo San Lucas was inexpensive and memorable. One can book from numerous kiosks on the cruise pier.
Personnel Uniformly excellent. The crew was perhaps the best feature of the cruise - hardworking, enthusiastic, fun to be around. The staff in the restaurants were friendly, funny, efficient, obviously well-trained. .
The Cruise Director, Tim Seivert, stumbled when introducing Tian Jiang with several vulgar and un-funny jokes. He recovered somewhat with a very effective hosting of the Love and Marriage Game Show, plus appearing in a great short film shown late in the cruise.
He and the uniformly excellent Assistant Cruise Directors need to learn to speak more slowly - there are many guests without English as a first language. Even we had difficulty understanding their announcements.
There was an atmosphere of friendliness, camaraderie and cooperation among the crew, from the officers to the bus boys, that I have never seen on a cruise ship.
Debarkation Colored luggage tags are distributed the night before debarkation, bags are placed outside one's cabin before 11 PM and will be found ashore. The morning of debarkation, passengers are directed to public rooms to await the announcement of their colors. It went very smoothly.
There is a separate area in the Illusions dining room for Crown and Anchor Society Platinum and Diamond members. Coffee, tea, juice and pastries are provided.
Other Crown and Anchor Society - The Society hosted two events for Crown and Anchor Society frequent cruisers: a cocktail reception to meet the Captain and officers in the Safari Club and a Sunday Brunch there also. Both events were enjoyable and well attended.
The cocktail reception offered champagne, rum punch, non-alcoholic drinks and canapEs. I noticed a few guests order bar drinks. The Cruise Director and Captain gave short, enjoyable presentations.
The Sunday Brunch for Platinum and Diamond members, offered iced shrimp with two sauces, canapEs, desserts along with Bloody Marys, Mimosas, champagne and non-alcoholic drinks. Again, I noticed a few guests order bar drinks.
We also received two Platinum Ultimate Value Booklets offering savings such as 15% spa discount, complimentary wine tasting seminar, two for one photograph, 10% gift shop discount, one free beer, wine or soft drink and $ 7.50 Internet credit (15 minutes).
Printed news summaries from the U.S., Britain, Canada, Germany and Latin America are available at 11 AM.
Library - There is a small library on board, with a motley assortment of books.
Internet Access - There are numerous Internet-connected PCs around the ship. Internet access is available for $ 0.50 per minute. An unfortunate feature is that the RCI software devotes one-third of the screen to ads and promotions. Other PC services - Microsoft Office, printing, etc. - are available at equally outrageous rates. If you want Internet access and/or e-mail, find an Internet cafe ashore - there are plenty. Performance is less than DSL.
Internet access is also available from cabins via an Ethernet connection to your own PC. The charge is $ 15.00 per day.
Photographers are obnoxiously omnipresent. Leaving the ship is like running a gauntlet of flashing cameras.
There were no computer or digital photography lectures or workshops.
There were very few children on the ship - reflecting the good advice to book longer cruises outside of holidays to avoid them.
Smoking was confined to the starboard side of the Main Pool area, the Schooner Bar, the Hollywood Odyssey which is the "cigar bar" and the starboard/aft corner of the Vortex Disco. Smoking is not a problem for non-smokers but there were no announcements or publicity regarding smoking policy.
Tendering to the three ports where it was required - Fuerte Amador, Acapulco and Cabo San Lucas - generally went well in calm waters. At Cabo, the crush of tours leaving at 11 AM caused delays of over an hour for others.
Recommendations: 1. Add self-service coffee stations to the Windjammer Cafe.
2. Provide a ship layout brochure with locations of the amenities, rooms and cabins.
3. A dance band concert by the Serenade of the Seas Orchestra in the Safari Room would have been heaven.
4. More dancing under the stars at the Main Pool.
5. While we recognize that RCI doesn't have total control of departure and arrival times, our stay in Cabo San Lucas was far too short, 930 AM to 4 PM. We left Acapulco at 8 PM - an earlier departure would have afforded more time in Cabo. We also spent many hours circling near San Diego after leaving Cabo - we should have been able to leave much later. Read Less