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Karen

Age: 19

Occupation:Student - Accounting Major

Number of Cruises: 4

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Serenade of the Seas

Sailing Date: November 22nd, 2003

Itinerary: Southern Caribbean

I am 19, and traveled with my brother (15), parents, aunt, and uncle (all 40's) and grandpa. (80's) We are all from CT, except for my grandpa who lives in FL.

My parents, brother and I have previously cruised Celebrity and Carnival, this was our first RCI. The other members of our family had in addition been on Princess & Norwegian, and had been on the RCI Brilliance (Serenade's sister ship) last Thanksgiving.

We had originally wanted to cruise over Christmas, but it was much cheaper to over Thanksgiving, and for the last couple years, my aunt, uncle and grandpa had cruised over Thanksgiving, so they knew what to expect weather-wise etc..
My brother, parents, and I flew to San Juan the morning of the cruise on November 22, and left Newark in bright sunshine and warm weather (well, for November in New England!) and arrived in San Juan around 3 pm to pouring rain.

We went to wait for our luggage and *gasps* only one suitcase showed up. Well, we had put the RCI luggage tags on before checking the bags @ Newark, not knowing that RCI has people pulling bags off the planes and taking ones with their tags to the pier. Apparently one of ours slipped by, and us not knowing what the story was exactly with the other ones, we took a cab to the Pan Am pier. It was around $20 w/ tip for 4 with one piece of luggage.

We arrived at the pier to embark at 4 pm, and were on the ship by 4:20. We went to guest relations to inquire about our luggage, and the woman reassured us that it would arrive.

In the meantime we checked out our cabin, which was on deck 9. I shared cabin 9590 with my parents, and my brother and grandpa shared 9594, and my aunt and uncle were in 9260. All were deluxe balcony cabins, and 9260 was an aft balcony. 9590 and 9594 were on the "hump" midship, so our balconies were also a bit larger than the normal ones on the side of the ship. All of our cabins were the same price, but you really do get a much larger balcony aft. They sell out quickly though I hear.

Afterwards we went to the Windjammer for a snack, since our airplane lunch left little to be desired, and we had late seating dinner, which is at 9 pm. It was typical cruise line buffet, overall pretty good.

The ship is absolutely gorgeous. I loved the atrium, Schooner bar, pool area, and of course the Solarium. After exploring we met up with the rest of our family and were pleased to see that ALL of our luggage had arrived.

After unpacking was the lifeboat drill at 8:15 pm. It was the same as it is on every ship and was over relatively quickly. After that we dressed for dinner and headed to the Reflections dining room. We had looked at our table while exploring, and thought it was nice, but we would have liked to have been more in the dining room in the center of things. (our table was about 5 tables in on the lower level of the dining room). To our surprise we had tablemates, Lauren & Greg from FL. It was the first cruise we (parents, brother, me) ever had tablemates for, and it turned out to be great. They were both awesome. Our waitress was nice, and so was our assistant watier, Jimmy and the head waiter. On this cruise we saw our head waiter every night, he talked to us, made sure everything was to our liking and asked if there was anything else he could do for us. I had not encountered this on other cruises.

After dinner I went up to the Viking Crown Lounge to see if any cruise critic people were there. We wanted to try and meet around 10:30 in that area...many of us showed up, but since no one knew what people looked like, we managed to meet in small groups, but didn't have a big get together the first night. I hoped things would turn out better for the scheduled meet & mingle! Afterwards, we went to the Welcome Aboard Show in the Tropical Theater (LOVED the decor!). The comedian Eric Lyden was funny, but I actually left a little early since I was tired and had been up since 6 am. The audience on this cruise was REALLY tough on the performers. We were a hard to impress group.

I will explain what I did in port that day only, then afterwards I will review food, entertainment, service/crew, activities, entertainment etc...

Sunday - St. Thomas
Ships w/ us:Carnival Jubilee, the original Pacific Princess (Actual Love Boat), and the Radisson Seven Seas Diamond

Last time I was here on the Pride in 02', my family shopped downtown and went to Magen's Bay. I was up around 7 am and watched the ship dock in Charlotte Amelie. We ate breakfast with my family @ the Windjammer around 8:15. We didn't have to go through immigration in St Thomas since we hadn't left the U.S. (PR is an American territory) prior to arriving. I had signed up for the Water Island Bike Tour, and getting someone from my group to go with me was like pulling teeth, so I was ecstatic when finally my dad agreed to join me. It was one of the things I was looking forward to doing most on this trip. Well, before heading out we went back to the cabins, and to my dismay an envelope was waiting, telling us the tour had been cancelled due to "lack of participation." Argh. So I went and hung out by the pool for a couple hours and then went to Trivia with my family before going to lunch @ the Windjammer. While I was @ the pool, my family went to shop around the pier and ended up getting an ice cream @ the Cold Stone Creamery (getting popular in the U.S. - I have yet try one!) and played mini golf somewhere near the pier as well. In the afternoon my mom and I took a cab to Sapphire Beach. It was about 20 - 25 mins away and it was $40/rt w/ tip for the two of us. We stayed there for a couple hours, the clouds rolled in but it never rained on us. There is a beach resort there, as well as a beach bar and facilities. The water is somewhat calm, but there is a reef right there too, so there were some little waves. You could see St.John from the beach. The beach was nice, however after I got out of the water and sat on the towel for a little while, these little bugs came out and I got quite a few bites. It was worth it though, just bring bug spray or rent a lounge chair!

Monday - St. Maarten
Ships w/ us: Crystal Serenity, Carnival Legend, Celebrity Summit
Last time here we took a water taxi downtown and walked around Phillipsburg. We did the same thing this time. I would have liked to go to the French side and then Dawn Beach, but maybe next time. In the AM I went to the pool and did trivia again. In the afternoon we took the water taxi to town (still $5/pp unlimited one day use). My favorite art gallery here burned down apparently (Greenwich Galleries) so I was disappointed by that. I did however find the best buys on t-shirts here...my main shopping focus! They were 4 for $10 if you looked in the right places! We stayed on the main drag, far down by the 2nd water taxi stop there is a store that sells all the Guavaberry Liqueur (a St. Maarten specialty!). They gave out free samples of the stuff straight, and also mixed into a Guavaberry Daquiri...SO yummy! After this we returned to the ship for the official Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle...sooooo great to meet everyone we had been conversing with for the last couple months online! For the rest of the cruise we kept an eye out for each other and said hi...and we are all still talking on the message boards now that we are back, LOL.

Tuesday - Antigua
Ships w/ us: Costa Europa (I think...it just said Europa on the side!), NCL Sky
I again went to breakfast in the Windjammer and then spent a couple hours at the pool before trivia. Before lunch we went into town...and realized we should have booked a tour. I had really wanted to go to the beach here too, and my mom and I were planning on catching a cab to one in the afternoon. My dad informed us that if we still wanted to go, he would come too. At that point I thought it was just easier to enjoy the afternoon at the pool rather than make my family do something they weren't really into. Everyone from Cruise Critic that did Eli's tour had a blast, I believe the website is www.adventureantigua.com

If I ever go back to Antigua this is what I want to do. At least do a ships tour if you go here. Don't write off the whole island just because of downtown.

Wednesday - St. Lucia
Ships w/ us: HAL Volendam, Fred Olsen Cruises Braemer, Dawn Princess
In the AM after breakfast we walked around downtown Castries for awhile. We were not docked at Pointe Seraphine where the new shopping mall was, so we walked around the streets of Castries. Again, not the nicest place, but I did get an OK deal on some more shirts. (4 for $20...probably could have bargained more, but everywhere else I saw shirts here they were 3 for $20, so I can't complain!) My parents & aunt walked over to the Pointe Seraphine shops, and said they were nice, but more of the same. My grandpa and I headed back to the boat. We met at Trivia and then after that, my parents, brother and I did the Coastal Cruise to the Pitions excursion through the ship. Can't say enough good things about it - very relaxing! Free drinks (soda, rum punch,water) and beer is $2. It took about an hour and 40 mins to get to the Pitons, and you had great views of the coast and some beaches. We went through a little bit of rain for like 5 mins. You could see the one dark cloud, and then sunshine ahead, so it wasn't a big deal. After getting to the Pitons, we turned around and on the way back we stopped at Anse Cochon for about 20 minutes of swimming. The boat got pretty close to the beach, not a long way to shore @ all. And it was a black sand beach...pretty cool. It was pretty here, and the water was clear, but since the sand was dark, the water didn't have the usual caribbean blue color. While at the beach, vendors come up in their kayaks/canoes and try to sell you things/ souvenirs. Just be polite. After the swim stop we pulled into beautiful Marigot Bay, which is completely sheltered from all storms, so people like to keep their expensive boats here! LOL. After this we returned to the ship. I will note that we left St Lucia 1/2 an hour early so that the ship would take a trip down to the Pitons so all the passengers could see them. They looked more impressive from the tiny catamaran than the huge ship, but they still really are beautiful!

Thursday - Barbados
Ships w/ us: Some little thing that I didn't catch the name of
After breakfast & trivia we walked around the shops near the pier, and I got my hair braided outside. It was $20 for 11 braids, and I tipped the girl as well. She did a good job and they look really great. It is almost a week later and I've had no problems. I probably could have bargained down, but I planned an allowance of about $20 for them, so when that is what she told me I thought it was fine. I am too nice sometimes, LOL. Afterwards I bought a gold charm from one of the stores in the terminal. I have a gold bracelet that I get charms for whenever I go on vacation. On the last cruise I got an anchor that said "Pride" on it (we were on the Carnival Pride) and on this one I got a palm tree surrounded by a gold circle that says "Barbados" on it. It was the cheapest charm I've gotten for the bracelet, at $35. My mom and I were trying to figure out what beach to go to in the afternoon, so we picked up some brochures and headed back to the ship for lunch. That afternoon my mom, dad, and I took a cab to Rockley Beach, about 15-20 min away. It was $30/rt plus tip, so $40 r/t for the three of us. The clouds rolled in once again, but no rain thankfully. The beach was awesome. My family tends to like beaches with some waves rather than calm bays, and this was perfect. It was a great beach for riding the waves in. I usually stay equal time in and out of the water when I go to the beach, but this time I stayed in the water the whole time. The sand was soft & white and water was very clear. It was awesome.

Friday - @ Sea
Slept in for the first time on the whole cruise, 9 am. I was however @ the pool after breakfast by 9:30 and got one of the coveted pool-side lounge chairs. It was warm & sunny out, so when it came time for trivia at 11 I was reluctant to give up my chair. However I didn't want to be one of those people that everyone gripes about, the chair-savers (which there were plenty of anyways - only on this day though!) so I went back to the room with my stuff and changed. After trivia I wandered around the shops and wished I was old enough to buy alcohol because it SO CHEAP...lol. I bought a t-shirt (my most expensive one...$16 for ONE t-shirt!...they had others on sale 2 for $20, but not the one I wanted) and a shot glass. Afterwards my mom and I went to the card/game room located inside the Safari Club on deck 6 and played Scrabble. Then at 12:30 my family met for lunch in the dining room. I went back up to the pool deck almost immediately and found my aunt who hadn't joined us for lunch and while she went to lunch I took over her chair. I ran into our tablemates and watched some the men's sexy legs contest...LOL Then there was the ice carving demo and the horse races. There was a brief (10 min) rain shower, where I took advantage of all the people who left the pool area and snagged a lounge chair RIGHT IN FRONT of the pool. I was very reluctant to leave this one for bingo...but it was the last day...snowball jackpot had to be given away! Ah, something made it easier to get up from the pool...some kid went to the bathroom in the pool, so immediately the crew got down to business emptying the pool and scrubbing it down good (thankfully!) so the pool was out of commission for the rest of the afternoon...which means all the kids could use the Solarium...I jetted out of there ASAP when that happened, LOL.

Now onto the RCI experience!

Ship :
As I said, absolutely gorgeous, easy to find your way around, I never got lost. Felt SOME motion at night, and especially leaving Barbados & the day @ sea, but never enough to get sick. Then again I never get sea sick. My parents & bro took Bonine to be on the safe side. Even in my stiletto heels on formal nights I never staggered or fell over due to ship movement, LOL.

Activities:
~As you can see my family did trivia every day. It was always between 10am and 11am, so most people were off the ship, so my family split into two teams usually...so we always won! We won art prints, key chains, photo albums, mini coolers, shoulder bags etc...

~Bingo was fun. Never won...never really came close, but it was still fun. I love Bingo...and now I know all the terminology...whistle @ B11, the "sexy legs" of Bingo...LOL

~loved mini golf & the basketball court

~karaoke was fun...I never did it, but it was fun to watch people, and some Cruise critic people did it, LOL

~The Quest: Adults Only Scavenger hunt: WACKY! HILARIOUS! I won't spoil it, but lets just say you need members of both sexes on your team. My team was my mom, aunt, me, and Lauren (from our dinner table) and it wasn't working for us. We still had a blast though, it is just as much fun to watch as it is to participate

~Love & Marriage Show: Almost fell on the floor laughing so hard, don't miss it. Hosted by the CD Allan who I loved...hehe

Overall the activities were good, but they could have used more. Sometimes I was sitting around wondering what there was to do.

~Casino: we were even until the last night where we blew another $40...lasted awhile though. For me the $ we spent there always seemed to last long enough to be entertaining. We only played the slots.

Entertainment
The shows were hit or miss I thought. As I said before, it was a tough audience on this cruise, so that could have been part of it. The most annoying thing of the cruise was that the pre-dinner shows for late seating guests started at 7:15 pm...and ended by 8:15...the ship was dead in that 45 minutes before dinner. So bored then. I know the show for early seating people started at 9, so they show for us couldn't end at 8:45 if the performers had to go back on stage at 9, but still.

Comedian: (Eric Lyden) as I said...so-so first night, hilarious at the adult only comedy at 12:15 am the last night...I was sitting next to my parents so it was weird/somewhat embarrassing being with them while hearing it, but still funny.

Magician: So-so....LOVED the music & how colorful the set was...but got repetitive
Stage To Screen (1st Broadway style show) - OK...singers have good voices, cool costumes...not enough variety of musicals...would rather see 10 songs from 10 diff musicals rather than 3 songs each from 3 or 4 diff musicals. Songs are from Chicago, West Side Story, Little Shop of Horrors and something else. Not my favorite musicals to begin with.

Vibeology - AWFUL...best part was the intro song they made up for it. Again the singers had good voices, but there were too many set changes when the singer just stood on stage with the curtain closed. Icky costumes, didn't know most of the music...it was supposed to be music through the decades but was mostly Elvis & the Beatles. They absolutely butchered "Believe" by Cher @ the end...maybe I am being too harsh. Three of us practically slept through it though. Two of the others enjoyed it though. So to each their own.

I skipped the last show, which I sort of regret because I heard the juggler was great. And Allan Brooks did a top 10 dumb questions passengers had asked him, it sounded really funny. (my dad, bro and grandpa went)

Crew:
Fabulous. As I said, loved the CD...very approachable. Talked to him in the elevator on the last day. The other CD staff was great too...the assistant CD, Warren (also known as the bingo man...oooo...ahhh...LOL) was hilarious...he should think of being a straight out CD. And since my family did so much trivia, we got to see Drew (HOT!), Dan, Ashley, and Layla(I think that is her name, she was very nice, from Brazil) all the time too. Can't say enough good things about them.

Our waitress was nice, but on the last cruise I felt like we got to know our servers on a more personal level, which made the cruise more interesting. Also it seemed like our table was a course behind everyone else at night. Which made it late since dinner didn't start until 9 anyways. The shows in the dining room were OK...I just can't get into the spirit for it really. And our table was near a group of 66 that took up 7 or 8 tables around us that were ROWDY! Every time after the shows the waiters etc put on they would clap & yell etc...for like 10 minutes afterwards! And on the last night when they presented tips to their waiters etc...they all clapped each time for each waiter....nice gesture, but SO ANNOYING!!!

Food
Now, I thought the food overall was hit or miss. It was either really good or not worth eating. Please note this did not stop anyone in my family from overindulging and gaining weight, LOL.

Windjammer: No real complaints here...I ate the same thing for breakfast every morning because I liked it.

Seaview Cafe: Don't see what all the hype is about. Vanilla milkshake had no flavor, fish & chips were weird, I've had much better onion rings (but they were still yummy). I did enjoy the feathers (wings...not hot...how I enjoy them!) & fingers basket. Pretty good fries. The food was fresh because you ordered it and then they made it for you.

Dining room: Some nights were good, others there just wasn't something that jumped out at me from the menu. I did enjoy all the chilled soups (Roasted Peach, Washington Apple, BananaI tried, and dessert was good except for the dulce de leche cheesecake...sounds good, tastes awful! I am a big steak fan, and being at college and eating in dining halls, I don't get it much. And I like my steak rare...anything more well done is not worth eating. In the dining room, the nights I had steak, it was cooked pefectly for my tastes. I didn't and neither did anyone else try the "RCI Ranch Steak" so I can't comment on that. Some of my favorite things included: Mongolian Pork Chop, Savarin (banana dessert), Filet, Creamy Garlic Soup, sugar free mint chocolate cake, spinach & cheese dip w/ tortillas, turkey parmesean, Flourless chocolate cake. Ice creams & sherbets were also yummy. On lobster night, they had surf & turf and I THOUGHT about trying the Ranch steak, but they informed everyone they could only cook it medium or medium-well that night...no thanks!

Portofino: We ate @ Portofino Thanksgiving night, as no one in my group really likes turkey much and didn't care about a traditional dinner (which they offered in the main dining room, along with some other choices as well.) We thought overall it was good, but not worth the extra money. I loved our waiter, a guy from Turkey, he was really cool, and I enjoyed my meal, but other members of my group were not as impressed so I figured I couldn't give it a perfect review. The pasta dish with the mushrooms & cream sauce was outstanding I thought, and so was the Tiramisu for dessert.

Other Passengers
With all the discussion about people not obeying dress codes for the dining room etc... I was surprised to see how great everyone looked on the formal nights, and even for the regular dinners. I saw a ton of women in nice dresses etc...even when it wasn't a formal night. I liked this because I love to dress up every chance I get. I can't think of anyone I saw that didn't look like they were dressed inappropriately for dinner.

Disembarkation
My family likes to bend rules when it comes to lines & waiting etc...
So we left with group two instead of group six like our tags said. We were in line @ customs (first step of the process after physically walking off the ship) by 8:20 am, and were @ the airport checking our luggage by 9 am....too bad our flight wasn't until 4 pm! We tried to do standby (no charge) for an earlier flight but the lady practically laughed at us with 4 people wanting to change flights the weekend after Thanksgiving.

So we took a cab to Old San Juan after leaving our carryons in a storage place...$3/bag. The cab was $18 w/ tip each way. Walked around for awhile...I suffered an embarrassing moment where I fell flat on my face in the street becuase the curb was higher off the ground than I expected...suffered a hurt ankle but walked it off and it is OK...anyways...Old San Juan...didn't think it was that great. Pretty architecture...going in one of the forts might have been cool, but no one really felt like doing that. I wished we had kept out a bathing suit so we could have gone to a beach, but that seemed unrealistic as well.

So we had a long day at the airport...got to Newark around 7, had bags & left by 8, shuttle to where we kept the car....home by 10...ordered pizza...left unpacking for the next day...bed.

Overall it was a great vacation and I had fun meeting everyone from CC as well as our tablemates and some other random people I talked to on the cruise! Would my family cruise RCI again? Yes. I already signed up for the Crown & Anchor Society, LOL. Will we ONLY cruise RCI now, no...I like a little variety!

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