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Having grown a little tired of RCI’s ships, the food, drink price hikes and reduction in staff numbers we still sailed on Serenade of the Seas 11 night Southern Caribbean sailing departing on 15th February 2016 from Port Everglades mainly for the ports which were Aruba, Bonaire, Grenada, Barbados, St Lucia and Antigua.
We had an aft D1 category balcony cabin (9260) and selected My Time Dining.
We dropped our 2 bags off with a porter at Terminal 18 at around 11:30 and as soon as we had completed check-in, walked straight onto the ship.
Before lunch, we headed to the pool bar for a couple of drinks whilst waiting for tables to become free in the Windjammer (WJ) as these are in very short supply, plus it isn’t helped by those who hog the tables playing card games, some noisy game with dice or just hanging around. This is a recurring theme in the WJ, there are not only pool chair hogs, there are WJ table hogs too!
We headed to the WJ around 1pm (when the cabins were available as a lot of people then go to their cabin) for some lunch and finally found 2 seats as it was the usual madhouse on embarkation day.
After lunch, we headed aft to our cabin. We dumped our carry-on bags and went to explore the ship.
Upon our return a short while later, our bags were already outside our stateroom, so we unpacked (we did leave our home in the UK 3 days earlier, so most clothes had been in the bags quite a while via a hotel in the UK, a transatlantic flight, 1 domestic flight in the US and another 2 nights in a hotel!) and then headed for muster drill.
We were the first out of 6 ships in port today to depart from Port Everglades at around 4pm.
Zuiderdam (Holland America Line), Emerald Princess, Royal Princess, Coral Princess (Princess Cruises) and finally Costa Deliziosa (Costa Cruises) all follow us out of port.
Deck 6 – Bars
Safari Club – great venue, great bar staff but mostly deserted in the evenings except for a couple of nights, for example when Quest is held there which was a disappointment.
Schooner Bar – great staff, poor pianist in my opinion.
Vintages – great location, good staff (started off a little off hand, but warmed by mid cruise), complimentary Tapas appreciated
Crown & Castle Pub – only appeared busy when karaoke scheduled which was monopolised by a couple of regular singers who appeared to be in competition with each other.
Decks 11/12 – Pool Areas
Pool Bar – great staff, never a long wait and it was the same at the Sky Bar.
Solarium Bar – always fairly busy and only normally 1 member of staff
Deck 13 – Viking Crown
Vortex – great venue, very quiet in the evening so no dancing there (btw the revolving bar still works)
Diamond and Concierge Clubs, nice venues, dividing door to Vortex often used to house overspill from Diamond Club. Concierge Club has a full bar with stools and outdoor seating.
Crown & Anchor cocktail hours were 4:30 pm – 8pm. Earlier than we’re used to, but I put that down to the demographic on board.
Deck 4 – R Bar, insufficient staff at times, so long waits.
Deck 5 – Café Latté-tudes, only used once and experienced long lines due to only 1 member of staff
MDR – My Time Dining Deck 5. We only dined in the MDR on 6 evenings and each time the service was far too rushed in our opinion, despite asking the wait staff to slow down, this fell on deaf ears. First dinner (day 2) was appalling as we were on our 2nd course and still no beverage. Maybe because last seating for MTD is 9 pm and we eat around 8:15 – 8:30 the staff definitely want you in and out fast. MTD started at 5:15pm! Food quality in the MDR was good.
Giovanni’s Table – we ate there on 3 occasions ($25 per head) and each time the food was excellent, as it was also in Chops Grille where we dined twice ($35 per head).
Breakfast in the MDR was hit and miss, the food was good, but the staff looked tired and as a result not over friendly. One ‘officer’ directing staff to available tables was quite rude and abrupt and was overheard arguing with one member of staff.
Chefs Table – not visited but heard from neighbours that it was excellent albeit a 4-hour dining experience.
The quality and choice have decreased yet again in my opinion. The cold cuts offered looked and tasted like cheap processed meats. The beef burgers are beyond a joke, although the chicken burgers are quite nice.
Salads such as potato are combined with other ingredients to obviously make the dishes go further. Greek salads hardly included any feta cheese, so were misleading as far as I was concerned. Desserts as bland as ever.
Breakfast is the standard fare, but with an interesting change in the fresh egg station. Several 2 egg portions were cooked (over easy, medium etc.) in advance and left on a small plate under heat lamps for guests to help themselves to.
Rita’s Cantina – served Mexican snacks from 2pm – 9 pm daily. Only used once, but what we had (chips, guacamole, salsa) was good. A la carte pricing.
Izumi – did not visit so I cannot comment.
Park Café – Always popular as open from early afternoon until late evening. Good pizza late evening!
We saw 1 production show as most other shows clashed with either our dining times or cocktail hour. However, it was good.
Cinema – widely used and a good range of movies.
Poolside Movie Screen, again a wide selection of movies shown, although the 1 night we wanted to watch The Hunger Games – Mockingjay part 2, the screen broke down.
Centrum – is too small a space to concentrate most non-theatre entertainment which comprised of 2 aerial shows which were good, the standard Village People ‘event’, Michael Jackson Thriller routine, various dance sessions and some bands, of which some were good, some not so good!
Casino – not overly generous and at times very smoky
Same old fare, various ‘events’ including designer watch sales that you are told are not repeated to encourage you to purchase during the first ‘event’. Needless to say, the same watches came out during a 2nd event later in the cruise.
2 T-Shirts for $20 often on the pool deck, $10 merchandise sales etc. in the shops.
Photographs – $22.99 for 8” x 10”, $16.99 for the smaller ones taken when you disembark at the ports. Various offers if you purchase 4 of the 8” x 10” size you get a complementary folio etc.
As we had only visited 2 on previous occasions so it was a great itinerary for us and that was why we chose this sailing.
We thoroughly enjoyed the Segway trip we did in St Lucia, the Coast to Coast drive in Barbados with the best tour guide (Rose) we’ve ever had and a Spice and Sunshine tour in Grenada was good too.
BTW the organisation for tours in Barbados was fantastic as was the free Wi-Fi in the cruise terminal!
We did our own thing in Aruba (having been there only 9 months previously), Bonaire and in Antigua where we have spent a land-based vacation before.
As it was Independence Day in St Lucia those guests who wished to shop were disappointed as very few places in Castries were open. The same applied to Bridgetown Barbados, but that was because it was a Sunday and most venues are closed on that day.
Very few disappointments on this sailing as the staff are fantastic.
However, the Internet service was appalling and the slowest and most unreliable I’ve experienced on any RCI ship and for $20 per day for ‘unlimited’ which in effect was a very limited service and so was too expensive. One couple had spent $330 in advance and were really upset as RCI constantly state in the Compass that no refunds are given despite any failure of the service.
MDR My Time Dining service was also a bit of a let-down, although the food was good, it just arrived too quickly.
We experienced a total power failure when we got back on board from our day ashore in Bonaire for about 15 minutes, all the fire doors automatically closed but the backup generator came on stream much to the relief of some guests who were already wondering what RCI were going to do regards providing dinner and this was around 2pm!
However, disembarkation was a disappointment, but obviously not the fault of RCI.
We were allocated tag number 7, which was estimated to allow us to depart at 8 am.
This was delayed until around 8:45 and then once off the ship we were held at the higher level of terminal 18 and not allowed into the baggage hall.
Once we were allowed into the hall to collect our bags, the reason was apparent as the lines were winding around and around as there were only 3 immigration officials out of the 16 desks that could be manned.
All in all, Serenade has improved my view of RCI and partially restored my faith in the way things are going, so much so we booked another on Oasis for April 2018!