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Janet and Ray Zegarski

Age: n/a

Occupation:Retired

Number of Cruises: 21

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Serenade of the Seas

Sailing Date: August 4th, 2003

Itinerary: Maiden Voyage - Transatlantic

This was our twenty-first cruise together, with four prior cruises between us. This was our second time cruising with Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (RCCL), and found it an improvement over our previous RCCL experience. We would like to share some of our impressions with you. We will start with statistics about the ship, then move on to pre-cruise information and the Embarkation. This will be followed by brief descriptions of the public areas of the ship and then our impressions of the: Dining; Entertainment; Service; overall cruise experience of the Serenade OTS’s Maiden Voyage.

Ship Statistics: The Serenade of the Seas was built in the Meyer Werft Shipyards in Pappenburg, Germany. RCCL took possession (assumed ownership) of the ship on July 28, 2003, much earlier than the previously announced date of late autumn of this year. The ship has a Gross Tonnage of 90,090 tons; is 962 feet long; has a beam of 105.6 feet; a draft of 26.7 feet; a cruising speed of 25 knots. The ship has a listed Passenger capacity of 2,501; on our sailing there were reported to be just under 2,000 passengers, plus a number of dignitaries and members of various sub-contracting firms that were also on board, seeing to last minute adjustments and details.

Pre Pre-Cruise: There was a news/chat thread on the Cruise Critic Bulletin Boards concerning this cruise. Starting in April and up to the end of July, there were well over two thousand postings concerning this voyage. By the time we were leaving for the cruise, we felt that we had many "old friends" that we were anxious to meet for the first time.

Pre-Cruise August 1 to 4, 2003: Since this trip required one-way airfare to Amsterdam, we opted to use RCCL’s air transportation package, their bulk buying leverage resulted in a lower fare than we could obtain on our own. Using RCCL’s package also included transfers from airport to hotel, from hotel to ship, and ship to airport. We opted for a two night pre-cruise stay in Amsterdam, and in retrospect wish we had elected to stay longer. Arrival in Amsterdam was early in the morning and the trip through immigration and customs was merely a formality. After we picked up our luggage, and adjusted to a small misunderstanding as to where to meet our driver we were on our way to the hotel. It was a quick trip due to the fact that it was early Saturday morning and traffic was very light. At the hotel we registered but, because of the early hour, our rooms were not yet available; the concierge arranged for secure storage while we set about to explore the city. We found Amsterdam a very interesting city, albeit dirty and litter strewn in its Central Area. It is a very walkable city and we covered a good portion of in on foot during our stay. We had also pre-arranged a tour to see some windmills, and the villages of Volendam and Marken via an independent tour provider. A group (about 50) of us from the Cruise Critic thread had made arrangements to meet on Sunday evening for a wine and cheese canal boat cruise around the city, at which everyone had a wonderful time. A bit of advice about money in Amsterdam ... most stores, restaurants, and such, do not accept US dollars, only Euros, many will accept credit cards. It is a good idea to obtain some Euros prior to your trip and/or make sure your credit/ATM card is compatible with the European systems (check with card issuer). Also, keep in mind that most money changing establishments at the airport do not usually offer a very favorable exchange rate.

Embarkation: The air transportation package we purchased from RCCL included transfer from the hotel to the ship. We were instructed to leave our luggage outside our rooms when we checked out by 11:00 AM; the luggage would then be transported to the ship by truck and delivered to our staterooms onboard. We were transported to the ship by bus. The bus ride from hotel to ship was about 10 minutes (one could probably walk it in the same amount of time). From the time we left the bus until we were on the ship, including ship’s photographer stop, and posing for SeaPass photos, was less than twenty minutes, one of the smoothest embarkation processes we’ve ever encountered. Enthusiasm was quickly tempered by some minor disappointment. We were met just as we boarded, and told that we would find the elevators around the corner. We really missed the classy touch, provided by other cruise lines, of having someone escort you to your stateroom. Another disappointment was not finding the small pocket sized ship’s layout schematics available to help one find their way about the ship. There are ship diagrams at the elevator landings, but a pocket sized one would be much more convenient. Lunch was being served in the Windjammer Restaurant; this venue seemed crowded, despite not all the passengers yet on board (more about this later). After lunch we explored the ship and met up with some Internet friends that we knew were aboard. We returned to our cabin to get our life jackets for the Emergency Muster Drill, and found that our luggage was already in our cabin. From what we saw, the muster drill was efficiently conducted, and was mercifully short. After the drill , we continued our exploration of the ship until sail-away. The Captain announced that our departure would be delayed some, since one of the crew members needed to be evacuated to a hospital in Amsterdam. Once under way, we were escorted through the harbor by a fire boat spouting plumes of water. Just prior to our late seating dinner, the ship passed through a lock system leaving the North Sea Canal and entering the North Sea. While passing through the lock, there were hundreds, some say thousands, of people lining the banks to glimpse this magnificent ship and to bid us "Bon Voyage". After dinner, we eschewed the "Welcome Aboard" show and chose to visit the various lounges to find "our place" to hang out.

Cabin 3056 (Category H): This cabin is located on Deck 3, next to lowest passenger deck, midship, on the port side, conveniently between the two sets of elevators, somewhat nearer the Centrum. This proved to be a very convenient location. I think if we had encountered any severe weather, this location would have provided a smoother ride than those further forward or aft, or on much higher decks. It was also much less expensive. Many passengers we talked with, who opted for cabins with verandahs, said they were unable to use the verandahs most of the time due to the weather conditions. The cabin measures about 170 sq. ft. Which was more than adequate at most times. The only exception that comes to mind is when we were both dressing for dinner at the same time and had to do the "closet tango". The design of this class of ships has round windows in this category, and we find the "squarish" picture windows, which are usually larger, more appealing, but this is a minor point. Closet and/or drawer space was more than sufficient even for those of us that are "complete" packers. No, there is not space for the kitchen sink, but all your clothes should fit without difficulty. The bathroom is cruise ship friendly, but does allow for turning around without touching anything. A nice innovation is the shower curtain has been replaced by two semi-circular sliding doors that keep the water in the shower and provide more space without dealing with a "friendly" curtain. Those of us that are super-sized appreciate this. There is a programmable safe in one of the cabinets and a "real" hair dryer is provided in each cabin. Lighting can be controlled from the cabin doorway, or from bed whether in twin or queen size configuration. Reading lights are adjustable and are non intrusive, nor likely to cause bumps to the head. Mechanically, everything worked as expected, after one small adjustment to the vanity drain in the bathroom. This was corrected within a very reasonable time after being reported to the Guest Relations Department. The cabin was very quiet, with no noises discernible from adjoining cabins, nor the hallway.

Tuesday August 5, 2003 to Sunday August 10, 2003 (At Sea): Since this was a cruise consisting of all sea days, We will not list each separately. Each day there was a range of activities that would seem able to accommodate each passenger’s taste. Of course if one chose to do nothing at all, that too was an option. After the first day at sea (Tuesday), the weather, mostly windy and cloudy, played a significant role in scheduling outdoor activities. A few of the days the fog was so thick that visibility was less than 500 feet, less than one-half the length of the ship. We found out that the ship’s fog horn worked very well. On Wednesday afternoon, I was firmly asked, by security officers, to vacate the walking/jogging track on Deck 12, due to the heavy wind conditions. The deck chairs had already been stacked and tied down.

Public Rooms:
· Medical facility (Forward, Deck 2):
Fortunately, we did not have any reason to visit this area of the ship.

· Centrum/Atrium (Midship, Decks 4-11): This was a focal point of the ship that many passengers used as a meeting place. Many public areas are adjacent to portions of the Centrum.

· Royal Caribbean online (Centrum, Decks 4, 5, and 7): RCCL made Internet connection easy, if not inexpensive. There were three locations where Royal Caribbean on line terminals were available, plus each stateroom also allowed for direct Internet connection, with varying pricing options.

· Guest Relations/Purser (Centrum, Deck 4): As is usual, this was a busy area; the representatives staffing this area seemed very pleasant, knowledgeable and accommodating.

· Explorations/Excursion Desk (Centrum, Deck 4): This area saw very little action due to the itinerary of this cruise.

· Lobby Bar (Centrum, Deck 4): This is a very busy venue. Besides the activity of the Guest relations Desk, there was often a musical group playing here. Because of the design of the ship, music from this bar area could be easily enjoyed on all levels of the Centrum. This was also the scene for the many Art Auctions. Whether or not the Auctions were enjoyed is very individual-dependent.

· Reflections Dining Room (aft, Decks 4 and 5): Very comfortable feeling dining room with soothing color scheme. Large windows provide many sea views. There are very few tables for two; if that is important to you make sure your travel agent emphasizes this request on your reservation. You should also confirm this with the Maitre d’ immediately upon boarding the ship. On the Deck 5 balcony, where our table was located, five waiters had to share one serving station; one operated from two collapsible tray stands. This appeared to be a real difficulty for the waitstaff, but they coped admirably. The carpeting and draperies did an excellent job absorbing noise so that table conversations were easy.

· Latte-tudes (Centrum, Deck 5): Coffee/espresso bar, also providing snacks. There were additional Royal Caribbean on line terminals located here, as mentioned earlier. This is also where passengers could pick up copies of the New York Time fax (in various languages).

· Shops On Board (Midship, Deck 5): Normal selection of Logo wear, Resort wear, Perfume, Sundries, Liquor, Jewelry, and also a Tuxedo Rental shop. One interesting change is that instead of the frequently seen "sidewalk sales", there is an island of vendor stations incorporated into the ship’s design that allows for a less impeded passenger flow. Prices seemed typical of shops aboard cruise ships. One peculiarity was that there was no merchandise commemorating the Maiden Voyage. Most merchandise promoted the, then, still upcoming New England cruises.

· Conference Center (Midship/Forward, Deck 5, port): Two conference rooms that were set up with chairs (with collapsing writing arms) arranged in a theater style configuration. These were used for Digital Photography seminars on this cruise. One of these rooms was also used by Customs officials to meet with those passengers who exceeded their duty free amounts.

· Art/Photo Galleries (Midship/Forward, Deck 5, starboard): Typical cruise ship photo gallery, with the added feature of interspersed pieces of art (both ship’s collection and auction items). There is also a shop selling 35 mm and digital cameras and related items as well as the normal film and disposable cameras.

· Tropical Theatre (Forward, Decks 5 and 6): Probably the most striking aspect of this room is the Proscenium Curtain representing a tropical rain forest canopy. This venue is primarily a theater, not merely another multi-purpose room. All the seats are fixed in place facing the stage, with the floor sloped downward from the rear toward the stage. This provides good sight lines from all but a few areas (as far as we could tell). There is a very large stage, with fore and aft sections that can be raised above stage level, or lowered below stage level, allowing for greater artistic interpretations. Sound levels and special effects are well presented. One peculiar aspect of the lighting is that the spotlights can only be directed to the stage and first few rows of seats. If performers leave the stage and go beyond the third row, they are in the dark, unless house lights are brought up. Overall, this an excellent entertainment venue. This was also the home to B-I-N-G-O!!!!

· Safari Club (Aft, Deck 6): Very beautiful and cozy area. RCCL considers this five venues in one. The Safari Club is the largest area having a stage used by musicians, a dance floor, and seating. Beverages are supplied by the adjacent, but supposedly separate, Colony Bar; opposite the stage there is the Zanzibar Lounge. The Serengeti Card Club is, as the name implies, the card room; there are also a nice number of various board games available here, twenty-four hours a day, on the honor system. The Game Reserve, at the entrance to the Safari Club, on starboard side, is the location of the innovative self-leveling pool/billiard tables. These are attached to gyroscopes that detect ship movement and automatically compensate to keep the playing surface level; quite an interesting experience. These tables are reserved for passengers age 18 and older, except for some limited posted times for younger guests.

· Schooner Bar (Midship/Aft, Deck 6 starboard): This popular venue runs along the starboard side of the ship from the Centrum area to the Safari Club, with separate clusters of seating spaced along the way. On some afternoons and each evening, prior to each dinner seating, there was music provided by either Rico Ribeiro, a talented Latin Guitarist, or Denny Phelps, an engaging Piano Entertainer. Both of these artists also played the after dinner sessions during the week, on an alternating schedule. One interesting aspect of the Schooner Bar was that the Daily Compass listed it as having Martini Hours (1700-2030) each day, but the bar menus did not list martini selections. When we asked for Citron Martinis, we had to explain how to make them. We thought this strange. Despite the lounge’s size and popularity, the noise level never seemed to interfere with one’s ability to listen to the music, or carry on an easy conversation. The end of the bar Forward on the ship is where one will find the entrance to Chops Grille Steakhouse; at the end of the bar Aft on the ship , the entrance to Portofino (more about these later, under Dining).

· Champagne Bar (Centrum, Deck 6): Surprisingly, this area only seemed to be well populated during the pre-dinner periods, despite being open from 1600 to 0100 each day. This is also the only venue where we saw hors d’oeuvres (shrimp and caviar) being served; this was on the first Formal Evening, we are not sure about other evenings.

· Casino Royale (Midship/Forward, Deck 6): Active venue most times; as is usual, there were many more losers than winners. Basic cruise ship table games and large number of slot machines. At various times during the cruise there were Blackjack and Slots Tournaments held here. Hours of operation typically were 0900 (slots) 1000 (tables) until late.

· Pit Stop Sports Bar (Midship/Forward, Deck 6): This smallish area never seemed to be very active, despite being situated next to the casino. Bar was open from 1600 to 2300, with the many TV monitors going 24/7. There was a larger size screen on each side of the lounge which was showing sports related films (like The Natural or Tin Cup) but for some reason, the sound was turned off. The smaller screens were showing various sporting events (mostly soccer/football and golf), but it was not readily discernible if they were current or filmed events.

· Cinema (Forward of the Pit Stop, Deck 6); Very popular venue, perhaps because of itinerary and/or weather. This area is not very large and passengers were often sitting on the steps due to lack of available seats. The seating is of the popular, and functional, stadium variety; the films were of fairly recent release vintage. Alas, there is no popcorn to be had, a la Holland America Line.

· Business Center (Centrum, Deck 7): Area where one could have faxes sent, documents printed, copies made during posted hours of operation. This was also another venue for Royal Caribbean on line terminals. Other than some sporadic Internet usage, this area seemed to be used primarily by passengers sitting and reading.

· Explorers Court (Centrum, Deck 8): We are not sure what the rationale is for this map and globe (earth and planetary) theme area. The only thing we noticed it being used as was a sitting area for passengers.

· Library (Centrum, Deck 9): This Library is small, and does not include any reading area. Selection/variety of reading material is adequate. Check-out and return is based on honor system, hence the hours of operation are 24/7. There are some posted hours where an attendant is on duty; we are not sure what additional services they might provide, We were never there when attendant was.

· Yacht Club (Centrum, Deck 10): Like the Explorers Court, it is not clear what is the reason for this area . As its name implies, it has a nautical theme and is tastefully done, but to what end?

· Concierge Club (Centrum, Deck 10): This venue is reserved for passengers booked in Category C, and higher (Suites). Entrance is gained by using your especially coded SeaPass card. Besides the reserved area, offerings are complimentary coffee, juice, tea, soda (maybe) and some snacks. Since we were not booked into a suite, this is second-hand knowledge. The size of this venue on the Serenade OTS was expanded beyond that on the Radiance OTS and the Brilliance OTS, supposedly to alleviate crowding.

· Pool (Midship, Deck 11): The pool seemed small for the number of passengers, especially on an itinerary of all sea days, even with less than optimal pool weather. The two adjacent whirlpools seemed to be more populated with kids and teens than adults. One of the "kinks" that needed to be worked out during the cruise was that the whirlpools only ran for about 1-3 minutes before needing to be restarted. There were people trying to resolve this issue all week, The whirlpools were usable during almost all of this time, with the minor annoyance of pushing the button. This should be life’s worst problem. Pools are open 24/7, except for late night cleanings. Also an interesting statue of a man with life preserver is located in this area.

· Solarium (Midship/Forward, Deck 11): Pool area with retractable roof design; also has a whirlpool. The Solarium is supposedly adults only, with limited posted family times when children are allowed, if accompanied by an adult. This policy was not very well enforced, perhaps due to the "less than ideal" outside weather. The number of chaise lounges within the Solarium is woefully inadequate for the number of passengers this ship carries. This leads to wide spread "saving", despite a well advertised policy against "saving". Within the Solarium there is a bar and a pizza/snack area, and some tables and chairs. The theme for this area is Balinese with lush greenery and waterfalls. This appeals to a number of passengers, but Ray finds it too reminiscent of a "hot house". One of his relishes of a sea voyage is the open air, even when the sky may be overcast. Our guess is that is one reason that cruise lines provide different options.

· Ship Shape Spa (Forward, Deck 11): Typical Spa/Beauty Shop offerings, plus a number of offerings specifically for couples, i.e. Rasul (therapeutic mud) Treatment for two; Thermal suites for couples; Couples Massages. There are complimentary steam rooms and saunas for men and women. Periodic Health/Fitness seminars are offered, free of charge, with an invitation for personal consultations (not free).

· Golf Simulators (Aft, Deck 12): There are two simulators where you hit your golf shots at a projection screen and the result is determined by a computer. These seemed to receive quite a bit of use. One passenger brought his entire set of clubs and bag and shoes. That is one serious golfer.

· Country Club (Aft Deck 12, port): This is the place to check out sports equipment (Ping-Pong balls/paddles, Shuffleboard poles/disks, volleyballs, basketballs soccer balls, rock climbing gear, etc.). This is also the location of the Shuffleboard courts.

· Sports Court (Midship/Aft, Deck 12, port): This area is surrounded by netting to keep volleyballs, soccer balls, basketballs from going overboard. This area was used for various competitions/activities, as well as general passenger usage.

· Adventure Beach ( Midship/Aft, Deck 12, starboard): Here is where you will find separate pools for toddlers, small children, teens; it is also the location of the water-slide.

· Adventure Ocean (Midship/Aft, Deck 12): This is the center of pre-teen kid’s programs. Included here are: games; computers; area for arts and crafts; a stage for plays; books and an area for story telling. This is a large well laid out area designed for multiple uses, without interfering with the other activities. From all reports, the staff in this area did a magnificent job.

· Ocean Arcade (Midship/Aft, Deck 12, starboard): Arcades seem well on their way to becoming the children’s version of casinos on cruise ships. This one is no exception; it always seemed to be well populated. It contained a large variety of driving/riding experiences, some shooting scenarios, etc. There was also an air hockey game.

· Fuel (Midship/Aft, Deck 12, starboard); This is the teen club, complete with bar (non-alcoholic mocktails, juice, sodas, etc. There is also a DJ booth and dance floor, some computer terminals, a Foosball game and cards and some board games. Most of this is second hand information since this area was kept pretty much "Teens Only". I did wander by while waiting to disembark. There seemed to be quite a bit of traffic in and out of Fuel.

· Crown & Anchor Lounge (Centrum, Deck 12): The Loyalty Ambassador holds forth in this area to meet with passengers to discuss/book future cruises. On our cruise, Gabriella was the Loyalty Ambassador and was kept quite busy; she had a gentleman assisting her at times, but he seemed without a clue about the program and RCCL’s future cruises. Besides office space for the Loyalty Ambassador, there are chairs and sofa in this lounge, but on our cruise most of them were obstructed by a hanging display of paintings, There was also a large projection TV screen set up in the lounge that showed a man continually ballroom dancing, without a partner. This went on all week and was billed as part of an artistic exhibit. One interesting feature of this lounge is in the center of the room, where there is a raised circular area (about bench height) that is actually a window looking directly down the center of the Centrum, all nine decks!

· Ship Shape Fitness Center (Forward, Deck 12): This is a large well equipped gym, open from 0600 to 2200. This area was well populated most of the time, but probably because of an itinerary of all sea days, the early morning hours were not usually jammed full. It appears that passengers seemed to spread their exercise/gym time throughout the day. There is a direct internal stairway from the gym to the area of the steam rooms and saunas in the Spa on deck 11.

· Jogging Track (Encircling Deck 12 exterior): If our collective memories are correct, five times around the jogging track equals one mile; check the plaque for exact information. The surface of impact dampening material takes some of the strain out of jogging into some fairly strong winds, and the all weather surface also adds to the safety. However, despite these characteristics, weather conditions, on some of the days of our cruise, precluded use of the exterior portions of Decks 12 and 13, including the jogging track.

· Putting Green/Miniature Golf (Aft, Deck 13): Interesting little area (nine holes), with some moderate challenges. Open 24/7 and is pretty well protected from the wind. Check out the whimsical statue of a man walking a dog.

· Rock Climbing Wall (Midship/Aft, Deck 13): The adverse weather conditions for part of our cruise limited the opportunity for passengers to utilize this very popular activity base. Those that did have the opportunity universally rated it "A blast!" There were instruction periods listed each day in the Compass, but they were always "weather permitting".

· Viking Crown Lounge (Midship/Aft, Deck 13): The design of this large area actually allows for simultaneous, non-interfering usage of three different sections. Much of this room offers spectacular sea views from large floor to ceiling windows. One portion of this lounge is called Vortex and is used as a late night dance club. Vortex is separated from the remainder of the lounge by a rotating bar area. Beyond the bar there is another dance floor and seating area. Early in the cruise, some passengers asked about a quiet area, where there is limited foot traffic and no background music, that would be conducive to reading/relaxing (snoozing??), quiet conversation. The Viking Crown Lounge was designated "The Quiet Zone" from 0800 to 1600 each day. This proved to be such a popular innovation that the Cruise Director Ken Rush said that he was going to recommend it for use on other ships in the fleet.

· Hollywood Odyssey (Midship/Aft, Deck 13, port): This smaller lounge, decorated with motion picture memorabilia, was used as the cigar bar each night from 2200 to 0100) and, unfortunately for those who cannot tolerate cigar smoke, was also a venue for some late jazz sets, mostly impromptu, I think. I do not recall ever seeing them scheduled; sometimes you just have to be there.

Dining:
· Reflections Restaurant: We were seated at a table for six on the upper level of the dining room. Two of our scheduled tablemates were part of the 140, or so, passengers that missed the ship in Amsterdam. Hence, we were a table of four. The table was located window-side which allowed us to watch the sun set during our late seating dinners, when we were not in a fog bank. The dinner menus were limited in variety, however, each night providing at least a meat entree, a fish entree, a chicken entree. The main element of variety seemed to be a different sauce over the entree. The meat was mainly beef, very little in the way of pork, lamb, or veal offered. There was also the "opt out" section on the menu; each night there was always available: a Caesar Salad; a ranch Steak; a fish dish (the fish varied, sometime the same as the entree). Everything that we had ordered was "OK", nothing was memorable either in taste nor presentation. Someone compared it to a mid-ranged priced banquet offering; that seems to fit. For breakfast and lunch, the dining room offers "open seating"; as you arrive at the dining room, you are escorted to a table that has space. Once the table is full, the orders are taken (more on this later, under service). Only the lower portion of the dining room is used for breakfast and lunch. The breakfast menu was the same all week. Everything on the breakfast and lunch menus was also available in the Windjammer Cafe, usually with additional items available in the Windjammer. One exception may be Eggs Benedict not being offered in the Windjammer; we did not see them when we ate breakfast there. We ate most of our breakfasts and lunches in the Reflections Dining Room.

· Windjammer Cafe: On those occasions when we did not eat in the Reflections Dining Room, we usually ate in the Windjammer Cafe. Seating in the Windjammer, on the occasions we did eat there, was difficult to come by. Some of this may well have been due to the poor weather conditions discouraging passengers from utilizing the outside tables. The layout of the Windjammer is that food serving areas are grouped in various stations: hot buffet; cold buffet; deli; fruits/salads; beverages; breads/rolls; desserts; soup/sandwiches. Some items may show up at more than one station. This design keeps lines to a minimum, but may require multiple trips for a full variety. There are no trays available; food is placed on large oval platters (approximately 12x8 inches). The best plan of attack seemed to be to scout out an available table and leave something/someone to reserve it until the food is obtained. Obtaining the food first and then looking for a table can allow hot items to cool considerably during a 5-10 minute search. Food in the Windjammer was uniformly fresh, well prepared and tasty. Variety was excellent, but still a buffet. The Windjammer is also the location of the self-serve frozen yogurt/ soft-serve ice cream stations. These stations also had a variety of toppings and cookies available.

· Seaview Cafe: Another place to obtain "snacks" (RCCL’s appellation) is the Seaview cafe, located on Deck 12, starboard. The Seaview allows some very nice ocean views from both it’s interior tables and those out on deck. This cafe is usually open from Noon to 1800 and from 2200 to 0100, and offers more than what we would consider "snacks". Our snack/lunch one afternoon was: a Nathan’s hot dog; French fries; chili con carne; clam chowder; Cuban pork sandwich; onion rings; soda; beer (Burp!!). Upon entering the cafe, one places their order at the counter and is given a numbered placard and then selects a table. When the food is ready, a server delivers it to your table. Other items available were: fish and chips; Reuben sandwich; corn chips with salsa, guacamole, sour cream; seafood salad; Grouper Caesar salad; hamburger; cheeseburger; Tuna melt sub; vegetarian sandwich; chicken wings/fingers; fruit and cottage cheese; desserts. More than just snacks! Unfortunately, this delightful cafe was not always open during the scheduled times. The only entrance is from the open deck area and the cafe was closed due to weather conditions (mostly high winds) on some afternoons/nights.

· Others: As previously mentioned, snacks are also available, at times, in Latte-tudes, the Solarium, and late-nights in the casino. There are also two Specialty Dining venues ($20 per person dining fee): Portofino (Italian); Chops Grille Steakhouse. Advance reservations are highly recommended since these eateries can fill up fast. Reservations can be made by telephone or via the Interactive TV in your cabin. The entrances to these restaurants are located off the Schooner Bar, on Deck 6. We did not dine at either of these restaurants, but comments from passengers who did were highly favorable for Chops Grille, and less so for Portofino. One report concerning Chops Grille was that the food was excellent and service very good but the pace of the meal was slow. In fairness, RCCL, in the Compass, does suggest allowing two hours for dining in these restaurants.

Entertainment:
This is not a big part of why we go on cruises, but many passengers see this a major factor in liking or disliking a cruise. We will offer some brief comments on our impressions. In the main show room, The Tropical Theatre, there was a good mix of individual entertainers and production shows performed by the ship’s company of singers and dancers. Individual headliners included: comedians; a pianist; a juggler; a song stylist; an acappella group; a revised version of an old Rock and Roll group. All were entertaining in some degree, depending upon one’s personal preferences. This cross section provided an opportunity to provide something for everyone. Because of the itinerary of all sea days, some of the headliners agreed to put on afternoon performances on different days. Having done some show dancing (in younger years), Ray is particularly drawn to the production shows. The group of dancers on this cruise was excellent, not just one or two carrying the rest, but the entire group. Entertainment in the various lounges was uniformly OK, again depending on personal preferences. Cruise Director Ken Rush has done a fine job with the entertainment. We just wish that he had allowed the individual performances to stand on their own considerable merits. After each performance, he would come out on stage and "beg" for applause, until he got two or three separate rounds of applause. We find this insulting to our ability to know what we enjoyed and how to express our appreciation. I can only guess how the entertainers felt about this display. In our opinion, none of these performers needed a shill. Perhaps Ken doesn’t realize just how good they are. Ken has a very dynamic personality, and probably has to learn to reign it in somewhat and allow others their own self identity; he isn’t responsible for everything. The daily activities put on by Ken’s staff seemed very well received and enjoyed by both those who participated and those who observed.

Service:
To us, this is a key facet of a cruise that can delineate the difference between a "mediocre" and a "great" cruising experience. Good service can help mitigate minor shortcomings in other areas, and tends to remain longer in one’s memory. Conversely, poor service can magnify those same minor shortcomings. Our cabin steward Donovan, from Nicaragua, is one of those "phantoms" that even if you seldom see him, you know he is around. He seemed to anticipate all of our needs, and if we had a question he was right there to ask. The cabin was kept well ordered and clean; the ice bucket was always full (one of Ray’s quirks) without it even being mentioned as a priority. When we did see him, he was friendly and outgoing. Dining Room service was capably provided by our waitress Heeran, from India, and her assistant André, from Jamaica; the Head waiter was Orlando, from Portugal. Heeran and André worked well together, to the point that it seemed that neither had specific duties; both seemed to work under the premise that our needs would be met efficiently by whomever. By the second night, all personal preferences were noted and acted upon accordingly. One of our tablemates had iced tea at the outset and hot tea at the conclusion of the meal. After the first evening this was provided without his asking. Ray’s water glass was kept filled, even through dessert (another quirk). Since we have wine with dinner each evening, the wine list was always presented when we sat down. Heeran would provide dinner suggestions/tips concerning the menu options each evening (i.e. "the fish is dry" or "the beef is all cooked well done"). She was not offended if you chose something else, and if whatever you did choose was not to your liking, she would quickly arrange for a replacement. If you could not decide between two choices, one of each was not a problem. One difference we noted on this cruise was that bread/rolls are not in baskets on the table, but offered by your servers when first seated and then not seen again unless requested. This was not a problem for us, Janet doesn’t normally eat them and Ray eats too many if they are there. Perhaps this is a response to the viral outbreaks on many cruise ships? Heeran and André were congenial and personable and quite willing to engage in conversation. Some passengers do not like that in servers, but it suited us and our tablemates. As all joined in the conversation, the bantering increased, making the dining experience more pleasurable, and somewhat relieving the mediocrity of the menu. It would be our pleasure to be seated again at a table attended to by these two very capable individuals. Service in Reflections Dining Room during open seating breakfast and lunch was a very different matter. Service at these times seemed to be very spotty and uneven. Especially at breakfast, it seemed as though, for the most part, the servers just wanted to push everyone through. After orders were taken and the food served, servers were not to be seen again; too bad if you needed anything else, unless you tracked down a head waiter. If you were seated at a table after others had already ordered, things were even worse. Getting toast often seemed to be a difficult chore; providing toast always seemed to be someone else’s job. At open seating lunch, things seemed a bit more even, but still less attentive than we have come to expect. Perhaps that is where cruising is heading, eliminating the difference in levels of service between dining room and buffet. In the Windjammer Cafe, service is obviously self directed. As mentioned earlier, clean table space was difficult to locate. Some tables had plates and food on them and it was unclear if passengers were finished., or were obtaining additional items, perhaps a beverage refill, which are not offered at the tables, as is the case on most other cruises we have experienced. We noted a table that was devoid of people but had dishes on it when we sat at an adjoining table, and that table was not cleaned while we were there. This was despite

the fact that we were twice asked if we were finished so that they could clean our table. Drink service in the lounges was also very uneven and, overall, on the poor side. The Schooner Bar was a frequent stop for us and we invariably wound up going to the bar to order drinks and carry them to a table. This would be after we had sat ignored for at least five minutes at a table. This seemed to be the norm whether it be late afternoon, pre-dinner, post-dinner, or late night. As noted earlier, only one time, at the Champagne bar, did see any pre-dinner hors d’oeuvres being offered. Along the same line, at no time were we offered, nor see anyone else offered, any peanuts, pretzels, bar mix type "munchies" at any bar. Not a major catastrophe, but something lacking in comparison to other cruise line offerings. Drinks were uniformly of good size and quality, and were comparably priced.

Final Thoughts and Recap:
First of all, we feel that this is the most beautiful ship we have ever sailed on. That is in terms of onboard appearances. Externally, she does lack the classic lines of earlier ships, but that is probably a given with today’s much larger ships. The Serenade of the Seas is not only beautiful, but also well laid out; color schemes are soothing and comfortable. The art displayed about the ship is eclectic and interesting; many pieces with placards explaining the piece’s history. The staff are extremely friendly and usually very willing to help (the few exceptions having been noted earlier). Housekeeping was remarkable. One can only surmise how much of that is attributable to this being a new ship and a desire to keep it looking as such.

One particular item that we enjoyed was the deck chairs on the wide Promenade Deck, a disappearing pleasure on many of the newer cruise ships. Unfortunately, the promenade does not completely circle the ship, at least not easily. The uncooperative weather on our cruise did not encourage extensive use of the deck chairs, but that is the nature of the Northern Atlantic, and not under the Captain’s control.

This cruise will be memorable for us for another reason. It marks the first time we have been invited to sit at the Captain’s Table for dinner. One morning, our head waiter asked us if we would agree to join the Captain for cocktails and dinner. We do not know what the basis for this selection was, but we readily agreed. A formal invitation was delivered to our cabin later that morning. Captain Nikolaos Antalis is charming, interesting and gregarious. He regaled us with many stories of his adventures at sea, especially of some of those on earlier cargo ships in comparison to those on today’s cruise ships. He told us how he had been with the Serenade since early February overseeing final construction at the ship yard and then through her sea trials. We all agreed with him that having the responsibility to sign the final acceptance papers for such an expensive vessel is a daunting experience. We were presented with a copy of the menu from the meal, signed by the Captain, and a picture of everyone at the dinner. Service at dinner was under the direction of the Maitre d’, but really was not much different from what we had received all week at our regular table, except for the number of people serving us. That is not a knock on the staff at the Captain’s Dinner, but kudos for Heeran and André.

This was only our second cruise with Royal Caribbean. We were much more favorably impressed with this cruise compared to our previous experience. We are more than willing to sail with RCCL again, realizing that many aspects of their product are just OK and not outstanding. We feel that we received fair value for our dollars. There are always areas for improvement, on any cruise line and/or individual cruise.

Thank you for taking the time to allow us to share our experience.

For some preliminary photographs see: http://community.webshots.com/user/zeesinnh

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