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Age: 35


Number of Cruises: 7

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Serenade of the Seas

Sailing Date: December 9th, 2006

Itinerary: Southern Caribbean

This review is of the 12/09/06 sailing of Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas. This was our seventh cruise overall, our fifth with Royal Caribbean. We’re a thirty something couple with two kids, 5 and 3. This was a southern Caribbean itinerary, departing San Juan and visiting St. Thomas, St. Martin, Antigua, St. Lucia and Barbados. A long review follows – includes subtitles though, so you can jump to whatever part interests you if desired.

Overall: We continue to generally be very satisfied with Royal Caribbean and the overall value provided, particularly considering the kid’s programs. We were very impressed with the layout, amenities and finishes on Serenade of the Seas – better than any of the other Royal Caribbean boats we’ve been on, which includes the larger Adventure of the Seas. Public spaces seemed just a bit nicer and more spacious. A few minor complaints I’ll cover in a bit, but very nice overall.

The good: The Adventure Ocean kids programs remain the strength of Royal Caribbean and the main reason we keep coming back. Extremely educated and professional staff, well thought out and planned activities, we can hardly keep our kids away. We also enjoy the flexibility to let the kids have their fun (including while in port) and have some time to ourselves as well.

The not-so-great: We had some disappointment at Portofino (see dining comments below), but to the staff’s credit, they did a great job of following up and remedying the situation. A small annoyance in the photo gallery – they were advertising the custom photo Christmas cards which we were planning to purchase, even taking the time to get some samples made. As we were preparing to finalize the purchase, I asked about envelopes for one of the card sizes, as it was a bit of an odd size. I was told they ran out two weeks ago, and not only for that particular size card, but for all the cards they had. Still wondering at what point they were planning on telling us that……..needless to say, didn’t buy the Christmas cards. We were a little disappointed at a recent change to the wine policy in the dining room. Until very recently, Royal Caribbean allowed guests to bring their own wine into the dining room for a $12 corkage fee. We’ve done this in the past, as we can bring our favorite wines and it’s generally a little cheaper. Anyway, that policy is over. Changed about three weeks ago I understand – can no longer bring wine onboard. Again, to their credit, we complained that we booked under the old rules and no one told us of the change – so they did make an exception for us and applied the prior rules. Finally, I will admit to being mildly disappointed with the “platinum” member Crown and Anchor (their frequent flyer club) cruise benefits (after at least five completed cruise credits). This was our first cruise as platinum members, the coupon book they give you was only marginally better than the coupon book you get as “gold” members after 1 cruise. So, those were our only nits – no big deal really, and certainly nothing that ruins a vacation.

The stateroom: We had a category E1 Balcony cabin, 7516. Perhaps a little tight by most balcony cabin stateroom standards on comparable boats, but adequate. I’ve read some comments warning away from the 7th deck balcony staterooms because of the lifeboat deck canopy below. That only applies to the E3 category cabins in the middle. The ones fore and aft – clear view of the water below, and the balcony is about twice as big as most others. Of any of the standard balcony cabins on the boat, I’d recommend these.

Main Dining Room: Outstanding service, probably the best of any of our seven cruises yet. The whole team was on top of it the entire time. Food was standard Royal Caribbean fare – if you’ve ever been on a Royal Caribbean cruise before, their menus are more or less identical across the fleet, or at least the four different boats we’ve been on. Food is good quality, better than we eat at home, but I’d stop short of calling it five star dining – but Royal Caribbean is not priced at ultra gourmet rates either. In general, very happy with the main dining room experience.

Chops – This is the specialty dining steakhouse, $20 pp cover charge applies. The filet mignon was good, the service was on, very satisfied.

Portofino – This is the specialty dining Italian restaurant, same $20 pp cover charge. We did have some issues here. We arrived for a 6 pm reservation, was probably 6:45 before we even got an appetizer. Waiters often disappeared for extended periods of time. When the main course came, side dishes were cold. We repeatedly told the staff (starting at about 7:30) that we needed to be done by 9 pm in order to see our kids “Pirate Night” kid’s club performance. A little short of 9 pm, still no dessert or waiter in sight, we had to walk to the check-in desk and ask for our check. Tried to overcharge us for the wine, took a while to sort that out. Anyway, a general off night. BUT…….we did complain to guest relations, and they did refund our cover charges. The Portofino manager personally called to invite us back the next night (which was the last night, we wanted to go to the main dining room). Also, it did appear to me that we were an unfortunate exception – everyone else seemed to be getting their food fine (people that came well after us getting everything well before, etc). We’ve been to Portofino before on Adventure of the Seas, and loved it. I think we were just the “forgotten table” that particular night, and in my opinion, the exception, not the rule. Still, did make for a bit of a rough evening for us. If you are only planning on one specialty restaurant, my recommendation would definitely be for “Chops”.

Windjammer Café – This was by far the nicest Windjammer Café of any Royal Caribbean boat we’ve been on. Lots of granite, lots of space, very nice outdoor dining area. Very nice.

Seaview Café – An informal dining restaurant, similar to “Johnny Rockets” on some boats, but without the cover charge. Mostly sandwich fare, but very good, great setting, and I always prefer the “made to order food” in the smaller setting over most of the “gotta serve 1,000 meals at once” set-ups. We had lunch at Seaview whenever we could.

The ports:

St. Thomas – Probably our least favorite of any of the typical cruise ship ports. Taxis / transportation is expensive, shopping is overrated (St. Martin is cheaper). We stayed generally close to the ship, doing some souvenir shopping at Havensight Mall, immediately adjacent to the pier.

St. Maarten / Martin – Kids got dropped at Adventure Ocean (kid’s club), and as we usually do, headed for Orient Beach. Rented some chairs at Club Orient (yup, that’s the nude section) for $17 (two chairs and an umbrella), stripped down and soaked up the sun. Orient Beach is the nicest beach I know in the Caribbean, and enjoying it sans sandy swimsuit makes it that much nicer. Very relaxing, it’s definitely something we wouldn’t do at home, this is the moment when we truly feel like we’re on vacation. Good size crowd there too (there were five cruise ships in), and from the number of very white bodies we saw, think a fair amount of cruise ship passengers took the opportunity. A little bit younger crowd (mostly 30s of 40s) that day, instead of the 60s age group that has generally been the majority on prior visits. Very few “Baywatch” types though, if that’s the reason you’re going, you’re in for a disappointment.

Antigua – We have been to downtown Antigua before and didn’t particularly enjoy it, so instead got a cab ($15 each way for our party of four) to Hawksbill Resort, bought an all-inclusive ½ day pass for $40/ea. Very pleased with Hawksbill. Beautiful grounds, day pass included an excellent blue marlin lunch and unlimited alcohol. Four beaches, the last of which is clothing optional, which we again availed ourselves of. The couple we were with did not, and pretty sure they were satisfied with the other offerings of the resort. Anyway, if “visit a nude beach” is on your list of “things to do before you die”, you won’t get a less threatening opportunity than this. That beach is isolated and invisible from the rest of the resort – you don’t see it unless you’re there. It’s not popular or well known among cruise ship visitors, very doubtful you’d run into anyone you don’t want to. It’s a private resort, zero gawkers or lookie-lous. It’s “clothing optional” (no pressure to take anything off if you don’t want to or change your mind), not required nude as some designated au natural beaches at some all-inclusive resorts are. It’s a very big beach, people are very spread out, not densely packed at all. The section of the beach near the water (where people generally walk on the hard sand) is considerably lower than the upper section of the beach, not much visibility of anyone sunning above. In short, this is an excellent chance for a nude beach experience if you’ve ever thought you may want to try it. Even if you’re not interested in that, the rest of the resort is well worth the $40 for the ½ day pass.

St. Lucia- Rented a taxi and driver for the day, $140, un-metered. Probably could have bargained it down a little, but chose not to. Anyway, took the kids to see the volcano, the Pitons, a waterfall in a botanical garden, some other scenic stops along the way. In total, spent about 4½ hours touring, a decent value I thought for a private tour for four, particularly as compared to the cruise ship offerings for similar tours. The guys that offer this are readily available in the terminal.

Barbados – We did an excursion booked through with “Small Cats”, which sails a ~30’ catamaran, maximum passengers of 12. Simply put, this was AWESOME. Very reasonable rates (~$50 something for adults, ~$30 for kids), far cheaper than the mass market excursions on the larger catamarans (which can carry 100 or so) available through the cruise ship. It was just us, the family we were traveling with, and one other family. First stop was snorkeling on a sunken barge. Second stop was snorkeling at the sea turtle sanctuary. Incredible, sea turtles would come up to you, and all around you (they wanted to get fed, which some of the guides were doing). Our kids really lit up with this whole thing. The sailing itself was great too. Great sized boat, great experience. Unlimited drinks (soda, beer, alcohol, etc) also included. Probably the single best thing we did this trip. Definitely worth checking out.

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