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Royal Caribbean International: Serenade of the Seas

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Apr 1, 2017

Review of Serenade of the Seas

Jim Reed Age: 71 Occupation:retired Number of Cruises: 8 Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean Ship: Serenade of the Seas Sailing Date: 2016-11-21 Itinerary: Southern Caribbean Worst cruise we've been on. Very uncaring staff and in some cases, appeared to be untrained in what they were doing. Bland and nondescript food. Last cruise was on the Royal Princess and the food was excellent. Maybe set the standard to high and we were expecting more. However the

dining room staff did a great job. Stateroom was adequate and was keep clean and serviced Typical shows. Evening activities seemed to be poorly scheduled. Often conflicted with the meal times. Other cruises we've been on had set times, early and late meal times with shows scheduled accordingly. Other activities also crowded into the same time period. Good selection of tours. However costly. Of the six ports of call, we took one excursion. On the other five, we took a taxi. One on board excursion to a beach tour cost $37.00. A cab took us to a very beautiful beach for $2.50 each way The 1st half of our 12 day cruise went as expected. There was coughing heard around the ship and in time, we too were having our coughing spells. There were 4 of us traveling together. My wife went to the ships doctor and was immediately put in quarantine. The last 4 days of our cruise she could not leave our stateroom. No instruction was given as to how she was to receive meals. Room service only served breakfast and snacks for lunch. When it came time to depart the ship, we were forced to wait until the entire ship departed. My wife's luggage was carried off by staff but my luggage and our traveling companions was taken off in the normal manner. We were told that it would be on the dock and that our travel connections would not be affected. Wrong. All unclaimed luggage had been put away. My luggage was lost. I had to fill out a claim and was told to wait about a week before calling. Our pre arranged shuttle service to where our car was parked had stopped running and we were forced to call a cab. Through this whole ordeal no one showed any sign of compassion or caring. The hint of this was a letter from the head of Guest Services stating that they would determine the amount of a refund for my wife's time in quarantine and it would be applied to a future cruise if taken with in the next year. This is not acceptable as I have no desire to cruise Royal Caribbean again. The bottom line is, not with the quarantine. This is necessary to prevent the spread of infection. My complaint is the way the crew members responded to our needs and the way we were treated. We were made to feel that we were guilty of some criminal act.

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Dec 31, 2016

Oldie but Goodie!

Serenade shows its age but is due for upgrade November 2017. However, attention to cleanliness and hygiene is very well done. Kid programs are great. Entertainment better then average . If you are a drinker consider the drink package. Food was well prepared and selections varied day to day. Above all, service was great. Our dining room servers were Mario and Anton. They made a wonderful team. They made excellent suggestion on meals and often

tailored them to meet our special requests. We had Grand children in tow and as anyone knows a happy kid makes for a happy cruise! As we arrived at the table food magically appeared for the kids and that made our dining experience much more relaxed. The dining room was extremely active and busy; yet both servers made the time to visit with us. We may not see them again but we will always remember them. Head waiter Narby Figueroa was ever present and directed many severs efficiently. It was obvious there was much respect for her from her subordinates. She is a lovely person. They are marvelous ambassadors for Royal Caribbean. We commend Royal for having such great employees!

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Dec 5, 2016

Southern Caribbean

Worst cruise we've been on. Very uncaring staff and in some cases, appeared to be untrained in what they were doing. Bland and nondescript food. Last cruise was on the Royal Princess and the food was excellent. Maybe set the standard to high and we were expecting more. However the dining room staff did a great job. Stateroom was adequate and was keep clean and serviced Typical shows. Evening activities seemed to be poorly scheduled.

Often conflicted with the meal times. Other cruises we've been on had set times, early and late meal times with shows scheduled accordingly. Other activities also crowded into the same time period. Good selection of tours. However costly. Of the six ports of call, we took one excursion. On the other five, we took a taxi. One on board excursion to a beach tour cost $37.00. A cab took us to a very beautiful beach for $2.50 each way The 1st half of our 12 day cruise went as expected. There was coughing heard around the ship and in time, we too were having our coughing spells. There were 4 of us traveling together. My wife went to the ships doctor and was immediately put in quarantine. The last 4 days of our cruise she could not leave our stateroom. No instruction was given as to how she was to receive meals. Room service only served breakfast and snacks for lunch. When it came time to depart the ship, we were forced to wait until the entire ship departed. My wife's luggage was carried off by staff but my luggage and our traveling companions was taken off in the normal manner. We were told that it would be on the dock and that our travel connections would not be affected. Wrong. All unclaimed luggage had been put away. My luggage was lost. I had to fill out a claim and was told to wait about a week before calling. Our pre arranged shuttle service to where our car was parked had stopped running and we were forced to call a cab. Through this whole ordeal no one showed any sign of compassion or caring. The hint of this was a letter from the head of Guest Services stating that they would determine the amount of a refund for my wife's time in quarantine and it would be applied to a future cruise if taken with in the next year. This is not acceptable as I have no desire to cruise Royal Caribbean again. The bottom line is, not with the quarantine. This is necessary to prevent the spread of infection. My complaint is the way the crew members responded to our needs and the way we were treated. We were made to feel that we were guilty of some criminal act.

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Sep 12, 2015

Bahamas

Crew advised my group that we could depart ship before it set sail and be fully refunded and reimbursed for some travel expenses due to onboard damage to ship. They didn't fully refund it and reimbursed NOTHING regarding travel expenses. Ship was damaged on prior sailing. We waited in line at dock over 7 hours- many standing with luggage, finally board after announcement that ship was cleared for boarding by coast guard. After waiting in

line and finally getting on board, we learned it wasn't cleared for SAILING and would not leave the port, might miss a island stop, a theater was down, work-out facility was down, Etc. We were told that, if the 15+ senior citizens in our group left the ship by 1:00 AM, we'd be refunded and reimbursed our expenses. The passengers they sent home early with no power in their rooms were giving full refunds and a free cruise for later. I mailed in all my expenses and was told, SORRY, can't help you, but here's a $116 credit toward another cruise that expires in a year with all sorts of conditions! It was a terrible experience and we should have at least been given MUCH more credit for another cruise. I just can't believe they would lie like that and treat one group of passengers one way then, once they got us on board and unpacked, treat us completely differently. So many got off the ship anyway because we just had no idea how long the ship was just going to sit at the dock. We were told that if we didn't opt to get off the ship by 1:00 AM that morning, we'd be stuck with ZERO refund, even if it sat at the dock. We felt we made the right choice, but were screwed over in the end! decent food except dessert ok entertainment no chance to try excursions

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Aug 4, 2014

Barcelona to Rome

Don't buy the cruise early. They have a policy to refund the money 75 days before the cruise. So they can sell the cruise for a cheaper price and the people who paid in advance cannot do anything. I bought my cruise in June this year and we payed 3000 dollars. I looked today and the cruise is 2500 dollars 500 dollar cheaper. I called Royal Caribbean and asked what they can do for me. If they can give me a refund or upgrade or some

credit for another use . They can not do anything because it is just for the people who buy the cruise last minute. It is not fair that I am getting this treatment, I spoke with four different people and they would not help me. Buy the cruise at the last minute.

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Apr 2, 2014

Bahamas

We sailed on Serenade of the Seas on March 8, 2014. We specifically chose Royal Caribbean because of the Bahamas itinerary. On the day we were suppose to stop at Cococay, the captain decided that it was to windy to tender into the island. We "gifted" us with another day at sea. We only received 2 of 3 ports of call for this cruise. Pretty good food. Same food in the buffet as in the dining room. Cabin had too much noise at night from

the workers. Entertainment seemed to cater to old folks. Be aware that you may or may not get to go to Cococay.

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Mar 5, 2014

Key West - Nassau - Cococay

This was only our third RCI cruise and the previous two on the Rhapsody and Freedom were only so--so. This cruise was great! We liked the ship and the crew so well we booked a B2B for New Year 2015 and the week after. Reflection Dining room - Excellent Windjammer on deck 11 - The buffet food and choices were above average 7553 inside cabin: The space was a little less than what we are accustomed to from other lines, however we

knew this when we booked.There was plenty of storage for all our stuff. Nightlife was very good! Our review of the Serenade of the Seas cruise Feb 8-15, 2014 - Key West, Nassau and Coco Cay We began our drive to NOLA on Feb 6 and after spending the night just south of Jackson, MS. We arrived at the Holiday Inn on Loyola Street near the Mercedes Benz Superdome around 1:00 pm on Feb 7. We used their park and cruise package for the second time in the past 2 years. We would rate the hotel as ++++! After checking in we had a quick lunch there and headed on to the French Quarter. Our first stop was at Cafe Du Monde on Decatur Street where we had coffee and their famous Beignets. This is a must do in New Orleans! The weather was rather cool so the coffee warmed us up. Afterwards we walked over to Maison Bourbon Jazz Club. The band recognized us from Sept and played 'Back Home Again In Indiana'! It is our favorite bar on Bourbon Street. We spent the next few hours there listening to the great live music. The next day we took the hotel's 11:00 am shuttle to the port of New Orleans and were aboard ship by noon. We were very pleased with the boarding process. The Serenade of the Seas is a beautiful ship and is now one of our favorites! Our inside stateroom 7553 starboard side on the seventh deck would not be ready until 1:00 so we went to the Windjammer on deck 11 for our lunch. The buffet food and choices were very good. Once again we were very pleased. After lunch we took a quick tour of the ship and when we heard the announcement of all staterooms were ready we headed to ours. It was nice that our luggage was outside our cabin waiting for us. Once inside we noted the space was a little less than what we are accustomed to from other lines, however we knew this when we booked. As it turned out the space was enough for the 2 of us. There was plenty of storage for all our stuff. After we finished unpacking we decided to do some more exploring before the muster drill. We also met our room steward Clifton who did a good job for us for the duration of our cruise. After the drill we met up with folks from our roll call at the Sky bar on deck 12. We then went down to deck 11 and got in the 'Cupid Shuffle' line dance for the sail away. It was still cool out so everyone was dressed in warn dudes. That evening we went to our late dining table 453 in the Reflection Dining Room.  It was a round table for 10, however there was only 8 of us for the duration of the cruise. Our table mates of three married couples were all from Texas. Two of the couples were traveling together. We all got along great and had fun all week. Our Head waiter Christopher from the Philippians and his assistant Carlos from Brazil were as good or better than any we've had on previous cruises. Christopher kept us entertained with his many magic tricks. Also, the dining room food and choices were very good. No complaints from us. We liked the dining room, staff and mates so well we never tried any of the specialty restaurants. In fact you could order a filet mignon from Chops Grille for half the price. I did that one evening and was glad we did not go there and pay full price as it would not have been worth it. As far as the ports go we love Key West and had a great time there, especially at Irish Kevin's. We did a little shopping and Rita bought a pair of sandals at Kino's. In Nassau we walked to the straw market and bought a few things and stopped at Senor Frogs for a drink. At Coco Cay we just relaxed in loungers at the beach. It was a sunny day, however the water was a little cool for swimming. Now for the ship itself,we loved it! They had plenty of live music and the bands were decent. We did a lot of dancing, mainly in the Centrum on Deck 4. Also in Schooner's on Deck 6 and to prerecorded ballroom music in the Vortex on deck 13. We also loved the adults only Solarium pool and hot tubs on deck 11. We had lunch and snacks there most days in the Park Cafe. Even when we could not get lounges there we were always able get find lounges very near. For all the nonsmokers avoid the starboard side on deck 11 as it is the smoking area of the ship. RCI's new smoking policy is now in place which is no smoking allowed in any staterooms or stateroom balconies. We went to one production show and to two late night comedy shows and they were all good. The aerial shows in the Centrum are not to be missed. They are outstanding. We had front rows seats and I posted a video on YouTube. On our last full day at sea our cruise director, John Blair, performed an afternoon Neil Diamond show. He was a surprisingly good Neil Diamond impersonator and received a well deserved standing ovation. It was definitely a high energy performance. This was only our third RCI cruise and the previous two on the Rhapsody and Freedom were only so--so. This cruise was great! We liked the ship and the crew so well we booked a B2B for New Year 2015 and the week after. Getting off the ship was as easy as getting on. The process by RCI was handled very well. We caught a taxi back to the hotel and after loading up our luggage we were on the road home by 10:30 am and made it home by 10:30 pm. For a change the driving weather was actually good. Only ran in to snow flurries briefly

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Mar 23, 2013

middle east

this cruise was for my 60th birthday with my partner, and i could not have wished for better staff made my birthday very memorable singing and even had a small cake with a candle in the restaurant which was i nice touch. we ate a couple of times in the windjammer restaurant at lunch time but wasn't to impressed. food was a bit look warm and very busy, and sweet choice i thought quite poor, we preferred the cafe next to the pool where you could get

a lovely salad. main restaurant at night was good and waiters really nice night time entertainment was a bit disappointing i expected shows to be more like the west end but the bars were good and we met a lot of lovely people whom we sat with at nights. it,s a very friendly ship the highlight for my partner on the ship was the belly flop competition the reason being he won and got a gold medal, that was a laugh. the ports of call were excellent we loved the stop on stop off bus an excellent way of seeing things all in all for our first cruise we had a great time and would recommend this trip not as good as i was expecting but didn't go hungry inside cabin was first class plenty to do or as little to do you could be either lazy or active which suited us Dubai, Abu Dabi and Oman are a must absolutely stunning and not to be misse loved the countries we visited and would do again first cruise and will be doing more finances allowing

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By Jim_CR

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Oct 3, 2011

Southern Caribbean

It was our first cruise. I found the staff to be very courteous. Forget about the island shopping "bargains" they tell you about or better push at you. In the Caribbean be prepared to be bombarded with locals wanting to sell you their trinkets, but you can't blame them for wanting to make money. The cruise should do a better job of warning you about what to expect. Do your homework and figure out exactly what you want to do on your excursions

(see below). Departure day can be a long wait in the theater, so have something to occupy your time. Couldn't expect it to be any better than it was. Really good with excellent wait staff every night. Very nice! Excellent. Although why is it that when a cruise director says "were going to party" the night away what he means is really aerobics class by the pool? Do your homework on your own. The excursion knowledge of the staff was poor. We wasted half a day at the wrong beach because of information provided by the excursion officer on board. Didn't want to leave.

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By Lisa_CR

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Nov 29, 2010

Southern Caribbean

This was the first cruise for my husband and 7 year old son and they are now hooked on cruising. Royal Caribbean outdid themselves on service on the Seranade of the Seas. Every crew member seems to really enjoy being there and they are hand picked to be around tourists, some more demanding than others. Our waiter and Asst. Waiter discovered our tastes in the first days and would bring our son some items from the menu that they thought he might like

and he LOVED them! We visited St. Lucia, Barbados, Antigua, St. Martian, St. Croix. Unfortunately, our cruise was just days behind Hurricane Thomas, which wiped out St. Lucia. I lived on the island, teaching scuba for 18 months and was excited to show my favorite island in the Caribbean to my family. But the island was still recovering from the landslides and therefore we could not go to Soufriere or go in the water. We did book the Turtles excursion in Barbados, which was wonderful for beginner snorkelers and advanced alike. They first take you to a couple of shallow wrecks, teaming with fish then to the shallow area just off the beach where turtles are known to come and they are fed squid. They will come so close that they can be touched. They are not aggresive. About 40 minutes later, you are sped away to a beautiful beach where you can spread out for about 45 minutes and drink rum punch before going back to the boat. This excursion came highly recommended by all who went. On Antigua we booked the "Swim with Stingrays". You are piled on a van for a 45-50 minute drive across the island, then onto a boat for 10 minutes to the "middle of the ocean". There are about 30 Southern Stingrays in a enclosure on the reef. Although some people, including myself, enjoyed this, my husband and son did not. The Rays were very aggresive in getting food. One lady in our group came out of the water with a large mark where one of the rays "sucked" on her leg. There was also the question of the Barracuda right behind the rays... we lost a few people to that too. So this is not an excusion for the faint of heart. On St. Maartin, we took a taxi to Orient beach and had a wonderful day. Highly recommended for anybody who wants to just get away and have a beautiful day on the beach. You can rent a couple of chairs and an unbrella for $10-15 or just park it in the sand like we did. Don't mind the nude and topless, there arent that many of them. Just warn the kids first. On St. Croix we took the shuttle to Christianstad and toured the fort (great history) and had a great lunch right on the water prior to going to "hotel on the Quay". This was the only thing I would say that Royal Caribbean would need to improve some. I was not overly impressed. We have been to Club Med many times and the food is better the Royal Caribbean. Very nice stateroom with balcony. Absolutely spend a few extra dollars for the balcony, it really makes the difference. We were able to sit outside and watch dolphins on several occasions. The Rock climbing wall was a big hit with my son but the kids club did nothing for him. Club Med does a better job with the kids. The rock Climbing wall needed to be open longer hours.

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Jul 4, 2010

Carribean

My favorite part was the WONDERFUL crew. The best I have ever had on a cruise. Always so polite and attentive. You will enjoy dinner and your stateroom and activities just because of the crew alone. The ports were left out of San Juan, Curaco, Aruba, Dominica and St Thomas. I really enjoyed Aruba and St Thomas as they were beautiful and people nice. Curaco was ok and Dominica had nice tour guides but they port was pretty scary. People were

really aggressive in trying to get you a cab, hairbraiding and tours. We meet some folks on the elevator that said they wil try to take your watch off your wrist. I would book a tour there and not walk around alone as there is really just ghetto around port. Left out of San Juan and it is wise to get there a day early so you know you will make it so you dont have to meet the ship in another port. Not a big selection of flights into and out of San Juan. Food in specialty restaurants was really good. Chops and portofino are both worth the extra cost. The staff is great!!!!!! The Murder dinner theater was a lot of fun and you get dinner in the Portofino restaurant plus wine is included for FREE....that alone is worth it if you enjoy some wine. We didnt go to the wine dinner but some others told us they really enjoyed it., Windjammer...hmm...not so good. A step above high school cafeteria. The omlette maker in the am was my new best friend. Reflections for the dinner seating is very good and the staff is wonderful. You can also go there for breakfast and lunch if you have time and it is much better than the windjammer Cleaned all the time. I think everytime we left the stateroom attendant cleaned it. The balcony was wonderful and worth the extra money. Bed would be my only change. We woke up everyday with a sore back. Look for all the nooks and crannies for storage such as the sides of mirrors and put suitcases under the bed to create extra room. Pay activities: Bingo was fun but a little expensive. Wine tasting was really interesting and worth the extra $15. Free activities: Dont miss the Quest ususally on the last night. Really funny but naughy so stay away if you dont appreciate that kind of humor. Try to get a team together to participate as this is much more fun than watching. Belly flop contest and love and marriage game are both very entertaining. Crew talent show is really good....especially if you are an american idol fan. Never visited spa (hard to believe as we are spa people) but heard from others that they loved it! Had fun in the casino but didnt stay long. Was winnig on the way out....losing on the way back. Hmmmmm I have heard that is how it always is on a cruise ship. We went to the port show thinking that we were going to learn about the ports but it is all shopping advice. I heard from other people the shopping book for $25 seemed worth it if you like to go on a treasure hunt as there were lots of free items to get. You just had to visit the store. The poeple I met said it paid for itself 10xs over. I also heard it was a great way to keep the kids entertained while mom shopped. BEST ADVICE: get to ALL activities EARLY to get a decent seat. Plan sea days early as stuff books up fast if you want to visit spa etc. Dont miss..... snorkelling anywhere is great. We did the sail, snorkel and swing in Aruba and it was great. Dont chicken out...get on the swing. Hato caves in Dominica were interesting but hot. I could have done without the tour to the museum and curaco factory as both were pretty lame. See Hato caves on your own. Wawa the tour guide is a wonderful lady....really class act. St Thomas: From cruise ship go out of gate to left 3 minute walk to the sky ride. Great views, adorable parrot show at 10:30 and 1:30 that is free and Bushwackers. So delicious but I'm warning you...... very strong! So So: Dominica. The river tubing and emerald pool. You drive a long time to tube in river for about 45 minutes at the MOST. They also stop at a bar/church for a rum punch or refreshment for 10 minutes so you can use the bathroom because at the emerald pool you have to actualy pay a dollar for a dirty bathroom with no toliet paper. Then more driving for a 15 minute hike into rainforest with a 10 minute swim at the emerald pool and another 15 minute hike out. The tour guide was really nice but it just wasnt worth 76 per person. I would suggest doing a tour that doesnt try to fit so much in for one tour because it is all driving. If you go...bring some money to SHOP. If you love jewelry this is the trip for you. I shopped in St Thomas and got great stuff for low prices. Also take some time in old san juan...There are a few outlets...Coach, Douney and Bourke, Burberry and Polo have amazing buys. Best Advice: You can store luggage at San Juan airport (near American Airlines terminal) and take a taxi back to town to shop. It is about a $20 cab ride to airport from port and $20 to and from town. This is much better then sitting at aiport for hours waiting for flight. Best advice: Dont be shy! Meet other people. It makes the trip so much more interesting. Promise!

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By Gina_CR

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Jun 25, 2010

Southern Caribbean

This was our very first cruising experience and we are sold on cruising duie to our incredible experience. I had done my homework and reviewed this cruise ship and cruise line before leaving so had no surprises except that it exceeded our expectations!!! THe cruise ship is excessively clean, the crew incredibly accomodating - there is nothing they wouldn't do for you and the food in the dining room just amazing! WE didn't even need to visit the

speciality restaurants as the dining room food is fantastic. The Windjammer breafast buffet is even better than the dining room breakfast food. The lunch buffet is OK for lunch - typical abundance but not super quality food but as I said very passable for lunch. Dining room food fantastic. Windjammer lunch buffet is very passable. Their breakfast buffet very good. We chose a balcony and would not do without it! We were in cabin 9574 and it was surprisinly spacious although the bathroom quite small. Shower space though very sufficient. Onboard activities abundant - we took in as many shows as possible pre and post dinner. We didn't have enough time to do all the activities. Attemded the wine tasting event but do not recommend it. We didn't book any excursions with the cruise line as I found them way too expensive. I knew where and what I wanted to see and got a taxi at the different ports. This was alot cheaper than the prices on the cruiseship. Don't miss snorkling at the Champagne Beach in Dominica - super warm waters although very rocky beach but beautiful. A must in Curacao is the Puerto Maria Beach. This is a private beach (costs $2.00 p/ person to enter and $3.00 p/person to rent a chair on the beach. The beach is absolutely spectacular! Take the local bus in Aruba for $1.50 p/person and go to the beach. We went to Palm beach but any beach is great in Aruba. We flew into Puerto Rico as the itinerary was better and we had a choice of more islands. Highly recommend doing this. Cruising from Florida had more days at sea and less exotic islands. Curacao was my preferred island and St.Thomas my least preferred - really nothing to do unless you want to shop for diamonds. Every shop sells diamonds and it is very commercial. Curaco is indeed the cheapest if you plan to buy stuff. Their clothing shops sell alot of linen and I regret not buying there. Pack running shoes for the island of Dominica as it is a rain forest and you really cannot climb unless you have proper foot attire.

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By Gail_CR

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Oct 21, 2009

Panama Canal

We just returned from a two week cruise, our first with RCL. It has been the very best of all the cruises we have ever been on. The ship was fabulous, the staff friendly and accommodating, the food was good (although we are not the fussiest of eaters), the room was well appointed and comfortable. It was the best cruise experience we have had. We have sailed on seven different lines but this is the first time I feel like we will return to Royal

Caribbean again-we have never felt like we wanted to go with any of the other carriers a second time in the past. Our main complaints with the other ships have been a lack of adequate seating space around the ship, lines that went on forever for departure and buffet service (whoever put the omelet and waffle stations in the middle of the food lines was a complete idiot) and general crowd control. This ship has all of that covered and done correctly. I once had to stand up for an entire nighttime show on another ship, not on this one even though we got there a bit late one night, we still found a place to sit down and this was a full ship. The waiters, guest relations folks, room stewards, cruise director--actually all the ship personnel--were wonderful and accommodating. They met us with frozen washcloths on the pier after we were out in the heat! The food was very good, although we all thought that some of the choices were a bit weird. I suppose they pick some of those dishes to satisfy vegan eaters. All of the dishes we had were tasty, served hot and we never had any trouble if we wanted more or if we didn't like what we had chosen. Our waiter said to our table to just tell him and he would do whatever he had to to make us happy with our meals! We ate at both of the pay-to-go restaurants on board, Chops Grille and Potofino. There was a bit of confusion with the check in Portofino, but nothing that couldn't be worked out swiftly. The food was good tasting and beautifully served. The desserts were fabulous. We do not regularly eat at expensive "white plate" restaurants, so this was a treat for us. Perhaps if you are more of a gourmand it would not impress you as much. The excursions were so so, but we were in third world areas so I was not expecting much. Some of the narration was non existent or in heavily accented English, but I got the gist of what we were seeing. In Guatemala there was a delay getting back to our motor coach and the locals swarmed us with their wares like piranhas on fresh meat. They would not take "no" for an answer,either. This is not RCL's fault, it is indigenous to the area. My only big complaint is that the prices in the stores on board were beyond ridiculous for some of the items, so we shopped off the ship. The shopping guru was no help and rather annoying, so we just shopped elsewhere. I am experienced at finding what I want without being sent to stores that pay the ship to advertise for them. I shopped for jewelry in Grand Cayman, got certified stones and warranties without RCL getting their kickback. I would highly recommend the Serenade of the Seas. I can't wait to go again.

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Jul 24, 2009

Alaska

We were extrememly disappointed with the entertainment, and our dining table location. They should not even put a dining table against the wall and column where we were located. There was no view of the ocean. This was our 5th Royal Caribbean cruise, we are members of the Crown and Anchor and we were given this horrible table. We complained to no avail. The "My Time" diners were given the best tables every night. We were stuck with our bad table

for the entire 7 days. I know how to fix that...my wife and I decided to use Princess or Holland on our next cruise. The food was never hot enough. The food was ok but we have had better on other cruises. Royal Caribbean seems to use the same menu on many of their ships and we would like to see more variety. We were hoping to have local Alaska seafood. Halibut, king crab, etc. which we did not get. However, our waiters were great!! There are not enough tables in the Windjammer restaurant for breakfast and lunch. You either had to sit outside in the cold or take the food back to your room or walk around and hope for someone to get up. We had a balcony stateroom and it was nice. Our statroom attendent was wonderful! The activities were the same old same old on every Royal Caribbean cruise. We were hoping for a little change. The excursions were very expensive (as always). In Juneau there were tour vendors lined up on the dock offering the same tours for 1/3rd the cost of the same tour that we booked on the ship. We will know for next time. We will try another cruise line on our next cruise. Our table location and the bad entertainment helped us make that decision.

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Dec 9, 2006

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 http://www.shoretrips.com 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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Oct 15, 2006

San Diego to Cabo San Lucas

The Serenade of the Seas was a wonderful cruise experience. The highlights that stand out are; gold member benefits (2+ cruises on Royal Caribbean) of useable coupons like internet credit of $5 per person, 2 for 1 drink coupons (1 per person), and a very nice complimentary picture frame per person. Being avid cruisers, our stateroom was nicely upgraded. The Solarium pool area was the most beautiful I have ever seen, with a jungle

of exotic plants (high quality silk), calming bird and water sounds, and a retractable roof. The buffet food was very good with no lines and ample and varied nearby seating. The desserts stood out. In addition, lemonade, ice cream and cookies are available in the buffet (not so on some cruise lines). The Shore excursion tenders are the BEST I’VE EVER SEEN with UPPER OPEN DECK SEATING, and a more open airy interior, and they are very large (way above the usual dank stuffy hot small tender). The disco dancing area was very large and has an open feeling, with loud modern music on the dance floor and lots of sitting areas moving away from the loud music for chatting and a wonderful view (not small, or stuffy, or tucked away in the interior, like many others). The cigarette smoke was the least I've ever noticed on a cruise ship, with most areas off limits to smoking. The Guest services office was well staffed with no lines, and they immediately made me lots of small change for use ashore (not so on other lines). The water pressure in the shower was strong and the water was immediately warm and consistent. The ship was very stable and quiet. These are both big items, A STABLE AND QUIET SHIP! The "Reflections" main dining room was worthy of mention. We once arrived 10 minutes late for breakfast... No Problem! The lobster and Escargot' entrees were the best I've ever had. The gymnasium was nicely separated from the spa, and the equipment was newer, good quality, and ample. A final mention to the on board Cell Phone service tied to Cingular, and many internet stations and wireless hot spots! Thanks Royal Caribbean!

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Sep 23, 2006

Vancouver to Hawaii

The Trip This includes the trip one-day prior to the cruise and a two (2) day stay after the cruise, all of which was included in the purchase of our cruise. As is our way we make all arrangements through Royal Caribbean for air, transportation, and hotels. Since we only fly on our vacations frequent flyer miles or any other air incentives usually mean little to nothing for us, we have discovered the cruise line pricing is equal to

or cheaper then trying to book separate air, transportation, and hotels. Of all of our past cruises this was by far the best when it came to the arrangements by Royal Caribbean. Because of luggage issues, discussed later, we ended up never having to manage our large suitcases because of the arrangements. The hotel took our luggage from our room directly to the cruise line prior to our arrival at the ship. After the cruise our luggage was taken directly from the ship to our hotel and delivered to our room, and on our return trip we used an optional luggage and airport check-in offered by the hotel. So we handled our own luggage twice, once when we arrived at our airport to leave and once upon our return. At every location on the way we were met and handled by the cruise line representatives as promised. At our hotel in Honolulu they had a special desk for guests of our cruise that handled our transportation, luggage, and sight seeing packages. One thing we noticed at the hotel was the number of packages offered varied from desk to desk, but when you looked at the options and added them up, all of the grand totals were identical. Of course no vacation starts with a good start, there is always last minute packing and an early trip to the airport and this trip was no different. For the most part the packing was done by 8:00 PM, but final preparations took until 11:00 PM. We had to awake about 3:30 AM for our trip to the airport, since we were flying to Vancouver, British Columbia it is considered an international flight, we were instructed to arrive 2 o 3 hours in advance. This meant for our 8:30 AM flight we were to be there by 5:30 AM. We had opted to fly from Milwaukee so we arrived about 6:00 AM, parked in the garage, unloaded the suitcases, made our way to the terminal, checked our bags and received our boarding passes, made security and arrived at our gate by 7:00 AM with no problems. On this trip we used different gates and as such had our choice of different eating establishments, we opted for breakfast sandwiches from “Quizno’s”, actually they were pretty good and not over priced for airport food, we also enjoyed juice and coffee. Had we known what was to follow we would have had more. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 8:45 AM for Denver, and this flight loaded and departed on time, we were offered “Teddy Grahams” and a drink. Our first stop was Denver and we actually arrived about 20 minutes early, so we had to sit on the tarmac and wait for our gate to open. Unfortunately the departing flight was 15 minutes late in departing; this gave us less then 30 minutes to reach our connecting flight, which of course was at the opposite end of the airport. We made the flight with only 15 minutes to spare and had no time in which to grab food of any kind. We then continued to Vancouver, again offered a little bag of snack crackers and a drink. By the time we had landed in Vancouver we had been in the air or waiting in airports for over 8 hours. Having landed in Canada we had to clear Canadian customs, after walking for what seemed miles we were finally led to a large collecting area where we were herded into lines like amusement parks. There were two (2) main lines to choose from, and then we would slowly wind our way to the front. Once at the front we found about 4 total agents working the lines. Ours seemed put out that we were only staying for 24 hours, he asked us why, told him a cruise, he asked where we were staying, we replied the Hyatt, handed us our passports and told us to pass. Now it was on to the luggage claim area, of course we had to locate our carousel, then try to locate our luggage. It wasn’t long before we realized that everyone on our flight had departed and we still had no luggage. Then it’s on to the lost luggage department. Of course you need to tell them what happened and their first question was, did you have a connecting flight? Told her yes and then she asked for our luggage claim tickets, a few minutes on the computer confirmed our luggage was still in Denver. We had to describe all four bags as to color and style and we were then told that they would send our luggage on the next flight and we should have it delivered later that night to our hotel. From there it was on to find the cruise representative to locate our transportation to the hotel. To our surprise the cruise agent was waiting for us right outside the doors, and her first question was, “Where’s your luggage?” We had to explain that it was still in Denver and would hopefully make it to the hotel later that evening or else they would deliver it to the ship. From there she directed us to the bus stand to await our transportation. We were told our bus would come in about 30 minutes, in a couple minutes a bus showed up, but it was not going to our hotel, our bus should arrive in about 30 minutes. Finally our bus shows up and we load on, but we notice that other people are asking for additional stops. Slowly we start winding our way through traffic towards town, making stops at street corners and other hotels, we find it rather strange that we have driven past the same Hyatt hotel twice but never stopped. Finally after about 45 minutes we pull up to the Hyatt, yes the same one we had passed twice earlier. We find our way to the front desk and check in, of course we are asked again about our luggage, so once again we tell our sad story. We are told they would supply us with a toiletry kit and would notify us as soon as our luggage arrives. We then inquire about food and are told the only places to eat nearby are in the hotel and are directed to the two establishments in the hotel. We are also asked if we would like to get some local currency to avoid problems, they would exchange U.S. dollars for Canadian then convert anything left before we leave. Seemed like a good deal at the time, gave her $40.00 U.S. and received $43.00 in return. Found our room to drop our carry on luggage then try to find food as it was 3:00 PM local time, 5:00 PM our time and about 10 hours since we ate normal food. As it turns out all of the restaurants in the hotel were closed until 5:30 PM, so we started walking around and found a newsstand that had candy bars, bought a couple and continued our search. It turns out the hotel is connected to a mall of some sort and included in the mall is a food court, down on the lower level. Success! Oops not so fast, turns out the food court establishments all close at 3:00 PM on Saturdays. All except for one (1) that we found still had it’s doors open, although they were obviously in the process of closing and cleaning they asked us if we would like to order some food. We of course responded, YES! Deb ordered the lasagna and I had a patty melt with fries, and of course we each had a drink. At this point it didn’t matter how much it cost or how bad it tasted, it was food. On the other hand it was tasty and reasonably priced. After our little dinner we retired to our room to try and relax. During that time I decided to go outside and see what sights I could see and found that right next door was a Tim Horton’s and a McDonalds. At least I had found a place in which we could get some breakfast in the morning. When I returned Deb was sleeping and I watched a little TV, waiting for the desk to call and say our luggage had finally arrived. By 9:00 PM I had not heard anything so I called the United Airlines luggage number we had been given. According to the recorded message our luggage was on a 7:00 PM flight, but they did not say it had departed at that time or if it was due to land at that time. Try as I might I could not reach a live operator so I finally gave up and went to bed. At 2:00 AM Deb got up to use the bathroom and she noticed the message light was blinking on the phone, so she called the desk and found out our luggage had arrived and they wanted to know if they should hold them until morning or bring them up to the room. Opted to have it delivered to the room to verify it was ours and that all bags were present. It was ours and we had them all. With that done we both went back to sleep. The hotel itself was a very nice hotel, with a very nice view of the city and the bay. However it reminded me of downtown Miami as the doormen warned me about venturing off on my own and saw them chase away the homeless and vagrants repeatedly from the doors, outside café, and patrons waiting for the cars or cabs. Does not seem to be a very welcome area in which to wander alone. With the bus coming at 11:00 Am to take us to the cruise terminal and with the time changes we had gone through getting up early was not a problem. Got up and did the normal morning things, shave, shower and the such, and since we had the luggage we actually had clean clothes. Finally we had something to laugh about. Turns out the Hyatt’s are in the process of renovating the hotels and we happened to have one of the new rooms. Imagine my surprise when I turned on the tub and realized there was no showerhead on the wall, looking around I saw one imbedded in the ceiling. It was rather interesting to have the water come directly down on your head except it presented on minor problem. How does one rinse off any body parts that the water does not reach? One needs to be inventive in order to remove all soapsuds when trying to rinse off. That done I got dressed and told Deb I would go and get us some food from either McD’s or Tim’s. Upon my return Deb asked what the shower was all about and asked how I managed to rinse off. I just told her I had to become a contortionist and stand on my head in order to complete the required tasks. Of course we both stood there and laughed about the antics we could imagine each of us had done. We had the bellmen pick up the luggage as it was going to be delivered directly to the ship for us, went down to check out and try to exchange the left over money. Checkout was easy trying to exchange the money was not. I was told they could not exchange it back for me, so now I have about $12.00 in Canadian money somewhere. Day 1: The bus did come at 11:00 AM as listed and we were on our way. Of course our ship was not in the cruise terminal near our hotel but rather in the commercial port across the bay. It took a little time to make our way into the port, as the bus had to wait in traffic as cars cleared security, but at least we could see our ship. Once we made the terminal check in was easy, turns out we were the first bus to arrive, so no one was in front of us anywhere. Once we checked in we had to clear Canadian customs again then clear U.S. customs before we could enter the ship. That done we were on board and home free!! During this check in period we met up with a nice couple from California, Mike and Corrine, and they ended up being our companions, or us theirs, during the whole cruise. It made our cruise enjoyable meeting up with others who shared the same interests as us, yet for the most part we did things we wanted to do by ourselves, meeting up when it was convenient for all of us. We located our cabin on the ship, dropped off our carryon luggage and headed to the windjammer for lunch and some real food. Once we were fed and content we headed back to our cabin and imagine our surprise when most of our luggage was waiting at the door for us. Not only were we some of the first people onboard but we also received our luggage long before others. Took advantage of the situation to start putting away our items, took a rest on our balcony and took in the sights and waited for the mandatory lifeboat drill. Also a first for us, we did not have to stand on the deck; we got to sit in the one specialty dinning rooms. We have learned our lessons over the years, carry your lifejacket to the designated area, check in with the cruise representative, sit back and wait. Having survived the lifeboat drill we returned to our cabin to find the rest of our luggage delivered and to meet our room steward for the week. That complete we started on a journey to discover the amenities of the ship. The Ship We have to admit, for the ship being 3 years old, we found very few worn or damaged items anywhere, of course not to say we didn’t see any signs of wear and tear, but they were minimal. We took our tour of the ship to find the main theater, gift shops, casino, pool area, solarium, mini golf course, kids play area, and any other sights. Although our kids are no longer young enough to use the kids area we were impressed by how much they have evolved over the years from when we first started cruising. Today each age group has it’s own areas and seems set up much better. Maybe someday the grandkids will get their turn. We decided that we are not into paying extra to use the “specialty” restaurants the food in the regular dinning room is good enough for us. One thing we have noticed with the larger ships is that the “Captain’s” night is not as formal as it was on smaller ships. And along that line fewer people are also attending. Although we attended, we did not take the time to meet the captain or have our picture taken with him, we also noticed the horsdourves and cocktails are less then inviting, as a matter of fact we found no fruit punch and champagne being served at the reception. However we also attended the “returning passenger” reception, it was far less crowded, food and drinks were much better. And the “Crown and Anchor” reception was a brunch this time, food and drinks were very good, and again very few actually attended. The ship itself is very impressive, from the entry on deck 4 right up to the top on deck 13. From deck 4 in the atrium you have a view right to the top of the ship. The glass elevators allow you to view the atrium if on the inside set, or the ocean view if on the outside. All floors have an opening onto the atrium and allow you to see the views up and down the center. Deck 4 has the “Guest Relations” desk, dinning room, and an area for computers. Deck 5 is the dinning room and shopping. In the front is the theater on decks 5 and 6, the seating is very good but we along with many others found the seats to be very uncomfortable. Of course in RCI fashion we had shows every night while at sea and movies while in port. The shows continue to be impressive and entertain all who attend. Deck 6 is the optional dinning rooms, lounges, and casino. Decks 7 through 10 contain mostly passenger cabins with center areas set aside for computers or library space. Deck 11 is the pool deck. The outside pools and such are in the center, the solarium, spa, and work out areas are towards the bow, the aft portion is the “Windjammer” dinning room. Deck 12 aft contains the kids areas, the kids water park area, and the basketball court along with the “Seaview Café”. It serves only sandwiches and light side orders, the difference is they are prepared fresh when you order them. The food and service is no charge but drinks are pay per order. They do offer water and some sort of juice for no charge, and as normal you may take the food out on the deck. Deck 13 is the mini golf course and the climbing wall. We have found that we eat only our main dinner in the main dinning room, the rest of our meals either came from the “Windjammer” or the “Seaview Café”. The assortment in the windjammer allows for different foods no matter what the meal is. For breakfast my wife also enjoys having her egg white omelet made fresh along with her choices of fillings and toppings. If there was a complaint about the food it had to be the bacon. It was not your traditional bacon and it was not listed as being anything other then bacon, it just never tasted right. As for lunch there was always a vast assortment of salads and foods ranging from meats and fish to burgers, hot dogs, and pizza along with all the trimmings. Since this cruise was part of a “repositioning” cruise, the previous cruise was to Alaska, quiet a few passengers were a carry over from the last cruise, and a lot of the passengers were from Canada. There were very few children of any age on the cruise; I don’t think I counted more then 20 kids’ total. Back to the Cruise The first five days of the cruise were “at sea”. We were fortunate in that the weather was relatively warm and the seas calm, of course by the time we approached Hawaii the temps increased. The skies were partly cloudy most of the time so we saw very few sunrises or sunsets as it seemed the clouds were always on the horizon at sea level, although I did get a few shots one day of each the sunrise and sunset. Since we were at sea, we decided to try and take part of the “Art Auctions” during the day. The only thing they ask is that you register before the auction begins, any registered guest is entitled to a “free” piece of art following the auction, all registered guests are included for a drawing for a “free” painting following every day’s auction, and prior to the auction you are offered free champagne. We were pleasantly surprised to find that not all of the art was priced beyond our means. We actually purchased two (2) pieces during the auctions; one piece cost us more the second day because we had not purchased it the first day. That and our friends were trying to do us a favor and purchase it for us. They were in the back of the room while we were in the front; once they realized they were bidding against they dropped out and allowed us to purchase the artwork. In addition we were selected a winner of one drawing, and our friends, Mike and Corrine, were winners of one piece plus a $500.00 certificate towards the purchase of another. Other then the auctions we took advantage of the sailing days to rest and take in the sights and activities of the ship, such as golfing, gaming, shopping, etc. Day 7 of the cruise found us anchored in Lahaina, Maui. Used the tenders to get to the island, once there we wandered around town for a little while then found the free shuttle to “Whalers Village”. Unfortunately we thought we were going to a old village, it actually is part of a hotel resort complex and definitely geared to those of better wealth then us. It is an outdoor mall-shopping complex filled with the high-end gift shops. Got back on the shuttle and headed back to town to see what other sights we could find. In town, under the large Banyan tree was a local craft fair in the park. On display and for sale were many local artisan wares that we had not seen in any gift shops, of course we did buy a few postcards to send home for the grandkids that were made by a local artisan based on an idea from his kids. Decided to return to the ship and return tomorrow. Day 8, still at Lahaina, today we have a tour of the Maui Ocean Center, the local aquarium and rain forest. The aquarium was definitely worth the price and time. Though it’s not as large as some it had all the local sea life on exhibit and guides place though out the sight to answer questions should you have any. Then it was on to the “rain forest” and it lived up to its name. By the time we reached the mountain it was dark and raining, at times the rain was pretty hard. Once we arrived we decided not to venture out into the weather, as we had not come prepared to venture out in such weather. Spent a few minutes taking in the sights from the bus windows and then we headed off back to town. Once there we ventured into a few more shops and the craft fair again then headed back to the ship. That night as we set sail the wind was very strong and seas rather rough, they had to close and lock the doors to deck 5 as to keep the passengers dry and safe. Day 9 found us in Hilo on the big island of Hawaii. The morning was absolutely gorgeous; the mountain was clearly visible along with the observatory. However I was not smart enough to have my camera with me at the time and probably missed the best shots of the trip. By the time I returned after breakfast the clouds and fog had shrouded the sights and we never saw them again. Took a tour of the Botanical Gardens, another beautiful sight, we could have spent twice as much time there as we were allowed. But once again our timing was perfect, it started to rain as we made our way back to the starting point, and rain it did for quiet a while, as a matter of fact it rained all the way back to the pier and stopped when we walked back to the ship. That night we sailed by the active lava fields, and what sights we saw. The active red molten lava pouring out of the channels into the ocean. Seeing the red hot lava hitting the ocean and causing large balls of fire, steam and smoke. At times we saw the lava become fireballs dancing across the ocean. According to the captain we were between a mile and a mile and a half away from the shore, but the sights were just fascinating. After we had passed once the captain announced he was turning the ship around so people on the other side could see the sights, so I took off to our cabin to take more pictures from our balcony, then after we passed on our side he turned again to continue our journey so I headed off to the other side again. I must admit it was rather difficult to take pictures with a digital camera at night into the darkness trying to catch the glow, this is one time that s standard 35mm camera would have been better. I did manage to get a few photos and a short video of the flow. Day 10 found us in Kailua Kona and pouring rain. Fortunately the rain started to let up and we managed to get our “glass bottom” boat tour in without any problem. In addition to the “standard” local sea life we also saw a moray eel and a small octopus in the coral reef. The big joke on the pier was to take the local free shuttle to see the “Wal-Mart”. So not to be outdone we loaded on and went to see what they had to offer. For the most part the Wal-Mart on Kona is the same as the local Wal-Mart in your hometown except the have a few pieces of Hawaiian clothes. Prices and items seemed about the same as any other. Returned to the ship just prior to another rainstorm, so we managed to keep dry again. Once back on board we met with Mike and Corinne for lunch in the Sea view Café for fresh sandwiches and sides. While back onboard I confirmed with a member of the crew that we did indeed have a stabilizer problem when cruising above 18 knots and they hoped to repair it when in Honolulu in a couple of days. We also inquired about the “wake up calls’ not working. We were told that it was not working when programmed from your cabin phone, but would work when the front desk entered the information, wrong. That evening we thought we would return to the photo center to pick out our pictures, we had been told that we should pick up our photos every night and place them all together so that at the end of the cruise we could pick from all of the pictures taken. Imagine our surprise when we found all of our pictures had been moved and split up. The photo counter was going to try to search for our photo’s in the records but after an hour we actually found them in different locations, some had been split up and others were still grouped together. During this endeavor we actually learned that one of the photo staff has a boyfriend from one of our neighboring towns back in Illinois. Day 11, we are still in Kona. Met with Mike and Corinne for breakfast then off for a morning of walking to see the sights and do some shopping. The weather was nice and the area not to crowded so we walked the main street along the beach stopping to check out the local stores and sights. Returned to the ship for a late lunch then take a short rest and get ready for dinner. Following dinner we had to pick up our “carry off” picture we had purchased in the art auction, then for a short photo session with Mike and Corinne to remember our journey together. Went to the last show of the trip then met for drinks and small talk until time to return to our rooms for our final night sleep on board. Day 12 found us in Honolulu tied up tight to the pier. Met with Mike and Corinne for our final breakfast together, said our good-byes and returned to our cabin to pick up our carry on luggage. Being Crown and Anchor members we are given the right to use a private lounge with refreshments to await our call to depart the ship. Since we were staying in Honolulu for two days following the cruise our regular bags had been sent ahead to our hotel so all we had to do was locate our bus when called. Of course since our lounge was near the ships exit door we were instructed by the cruise line to “just blend in” with the line when we were summoned. We were actually one of the last groups to be called and the line to the door was very long, so we tried to blend in, however someone in the crowd took exception to us and voiced their opinion of us trying to butt in. A few words were spoken to calm them and all went well. This time as we came out of the pier we were directed to our buses to take us to the hotels. It took no more then an hour to arrive at the hotel, “The Hilton Hawaiian Village”. It seemed like a long walk from the bus drop off area to the front desk, plus we were directed by people from Royal Caribbean to a special desk to receive information regarding our stay and pick up for the airport at the completion of our stay. The people were very helpful and also supplied information on tours and other options. Upon looking at our pick up times for the airport I discovered the flight times were still incorrect. The cruise personnel had to call the airlines to verify the correct time then contact the bus company to correct our pick up time. From there we made our way to the front desk for check in. Since it was about 11:00 AM, normal check out time, the lines were very long. Then once we made the counter we were told that our room was not yet ready and they would call us when complete. Unfortunately it took the better part of an hour and a half before our room was finally ready. Since we had to wait we used the time to locate the “post office” on the grounds to try and mail our picture home that we were carrying with us. There actually is a Fed-Ex and Post office in the same building right on the grounds. We showed them the size of the picture and asked which would be cheaper, and to our surprise the Fed-Ex agent told us to mail it. The mail staff was more than friendly and assisted us in wrapping the box and making sure we were happy with the packaging before applying the postage. The cost for packaging and mailing was only $35.00 and the package arrived safe and sound two days after we did, well worth the cost. By that time we were ready for another nap, but once again we needed food. Unfortunately the food prices at the hotel are very HIGH, but we were also very fortunate that our bus driver had pointed out a 24 hour dinner across the street and recommended it from his own personal experience. Decent prices, good food, and large helpings and decent service, what a find! After lunch we returned for a short nap then set out to explore the hotel grounds and see what else was around. Unfortunately the hotel sales staff in the stores seemed more interested in selling us the possibility of buying into the vacation club rather then selling their wares. So we wandered the beach path and ended up by some other hotels and found a “Denny’s” for dinner, then retraced our tracks back to hotel as we had an early wake up for our trip to “PEARL HARBOR” in the morning and then “Polynesian Cultural Center” that afternoon. Before returning to our room we had discovered an “ABC” store on the grounds, so we stopped to purchase some muffins for breakfast, bottles of water and pop to have in our room. If you are ever in Hawaii definitely look for those stores as the prices are very affordable and they carry anything you could ever need. Friday morning found us up at 4:40 AM to prepare for our trip to “Pearl Harbor”. Had some of our muffins and glasses of water. Made our way to the bus pick up area for our bus at 6:00 AM. Loaded in and made a few more stops before actually departing for the harbor. When we arrived we were near the front of the line and actually had tickets number 2 for the exhibit. It opens at 7:30 AM and is first come first served as you enter. By the time we left the opening movie for our ride to the memorial the line was wrapped around the parking lot. We were told to meet the tour bus driver in front of the entrance at 10:00 AM for our return to the hotels. We actually had more then enough time to view the movie, take our trip to the memorial, and roam the museum at the entrance before our return. Arrived back at the hotel about 11:00 AM so we had one hour before we had to meet the bus for our afternoon and evening at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Departed the hotel a little after noon for our ride, which took a little over an hour. During the ride we were shown many sights of the island along with facts of island life or lore. The trip was very enjoyable and did not seem to take that long. When we purchased the trip we were given three options and prices. The basic ride there along with dinner and the show, in this package you are free to roam the ground as you see fit. Package two was a guided tour, Luau dinner, and show, and package three was the same except for a buffet dinner. We opted for the buffet dinner and the guided tour, which was nice as we were guided to areas out of synch of others, yet we actually got to see a lot of the grounds and shows. They are not bashful about telling you up front that it takes more then one day to see the whole area and that our tickets were good for three days to enter the grounds, but that did not include tours or meals. After our tour the guide took us back to the restaurants and told when and where to go for the show, at that time she presented us with a gift bag that included a guidebook and DVD for each of us. After the dinner we were free to roam the grounds and gift shops until show time. They only asked that we are seated a few minutes before show time and all of our tickets had seat assignments so seating would not be an issue. Our seats were in the 5th or 6th row so we had perfect sight lines of the stage. The show lasted about 1-½ hours and was very enjoyable. We then returned to our bus for the long ride back to the hotels. We were lucky and our hotel was the first stop so we were in bed by a little after 11:00 PM. Saturday morning found us sleeping in, as we did not have to check out until 11:00AM. In the morning I took a walk back to the ABC store to get some fresh muffins for breakfast, took our time to load the suitcases back up. I actually checked out at 11:00 AM but left my wife in the room so we could call for the bellmen to take our luggage to the “Easy Check” as service offered on sight to check your bags and receive your boarding passes for our return trip home. You pay for this service, but in my opinion it was well worth the cost, as we did not have to carry our bags to the airport and check in. I had also made arrangement with the hotel to secure the use of a “Complimentary Refreshment Room” for 45 minutes during the late afternoon. So we spent the rest of the morning doing our final gift shopping and photo taking, then went to lunch at the dinner, returned an used our room to freshen up and take a couple bottles of water. Then we just sat and waited for our turn to load the bus to the airport. The bus arrived about 6:45 PM for our trip to the airport, since we had no baggage to check we were allowed to proceed right to the security area. Good thing we checked the board before entering the security check point, as we did not see any more boards for flight information. We must admit that we were slightly disappointed in the food fares offered in the airport. We had a choice of Burger King or Burger King for dinner. Once we ate we found we had about a ½ mile walk to our gate, once there we found another news stand that also sold snacks and such so we loaded up on a few candy bars just in case we got no food again on the plane. Actually they offered us the chance to purchase snack packs for $5.00 each. We bought the one we figured would be the most edible, but if course it tasted like garbage. Should have bought more candy bars. Landed in Denver on Sunday morning and this time we had better then an hour and a half to kill before boarding so we found some cinnabuns and coffee for breakfast. From there we continued on to Milwaukee and our final destination, home. We actually pulled in our driveway at 3:15 PM after leaving for the airport at 6:45 PM the night before, with a 5-hour time change, and only catching a few hours of sleep on the plane. It made for a VERY long day. Final thoughts: We thoroughly enjoyed this trip and would love to take it again or one similar to it. We thought about doing the cruise from Hawaii back to the states. For one the dates up front would be your “busy” days to see the islands, and if you wanted to see more on the islands you would have to go a few days before the cruise. The advantage to this would be the days you have to rest while sailing back to the states. It appears that Royal Caribbean only offers a few sailing’s to or from Hawaii and they must be booked as soon as they appear or you risk the chance of not getting your booking. It’s to bad that RCI does not see fit to have more ships sailing to that market more frequently, we’re sure it would be a hit no matter what the season. We did meet a couple from a competitors cruise line that only sails the islands, and they were a little disappointed in their cruise. Everything was listed as “open” for meals and such, and because of that they felt they did not get the chance to meet and mingle with their fellow cruisers like we do on our conventional cruise. We were also warned that once we took a balcony we would never be satisfied with a standard cabin again. I admit the balcony is nice, and when you are at sea it’s a nice quiet spot to sit and relax, but other then that we find we spend very little time in our cabin and I’m sure we will be just as happy with a standard ocean view room the next time. My wife on the other hand, truly loved the balcony and would sit on it every chance she had. Although she admits that having the balcony was a great feature to this cruise, she will cruise again without one, but will always miss not having that privilege and privacy.

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Sep 16, 2006

Alaska

My wife Norma and I were in Vancouver for a three-day meeting, and we booked this particular cruise because its departure date coincided with the end of that obligation. We were accompanied by another couple, and none of us had ever been to Alaska. For three of the travelers, this was their first visit to Vancouver, and they absolutely loved it. If you have the time, try to spend a few days before or after your cruise, visiting this

remarkable city and some of the beautiful surrounding area. Vancouver has two separate cruise ship facilities, and they are several miles apart. The preferred one is at Canada Place, right in the heart of downtown, and literally across the street from several large hotels. With the harbor and the Rockies in the background, the view from your hotel room window can be stunning. The second facility is the Ballantyne Pier, which is a short cab ride from the major hotels. It’s an excellent facility, but not nearly as impressive visually. We boarded our ship at the Ballantyne pier. First of all, a few notes about the embarkation/disembarkation. One reads a lot of complaints about this aspect of cruising, but our experience this time was excellent. The process at both ends of the cruise, was fast, efficient, and friendly. I don’t see how it could have been any better; even the customs officials had a friendly smile and made polite conversation! We particularly appreciated the orderly boarding of the airport busses, at the end of the cruise. This was in stark contrast to the absolutely dreadful situations I have experienced in Fort Lauderdale. I’m not sure whether most of the credit should go to Royal Caribbean or to the Port of Vancouver, but it was quite a contrast. The cruise itself was compromised by the weather, which can be an issue in that part of the world. We were told that the cruise the week before had encountered seven days of beautiful sunshine, but we experienced a lot of fog and rain. We were sailing the last cruise of the 2006 season so this did not come as a surprise to us. The up-side to all the rain is that the Hubbard Glacier was absolutely beautiful. We learned that the overcast skies give the ice a clear blue tint which shows the glacier to advantage. And, we saw lots of whales and porpoises, so maybe they were brought out by the rain. Ironically, at Ketchikan we had to cancel our planned outing to the rain forest because of the heavy rains. When the weather is poor, most passengers want to be inside, and this puts a strain on the facilities inside the ship. At times this ship seemed really crowded, especially in the areas adjacent to the Centrum. This situation was compounded by the poor placement of some of the daily activities. For example, art auctions were staged in the Centrum, at base level. The noise from these over-amplified proceedings would carry to the common areas in the upper galleries of the Centrum – where there is an open library, and several supposedly ‘quiet areas’. A similar situation existed in the beautiful aft-lounges, where an over-amplified daily Bingo would be held next-door to the card room. Some of these areas became practically unusable during the day because of the excessive noise levels. Otherwise, the ship-board experience was good, but not up to the standard we experienced on previous cruises with Royal Caribbean. To be fair, the Serenade of the Seas is a beautiful ship and the crew keep it spotlessly clean. Our stateroom attendants were excellent, and most of the hotel crew were friendly and helpful. But there were occasional breakdowns in service. In the dining room, for example, some tables appeared to be receiving excellent service, while some other tables (ours, for example) had inexperienced staff who simply needed more training. Embarrassingly, there seemed to be a minor mix-up of some kind at every meal. As for the food, it was probably average for this category of cruise ship. On previous cruises, we’ve found the quality of the live entertainment to be better. This time, especially in the lounges, we encountered musicians who seemed to be terminally bored and just going through their paces. By the end of the cruise we were beginning to learn the sequence of some of their repertoires. Would we repeat this cruise? No. Certainly the weather can play a huge factor in your enjoyment of an Alaskan cruise, but Royal Caribbean simply did not measure up to our expectations in several areas that are not really weather dependent. Fortunately, we were in the company of good friends, so we had a good time despite the spotty service by Royal Caribbean.

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Feb 18, 2006

Southern Caribbean

This was at least my 10th cruise, my wife’s second and the first time for our 7 year old son. Our choices were limited for the busy February winter vacation week (we live in New England) and we wanted to do the Southern Caribbean. My wife and I had been on Navigator of the Seas two years prior and I had been on Majesty and Sovereign as well. Our choice came down to Serenade of the Seas or a Carnival ship and the decision was pretty

easy…Royal Caribbean is a big giant step above any Carnival ship. Getting there: We were on a charter flight that Royal Caribbean had arranged. Every passenger on this flight was headed to a cruise ship. We were told at check in to eat ahead of time because there would be no food served. We actually got served a full chicken parmesan meal. The meal wasn’t very good, but we did get food. When we arrived the flight attendant also told us all we had to do was identify our bags on carrousel #2 and then they would be taken to the ship for us. Actually our bags were on carrousel #1 and we had to take our bags with us to a waiting truck outside. The Royal Caribbean staff at the airport in San Juan was disorganized and there were no lines for anyone to wait in. It was just one big mass of humanity. We didn’t get on board the ship till 8:00 pm; too late for dinner but right on time for the muster drill. Our room (cabin 8527): This was the first time since I was a child that we stayed in an inside cabin. We did this to try and save a little money. We will never make this mistake again. Always go with an outside cabin and one with a balcony is a major plus. Our tiny little inside cabin was not clean, the toilet did not work all the time, not enough storage space and the color on the TV was all messed up (everyone was green, even The Simpsons). Aside from these items the real reason to never get an inside cabin is this: On our first morning we were woken up in the middle of the night by our room steward, or so we thought. When I finally got out of bed to answer the door our room steward, who was very nice and very friendly, asked if everything was ok with us and whether or not we were going to go to lunch. When I looked at my watch it was already passed 11:00 am. The inside cabins are so dark and have no windows. You feel like you are in a cave all the time. It feels like 3:00 AM all the time when the lights are off. With an outside room you will at least get a window and your eyes can see the sun come up and your body can adjust to the fact that it is soon time to get up. After this we slept with the bathroom light on and the bathroom door slightly ajar so we wouldn’t over sleep every day. The Kids Club was very good and our son loved to go there. In fact, we had a hard time dragging him away from there a few times. The counselors all seem to enjoy playing with and entertaining the kids. The only negative we had on them is they are all very young (probably don’t have children of their own) and don’t have a lot of experience dealing with difficult kids and difficult situations. If kids got into pushing/hitting fights, didn’t listen to them or fought over toys, the parents got written warnings about “your child’s bad behavior”. Three written warnings and your child would not be allowed back. One other minor nuisance about the Kids Club is the location. The only way to get in or out is to walk through the arcade. Imagine picking up a tired youngster late at night and walking them through the arcade. The kicking and screaming of “I just want to play one game” gets tired really fast. If you have ever been on a cruise before you have probably gotten a towel animal left on your bed by your room steward. This was my wife’s second cruise and we had gotten a towel animal every night on Navigator. Well now that we had our son with us we expected the same thing. It wasn’t until the evening of day 3 that the first towel animal showed up. My wife was actually getting mad that it hadn’t happened prior to this. One other final note about our cabin; this cabin was toward the front of the ship. The closer your room is to the front of a ship and the higher the deck number the more you feel the ups, downs and sways of the ship. My wife was a little sea sick the first few days, but found some Dramamine to take and settled down after that. I would suggest an outside cabin toward the rear of the ship. Also the Serenade of the Seas is a bit smaller then some of the newer ships and small ships are also bad for feeling the ship moving around. Barbados. St. Thomas is the place you want to do all your expensive shopping, but we had been there so many times before and we had nothing to shop for, so we just hung out on the ship at this port. The only time we got off was to do the Screamin Eagle excursion. This is a jet boat that goes very fast, you get very wet, it takes about 45 minutes and you also get very cold. I had more fun then my wife and son (they were too busy shivering and freezing) so we probably will never do this again. But it was fun…one time. St. Maarten had the best beach. I think it was Orient Beach, but I’m not 100% sure on that. You will get harassed by the locals trying to sell you stuff. St. Johns/Antigua had a nice beach too (Dicken’s) but the locals harassing you hear was the worst I have ever seen. You will get bothered every 5 minutes by the locals trying to sell you something on this beach. At St. Lucia we went on a pirate excursion. I think it was called the Pirates of the Caribbean Adventure. You get to sail on the pirate ship Unicorn (which was in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie) to a private beach area for a treasure hunt. This was a lot of fun and I would highly recommend this excursion. The complimentary rum punch was excellent. In Barbados we did the Atlantis submarine adventure. Our son was a little freaked out about going on a sub under water. We are not really sure why, but he pitched a big fit about not wanting to go on the sub. He eventually got on board and loved it. He wanted to do it again. This was our first time going on one of these subs (they are in every port in the Caribbean) and it was a lot of fun. The entertainment on board was better then I had expected. There was a performance by a former lead singer of the 80’s rock band Foreigner and a very good magic show too. Other items and notes about the ship I would like to tell you about. This ship was only 3 years old when we sailed on her, but she looks much worse for wear and tear. The hours of the rock climbing wall and kid’s pool slide were limited. They need to expand the hours on both of these. None of the hot tubs have jets, which in our opinion is a must. The hot tub in the Solarium is very disappointing. The staff in the Spa needs to tone down the hard sell. After every massage (my wife and I both had two each) we got the hard sell to buy there very over priced lotions and oils. If you are smart you will never buy any of this stuff. Also I got shorted by 10 minutes on one of my hour long massages. The onboard photographer (male) was not experienced, too slow and didn’t know how to handle kids during the formal photo opportunities before dinner. Overall we had a great time and generally the entire staff, especially our wait staff in the dining room, was very friendly. My only comment about the food is this; we liked it. Every person has different tastes and different foods they like and dislike. A flavor I may love is a flavor you may hate. So don’t take anyone opinion about food too seriously, except your own of course. We are still big fans of Royal Caribbean ships and we plan on going on the Freedom of the Seas in 2007. We will likely never go on this ship again, and we will certainly never stay in an inside cabin again either.

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Dec 17, 2005

Southern Caribbean

This was our first cruise. The process of getting from the airport at San Juan to the ship went very quickly and smoothly. We were very glad to have booked our flight and transfer through Royal Caribbean. We heard from table mates that the food was not as good as on a Princess ship they had been on. We were a little disappointed in the food quality overall. It was ok, but not exceptional. My daughter has severe food allergies and a letter

was sent through special services prior to the cruise. When we arrived, we had to give the head waiter another copy. We still had some difficulty in getting them to understand the extent of her allergies and get adequate information about foods to make choices. They were much more helpful to those who were vegetarians. Our dining table was not in the main dining room and was in a bad location. The table was too large for the location. One person had to contend with a pillar and there was a steady stream of traffic around 4 of the diners. We were disappointed in the midnight buffet. It was beautiful to look at but many item were not very appealing to our taste buds. A few things were very good. To find out about the midnight buffet, listen for announcements and on the Compass it is listed under snacks!! Loved the Compass and the info the Captain gave about each island. Liked the little theater-though most shows were old. There were good movies on the TV. Liked the entertainment. We were glad we did excursions from the ship. Did not have to worry about time, etc. We went to Trunk Bay on St. John's from St. Thomas. It was a good value and a good trip. We went in the pm to avoid the crowd in the am. On St. Martin we went to Pineel Island to snorkel. Would highly recommend this for first time snorklers. Walter was fantastic in making it possible for me who has claustrophobia and am only a so-so swimmer. We went to Dickinson Beach on our own on Antigua. Dr. D was our taxi driver. You will be surrounded by drivers. He was great. We were there by 9:30 am and had the beach to ourselves for the first 1 1/2 hours. Dr. D came back for us at the time we set. There was wonderful sand - felt like wet suede. Clear water. Beach chairs cost us $5.00 and we knew our stuff was watched. Do be careful of jelly fish-more likely the week of a full moon. Table mates went on the Sting Ray excursion and liked it even though the sting rays were in an enclosed area. We went on a 5 1/2 hr. trip on St. Lucia - to Souffrie, the volcano vents, a plantation, and a botanical garden. It rained a lot that day but was still great. The road is hair pin turns and not for the faint of heart. The van drivers did great. Do take something for motion sickness is you have a problem. One poor child was very distressed over creating a mess on another van. Brings me to motion sickness. We did great with taking Bonine, usually just once a day. We did take some before the van trip. On Barbados we just went to Boat Yard Beach. It was the clearest water of all. The beach did not get busy until about noon. The sun is much more intense there so use plenty of sun screen. Several people went on the turtle snorkel trip at Barbados and raved about it. The turtles were not in any enclosed area, but in their natural setting. There were 500 children on the cruise since it was the week before Christmas. Only a few children were left to fun wild and were obnoxious, but that certainly was unpleasant. We were showered while on our balcony with what we hope was just water. Our main concern was that people did not recognize that predators could be on the ship just as easily as anywhere. Young children were certainly vulnerable. The cabin attendant was great and was the only person who was genuine and personable. He made us very comfortable. Loved the towel animals. Most others we encountered on the ship said the word to show and interest but did not really listen. It seemed they were phony and just after tips. Liked the info on the islands we passed on the at sea day. The disembarking went very smoothly. I'm sure it was easier for us since were the first group to leave the ship. We took lots of pictures and were glad we did since a week later it was hard to believe we had actually been there. We were not big shoppers, so no advice there. Once you've seen one place, they are pretty much the same. The ship had a few interesting items. We never did get around to using the pools on the ship, but they seemed ok. We loved going through the Windjammer out to the rear deck to eat. Happy cruising.

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Oct 16, 2005

Panama Canal Repositioning Cruise

The Serenade of the Seas arrived in the port of San Diego on Monday, October 17, 2005 for a 12 day cruise through the Panama Canal to begin its Winter cruising from San Juan, Puerto Rico after concluding its Summer sailing to Alaska. This was Serenade’s annual repositioning to the Caribbean. We arrived in San Diego on Saturday so we could spend some time visiting there. We stayed at the Holiday Inn on the Bay, which is right across

the street from the cruise ship terminal. The Holiday Inn provides a shuttle from the airport to the hotel saving the cab fare. We had not been to San Diego before and it is truly a beautiful city. There is so much to see and do there that two days is not nearly enough time. However, we did take the two-hour harbor cruise. Be sure to also do the Old Town Trolley Tour. That is a great way to see much of the city and you are able to get off at any stop, stay as long as you want to look around and re-board another trolley that comes by about every half hour. Be sure to take a stroll through the Seaport Village, lots of quaint shops and restaurants there. Don’t miss taking a self-guided tour on the USS Midway Museum and the Maritime Museum. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit Balboa Park or the Zoo. Our cruise itinerary was as follows: Oct. 17, Mon. Depart San Diego 8:00 PM Oct. 18 & 19, Tue./Wed. At Sea Oct. 20, Thu. Acapulco 5:00 PM/2:00 AM Oct. 21, Fri. Depart Acapulco At Sea Oct. 22, Sat. At Sea Oct. 23, Sun. Costa Rica 7:00 AM/7:00 PM Oct. 24, Mon. At Sea Oct. 25, Tue. Panama Canal 6:00 AM/4:00 PM Oct. 25, Tue. Cristobal Pier 6:00 PM/11:00 PM Oct. 26, Wed. At Sea Oct. 27, Thu. Aruba 9:00 AM/1:00 AM Oct. 28, Fri. Depart Aruba At Sea Oct. 29, Sat San Juan, PR 8:00 AM (Disembark) Quickly, I’ll go through what we did in each port. In Acapulco we went to see the cliff divers. We did the lights and land tour. It was very nice. However, those who went on the dinner cruise and dive tour had a rough time. We could see the boat out in the bay. The water in the bay was very rough and the boat was spinning and rocking. Many visitors got sick and the rough water limited their view of the divers. Because of the bad experience the tour operator refunded everyone’s money. That was nice. In Puntarenas, Costa Rica we decided on the river rafting tour. What a great time we had. The river is a class I / II so it is not very rough and is great fun for all ages. We saw much wildlife along the way and even though it rained part of the time this is one tour you don’t have to worry about the weather because everyone gets wet. Afterwards they served us a wonderful lunch of stake, fish or chicken. I highly recommend this tour. Of course, going through the Panama Canal was the highlight of the trip for all aboard. I had been through the canal before back in the late 60’s when I was in the US Navy. My advise to those who want to take a Panama Canal Cruise don’t go on a cruise that departs and returns to the same cruise port. Those cruises only take you through the Caribbean side of the canal and back out. My opinion is that if you don’t go through the entire canal you haven’t seen the Panama Canal. One other note of advice, I would recommend that you get a balcony cabin. All those that had an inside cabin had to be topside to view the trip through the canal. There were several periods of heavy rain that forced most of those on the outside decks to retreat to public locations within the ship. Ah Aruba! This is one our favorite ports. We’ve been to Aruba several times both on a cruise and spending weeks at a time there. Therefore, we had nothing special planned when we arrived in Aruba. However, there are lots and lots of great things to do there. If you have not been to Aruba before my recommendations besides spending some time in downtown Oranjestad is to take the jeep tour of the island or rent one and go on your own. The windward side (North side) of the island is a sight to behold. That side of the island it is completely opposite from the developed tourist side. In Palm Beach (High Rise Hotels) area there is a walkway that starts behind the Wyndham Hotel that continues all the way up Palm Beach. It is a nice walk to be able to see all the beautiful High Rise hotel properties along the way. Also most of the hotels offer casinos if you’re into that form of entertainment. After all, Aruba is known as the Las Vegas of the Caribbean. Then walk back on the street side to view the beautiful entrances to the hotels. If you wish you can catch a public bus to the High Rise hotels across the street from the Cruise Ship Terminal and ride for $1.25 per person. Last but not least, we enjoyed the seven days at sea on this cruise. It broke up the cruise very nicely. We were able to relax around the pools and the ship in between making stops at the various port-of-call. And finally the ship. We have been on other RCI cruise ships as well as a couple of other cruise lines in the past and I can say that we enjoyed each of them. However, I can honestly say the staff on the Serenade of the Seas thus far has been the best of all. Everyone one was exceptionally friendly. Even the maintenance people in their blue overalls would always smile and wish you a good morning/afternoon as they passed you. Our cabin was beautiful as well. Since this was a 12-day cruise we opted for a Grand Suite (#1530) on deck 10. We were glad we did. The food was better then average depending on what you like. We really enjoyed our one night in Chops for a great stake dinner. It was well worth the additional $20 per person. I suppose the only thing that we noticed that we found somewhat annoying was Kirk the Cruise and Entertainment Director. Not that he didn’t do a good job most of the time but he always seemed in a rush before, during and after some of the onboard activities. He never acted as if he had time to talk or any desire to mingle with the guests. Well that about sums it up. Weather you take a 7-day or longer cruise on the Serenade of the Seas I don’t think the ship or its staff will disappoint you. Happy Cruising!!!!

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Jun 25, 2005

Alaska

What a great trip! Since I was a child, my father and I always talked about visiting Alaska but never really did anything about making it happen. However, when he started talking about retiring and I found myself hitting "the big 4-0", I realized it was time to take action. I am an experienced cruier but my father was a first-timer. I was concerned that he would get bored or that a cruise to America's last frontier would be too glitzy

for him. Not the case at all. Because the ship is almost always providing beautiful views of the landscape, there was more of a wilderness feeling to our trip than a Vegas showroom feeling some ships can give. The best tip I can give any potential Alaska cruiser is to spend the extra money for a balcony/veranda. It is worth it. Oceanview would be okay but I really recommend that you have the ability to go outside and experience the sights. Your photos will be better, you'll avoid battling with other passengers to get a good position on the rail on the deck, and you're protected from the weather (warmer and less windy). And, because it never really got truly dark, there's always something to see from your room. The scenery the first day was breathtaking. Virgin forests growing out of steep rock mountains dotted with an occasional secluded cabin at the shore line. My dad and I did lots of daydreaming about what that lifestyle had to be like. The day we were to cruise Hubbard Glacier was overcast and a bit drizzly. However, this is the best way to see the glacier for two reasons...first, the glacier simply appears out of the fog out of no where like a ghost. You could hear the whole ship gasp as it came into view. It was pretty neat. Also, the glacial ice's color is more vibrantly blue with indirect sunlight. The glacier was huge. There was another cruise ship in the bay viewing the glacier before us and in comparison, it looked like a child's toy. My dad and I were facinated by the calving of the glacier. The closest ships can get is about 0.25 - 0.5 miles away. It feels like you're pretty close until it calves...you see a huge splash of the ice crashing into the sea but then you hear the thunder of the impact. There is a delay in the sound reaching the viewer. It was very cool. Another tip is to bring or rent binoculars. Without them, I couldn't have viewed the harbor seals that rest on the pieces of ice floating down stream from the glacier. I used them daily. Also, a zoom lens for cameras is a must! In Skagway, my dad and I took the Eagle Preserve Quest excursion. What a great way to spend the day. We took a big, comfortable ferry from Skagway to Haines. We had a local native give us an introduction to the local culture of the indians on the way. Very informative. No animal life spotted but lots of beautiful glacier waterfalls and stream coming down the face of the mountains. Once in Haines, we transferred to a tour bus to the Eagle Preserve. Again, no animals but a great local native continued our overview of their way of life. Once at the river, we had lunch and boarded open air 16-person John boats. We spent about 2-2.5 hours on the river going up and down a maze of channels in search of eagles. We saw a lot of them. We also saw a 1200 pound eagles' nest. Imagine a nest the size of a VW suspended in a tree. Again, the scenery was breathtaking. There were two places in particular that gave us a great panoramic view of the Chilkoot mountain range. In Juneau, dad and I went our separate ways. He did the Fly In Fly-fishing excursion and said he really enjoyed it. (He had to book that excursion months in advance because of the limited participation available.) I opted for the whale watching, Mendenhall Glacier, and Orca Point Lodge excursion. This was the high point of the trip for me. We were witness to not one but two breaches by a humpback whale. One breach was about 24 foot off the side of the boat. He breached so close to the boat that his splash got some of us wet. It was simply unbelievable! Orca Point Lodge was a complete waste of time. It's simply a cafeteria built on a lake. Very disappointing. I beach-combed rather than ate. I found evidence of sea otters on the beach. Mendenhall Glacier was pretty neat (not as impressive as Hubbard) but because we were running late, we didn't have time to make the climb to the visitor's center. (There are elevators or a twisting walking path.) There was a nice viewing platform off of the parking lot so it wasn't too disappointing. Unfortunately I injured my back somehow during the trip and by the time we docked in Ketchican, I had to take the day off and spent it in bed to try to recouperate. Didn't see anything but my cabin's ceiling. :) The Serenade itself is a beautiful boat. Some cruise ships have furniture in commom areas that is attractive but not comfortable (too small for some "queen sized" bodies) but I was very comfortable everywhere. There are great bronze statues at the pools (one of a fat man with an inner tube and bathing cap climbing into the pool, the other of a panther lounging on the pool edge dangling two paws in the water). We really enjoyed that. The food was standard cruise ship faire. Not bad but not great. A minor criticism I have is that the Solarium (the indoor pool under the glass dome) is advertised as adults only however, they give "family time" from Noon to 4pm daily. I heard several people complaining about that, too. It was hard to enjoy the environment because of the yelling and running. My cabin steward and our dining staff were great. No complaints at all. My dad and I were beat by the time dinner was over (we had second seating) so we didn't see any of the shows. There was a guitarist on the boat, Ramon, who was amazing. Rock, Salsa, classical, Flamenco, you name it. He was great. He appeared in the dining room one night which was a great treat. No singing, no big show, just a talented man with a guitar doing what he obviously loves to do. And, if you fly, I highly recommend spending the $15 for the Onboard Baggage Check In. You get to bypass customs. Your luggage is sent directly from the boat to your final destination. It was so convenient. No shlepping bags around (until you get to your home airport, of course!) If you decide to go, I'm sure you'll enjoy yourself.

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May 28, 2005

Alaska

This was our 4th cruise to Alaska and my 5th cruise overall. We have previously sailed on Princess for 2 Alaskan cruises, Holland America for one to Alaska and Royal Caribbean for one Caribbean cruise. I can say, right off, that this one ranked in the top two of all the cruises I've taken. Except for the disembarkation and a few minor quirks, which I will cover in more detail later, this cruise was wonderful. My husband and I were treating

his parents to a cruise and we knew we wanted it to be Alaska. While they are avid road travelers (take 2-3 weeks and drive across the country), they had never been on a cruise and my mother-in-law had only been on a plane once in her entire life. My parents also decided to go so we had 3 couples in all. In deciding which cruise to select, I had 3 criteria in mind. I didn't want a huge mega ship that would overwhelm my in-laws. I wanted one where we could afford a larger suite for ourselves so we would have a room where we could all meet (plus I'm spoiled now and like suites!), and, of course, I wanted one that had decent reviews. Royal Caribbean's Serenade of The Seas met all my criteria so we booked it. Pre-Cruise: As I mentioned, my parents also decided to join us and my mom is an experienced traveler and cruiser. Her and I did the planning for this trip. I selected the cruise and made our flight arrangements. She researched and selected the hotel. I do not ever book my travel with the cruise line as I've heard too many horror stories of needless connecting flights, long layovers, etc.. We elected to fly into Vancouver the day before and stay overnight in Vancouver again at the end of the cruise. My mom researched hotel reviews on-line and selected the Sandman hotel in Vancouver. They had a Cruise and Fly package which included pickup at the airport, overnight stay and then transportation to the cruise ship the next day. Reviews were good and the Cruise and Fly package sealed the deal. BIG MISTAKE! I can not, in any way, recommend this hotel! We arrived late in the evening on Saturday. Check in took forever as there was only one person at the desk and we had to wait almost 15 minutes while she was on the phone trying to give driving directions. After finally getting checked in, we went to our rooms and I found our room was like an oven. We turned on the air then met everyone else in the hotel restaurant as we were all starving. The food was good, but the service was some of the worst I've ever experienced. My meal arrived almost 10 minutes later than everyone else's. They were nearly finished eating when I finally got it. Breakfast the next morning was the same thing! They brought my father-in-law the wrong meal to begin with and after waiting 10 minutes for them to bring the right one, we finally flagged the waitress down and asked when it would be delivered. She goes to check, comes back and says What exactly did you order? They had not even started to cook it. We didn't have time to wait, so he got a free order of toast (big deal!). On top of all that, the air-conditioning through-out the hotel is awful. Our room was an oven all night, it never cooled down. My parents and in-laws had better luck with the a/c, but not much. Their rooms were comfortable but not as cool as they would have liked. We were supposed to stay there another night when the cruise was over, but I had them cancel the reservation when I checked out. After listing off all the problems we encountered, they did give me one room free. Kudos to them for that at least. Embarkation: The cruise and stay package included transportation to the cruise ship. A large mini-bus picked us up and the hotel and delivered us to the cruise ship terminal. The cruise and stay package is actually something that is offered at several Vancouver hotels so it makes several stops to pick up additional passengers. It was a nice roomy bus though and we were comfortable. From previous experience, I've learned not to arrive early as you will only have to wait in line. We arrived around 1:30 pm and there was no line at all. We were checked in, through customs and on the ship by 2:15. As we walked on board we were told the rooms were not all quite ready and to please allow 15-30 minutes. So we headed to the Windjammer buffet for lunch. Our Cabins: As I previously mentioned, we splurged on this trip and got a larger suite. It was actually an Owners Suite on deck 10. I have to say WOW!! The cabin was awesome and my husband and I are both afraid we may never be able to go back to a smaller room. I know that most people won't ever book a room like this so I don't want to spend a lot of time on the details, but I do have to mention a little. It was over 500sq feet of pure luxury. The bathroom in this cabin was as large as one of the small cabins. It had a nice Jacuzzi tub and separate large shower. It also had a separate bidet (which we never used). There was so much storage space in the room that we didn't even use the drawers. The extra little perks you get with a suite were nice too! We had access to a special concierge lounge where you could get free drinks and appetizers. Every day something special was delivered to the room like a plate of treats (chocolate covered strawberries, cookies, etc). We also had 2 pair of slippers which we got to use and then take home with us. The suite had a surround sound system with speakers in the ceiling so the sound was awesome. Only drawback was that you couldn't turn the speakers off over the bed so that one person could watch TV in the living area and the other take a nap. Small price to pay though as it was just a real special treat to have this type of cabin! My in-laws and parents had balcony cabins on deck 9. I felt these cabins were a bit small compared to similar cabins on other ships. The nice part was the sofa sitting area though as it is uncomfortable if you are spending any time in your cabin to have to sit on your bed the whole time. My dad liked the showers with the round enclosed doors. For regular size people these are fine but for us larger folks, there might be some problems with maneuvering and turning around! The balconies on all the rooms were nice and private. Of course the one in our owner's suite was simply huge. It would easily hold 20 people or more. I loved sitting out there when we were in port and watching all the goings on! I found the beds to be a little hard but that's common on all cruise ships. Another thing I don't like is that when they put the two twin beds together to form one bed, they need to come up with something that keeps the two mattresses from sliding out in the middle. We would get up in the morning and have a 3-4 inch gap between then. And if you accidentally rolled over into the gap-ouch! This is not just on this ship but all ships. The Ship The ship is gorgeous and extremely well maintained. The staff on this ship is constantly cleaning and maintaining it. No matter where I was, I would see someone wiping something down, bussing tables, or picking up trash. It was not intrusive or anything, I just noticed them and admired how clean they keep this ship. When you got up from a table in the Windjammer, it was cleaned within minutes. I found the layout of this ship to be great (except for the one area I mention below--the shops) and after only a day, I knew where everything was. Unlike other large mega ships where it's 2-3 days before you know how to get around! One negative is the elevators. There are only 2 sets of elevators. One located mid-ship on the left side which contained 6 lifts and the 2nd set is at the front of the ship and it has 4 lifts. There were none at the back of the ship or the right side of the ship. There was almost always a wait for an elevator and people, tired of waiting, would push their way into an already crowded elevator. For someone with mild claustrophobia, this was very uncomfortable for me! The elevators mid-ship were awesome though. Four of the lifts, on the left side, face out over the water. The view is something. When you are off the ship, you can see people riding the elevators. The other 2 mid-ship elevators face the atrium so that view is great too. Our cabins were all located very close to the mid-ship elevators so we had easy access to all the main parts of the ship. All the main areas are located real close to the mid-ship elevators which made it easy to get where you wanted to go. I recently injured my knee so was not up to doing a whole lot of exploring but my husband and father-in-law spent quite a bit of time covering every inch of the ship. My husband liked the layout more than other ships we have traveled on. I think some of that has to do with the size-not as much walking to get from one end to the other. We ate in the Windjammer for most breakfasts and lunches. We never had a problem finding a place to sit. I don't know if that was due to the times we ate or what, but I know other reviews have mentioned never being able to find a table. We never had that problem and I know the ship was completely full. The layout of the Windjammer buffet was great with different stations for salad bar, sandwich bar, hot food, desserts, etc. Again, rarely did we have to wait in line or experience any problem in the Windjammer. The quality of the food was consistent with other ships with some foods being outstanding (the meat sauce for the pasta was delicious) and others just average. We had 2nd seating in the main dining and were seated at a table for 10. There were the 6 of us and then 2 other ladies showed up only 2 of the 7 nights. No one ever sat in the other 2 seats so it was really like we had the whole big table to ourselves. I didn't see any other empty seats in the dining room. Our waiter (Almario) and assistant waiter (Dennis) were outstanding. After the first night, they called us by our names every night, remembered what each of us drank, knew who wanted coffee after dinner and never missed a beat the entire cruise. In fact, the last night they do a farewell song (kinda corny but cute). Because they had to participate in the song, Dennis was unable to bring my dad his coffee when he normally would. When the song was over, he rushed over with a coffee cup and apologized profusely for the delay-like it was his fault! I know these guys are working this hard because they want a good tip, but you can tell when someone is really a nice guy and not just acting nice. All the staff we encountered was genuinely nice and attentive. As for the meals in the main dining room, for the most part they were excellent. They announced on the last night of the cruise (when they bring out all of the kitchen staff and chefs) that we were the first cruise to experience all new menus and selections. My husband normally always ordered 2 entrees and except for one fish dish which had some weird green sauce on it, he found them to be excellent. I found some of the selections to be a little fancy for my taste and ordered the standard Steak a couple of the nights. The steak was perfectly cooked and wonderful. The only bad night was the shrimp and lobster night. The lobster was small and overcooked. Luckily I wasn't very hungry that night. I was disappointed that the baked Alaska was served already sliced and plated. Previous cruises they brought it out flaming. We had a couple special requests that were met with no problem at all. We didn't use the pools but did spend time around the pool areas and the pool bar. All looked clean and nice. We didn't use the spa facilities either so I can't comment there. We made it to the casino a couple times and didn't win anything. I really found this casino to be tighter than others cruise ships I've been on where I actually walked out with more money than when I went in. Not this time. I do have to say that I didn't much care for the layout of the shops. There was no real walkway, it was like one continuous shop. You had to walk through the shops to get to the photo gallery/art gallery area. Often the shops area would be jammed and we would have to walk out on to the deck (in the wind) to get around it. This was really the only layout problem I saw and it really was minor compared to all the other good things. I also wanted to mention the room service. We ordered room service for breakfast on 2 occasions and lunch on 1 occasion. This ship has an interactive channel on the TV where you can place your order through the TV. We tried it and received our lunch in 20 minutes. For the breakfast we filled out the card the night before and placed it on the door. The real nice thing was they would call us in the morning BEFORE bringing the meal to see if we were ready. I don't know if they did that for everyone or because we had a high-dollar suite? As for the quality, the lunch was a sandwich and a burger-both good. The breakfast was omelets with bacon, sausage or both and hash browns. It was served steaming hot and was good also. I wouldn't say great, just good. Excursions: Again, this was our 4th cruise, but was a first for my in-laws. Had it just been us, we probably would not have book any excursions as we have pretty much done and seen everything we wanted to. Since we were taking 1new eyes we booked an excursion in every port. My parents, who have been to Alaska 4 times before elected to opt out of the excursions except my mother did go on the whale watching in Juneau. Skagway- We booked the Skagway Extravaganza I chose this excursion because it was a combination of several other single excursions. All in all it was great but very long! First we took a bus up to the summit. Beautiful scenery. The bus stops at 2 photo opportunity places. At the top we then boarded the White Pass Railway to ride the train back down to Skagway. Our bus was assigned one car on the train and we filled the train car. The benches were hard wood benches so it was a little uncomfortable, but the scenery was, again, awesome. The train does not stop until it reaches Skagway. I don't know how long it took but it seemed like a long ride. From there we got back on the bus and were taken to Liarsville camp for a grilled salmon lunch. Gotta say the lunch was excellent. I don't even like fish but ate every bite of that salmon! After lunch we walked across the camp to see a short show which was pretty entertaining. The funniest part of the whole trip was seeing my church deacon father-in-law get sandwiched by two girls in dancehall outfits. He got into the spirit of it though and posed for several pictures. After the show everyone was walked over to 1pan for gold. I opted out and went to find a bathroom while they panned. After panning, we boarded the bus again to head back to the city where the tour was to end with a tour of the Red Onion Saloon. We had already spent close to 6 hrs on this excursion so we all opted out of the last part of the tour and elected to walk through the town before re-boarding the ship. I like Skagway a lot even though it is your typical tourist town. We had perfect, sunny weather this whole day. Juneau- We purchased a whale watching excursion separately through our travel agent instead of booking it through the ship. We did the ship whale watching tour and lodge visit the previous year in September and had the most awesome time. We saw tons of whales and had one come right up to our ship that time. Unfortunately, we learned that May is not the best time as the whales have just returned from Hawaii for feeding and, according to our guide, they don't do a lot of surfacing or breeching as they are focused on eating and eating. So, on this excursion we only saw about dozen whales and it was from a distance and none of them came high out of the water. One neat part was they took us by a large buoy that was crowded with sea lions. We were able to get real close and watch these cute creatures play in the water. I still recommend taking a whale watching excursion either through the ship or separately as you just never know and if you get lucky like we did last yea it's something you won't soon forget. After the excursion, we took the tram which I had never done before. The sites from up that high are breathtaking and I recommend this also although the price is a little steep at $25.00. We ended the day with a meal at the Red Dog Saloon. I don't know if we were just starving or what, but we found the lunch to be one of the best we had the whole trip. We again had perfect sunny weather the entire day. Ketchikan- We booked one of the Totem Village excursions. I wish I could remember the exact name of it because I do not recommend it at all. We all found it to be pretty boring. I thought they would spend more time on the town tour, but they only talked about a couple of the sites in town then straight to the Totem Village. None of us enjoyed this tour at all. Part of it could have been the fact that it was lightly raining the entire time, but all in all we found it to be boring. This cruise went to Hubbard Glacier and even though I've seen it 3 times now, it never ceases to amaze me. It's just beautiful. It helped that we had another perfect, sunny day! Disembarkation: Here's where I feel the biggest issues are. Getting off the ship went very smoothly. We were staying overnight in Vancouver so were one of the last groups off the ship. This was not a problem. We had to be out of our room by 8am so we waited in one of the bar areas until our color was called. By 9:30 our number was called and we then had to, again, wait for an elevator and then quickly were able to walk off the ship to the terminal. The wait to go through customs wasn't too bad. Once through customs it was on to find our luggage. This also went pretty smoothly. The terminal has an ample supply of luggage carts (like you have at airports). This was not something I've seen on other cruise so we really, really liked this! The nightmare came once we exited the terminal. The line to get a taxi was unbelievably long and the number of taxis was miniscule. I was used to Seattle where the taxi's lined up around the block. In Vancouver there were maybe 4 at a time with several minutes in between before more showed up. There was a lot of time spent waiting for even one taxi to show up. It took over an hour of standing in line before we got a taxi. This really put a big damper on the trip. In the future, I'd recommend getting the ships airport transfer even if you are staying overnight in Vancouver. Go to the airport and catch a taxi from there or else just sit down in the pier snack area for an hour or so until the line thins out. It was a nightmare and definitely needs better coordination! Once we finally got a taxi we had him take us to the LaQuinta hotel in Richmond. It's located about 7 miles from the airport. This hotel is not even a year old and was great. It's located in a mainly Asian neighborhood so all the closest restaurants were Asian themed. We walked about two blocks, though, to a small mall which had a restaurant called Ernies. Had one of the best hamburgers I've ever had! The hotel provides free shuttle service to the airport so we took the shuttle to the airport the next morning and headed home. Tips & Things to Know: Airlines are super strict on the luggage weight. Be sure your suitcase does not weigh over 50 lbs or you will be charged a premium. All the cabins on this ship have a hair dryer so don't bother packing one. They also have a safe. I used to pack hangers with my clothes as they usually were not enough hangers. I've learned you can ask the cabin attendant for more and save the luggage weight. When you fill out your breakfast card, you can write in special requests like Ketchup, or Crisp Bacon and they will fill it! The ship offers an automatic tipping option so that you don't have to worry about counting out the right amount of cash and having the right amount of change to do it. They give you voucher to put in the envelopes instead. It's convenient, but the only problem is that you can alter the. 1suggested tips in any way. We only saw our Head Waiter once for about 30 seconds the entire cruise and I didn't feel it warranted a tip. But we did the automatic tipping so he got one. Even had I not given it to him, we were charged for it so we gave it to him. It wasn't much so no big deal. You can, as we did for our waiter and asst. waiter, add extra cash in with the voucher. Be prepared for having your picture taken at every opportunity. Although we found that saying 'No Thanks' was okay too. We did pose for a couple family portraits on formal night but other than that, we weren't paying the high fee they charge for pictures (all ships charge the same). Unless you have a bath/shower combination, don't count on using the shower for steaming clothes. The doors go almost to the top so not much steam escapes! I was glad I packed a light weight steamer. I attended a couple of the art auctions and really liked it. If you like art or need any for your home, it's a good deal. I got 3 Thomas Kinkade prints for almost half of what I would have paid at home. While many people will tell you that you don't need to pay extra for a balcony cabin, there are just as many others (like me) who will tell you that a balcony is a near must on an Alaskan cruise. If you can possibly swing it, get a balcony. There's nothing like waking up and walking out on the balcony with a cup of coffee, in your comfy jammies and seeing the sights of Alaska! Summary: I highly recommend this cruise and this ship. Except for the few negatives I mentioned, it was an awesome trip. I will definitely sail with RCCL again! And even though we've been to Alaska 4 times now, we have already booked another Alaskan cruise for 2006. We are going back to Princess in 2006. Not because we found any fault with RCCL, we just like to change it up! Feel free to e-mail if you have any specific questions!

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Mar 12, 2005

Southern Caribbean

Overall: Fantastic Trip Dining Room food: Very good. Variety was wonderful. Appetizers and desserts were great. Wait Staff: Excellent! Sipahi (our Head Waiter) really made our trip special! Windjammer food: Very good (and I typically don’t like buffets) Highlights: The ship. The Serenade is a beautiful ship and very easy to get around, especially for as big as she is. All the food was very, very good. The staff are all

very helpful and friendly. The narration by the Captain of the Montserrat Volcano and the Piton Mountains was excellent. The efficiency of tours was unbelievable. Disappointments: 7 days is not long enough, especially when stopping at 5 islands. The bon voyage party. We arrived in San Juan around 3:00. When we got to the ship there was no one waiting in line to board and to get the Sea Pass card, so that was really nice. We checked out our staterooms (2005 and 2011), which were very nice and bigger than I envisioned. We were worried about being on the 2nd deck, but it turned out fine. There are only ~25 cabins on Deck 2, so that made finding our cabin much easier! It was also very quiet. We then headed downtown San Juan for a little shopping and sightseeing. We were back onboard for the mandatory life boat drill around 7:30 pm. We did not eat in the dining room, but instead opted for the outdoor Sea View Café. We set sail around 10:00 pm. There were not too many people on deck for the bon voyage party. I guess I was expecting more of a party atmosphere. Day 1: St. Thomas. We took the “Ultimate Island Experience” tour through Royal Caribbean. We saw a lot of sights on the island and spent a couple hours at Megan’s Bay beach. We did not have time for a lot of shopping. Our tour concluded at 4:15 pm. My friend and I decided to get dropped off at the Paradise Point Tramway, which is located near the ship. The view is fantastic and the Bushwhacker drink is as good as they claim. One word of caution, however: Give yourself more time for this adventure. We were 20 minutes late for the ship. Luckily for us they waited! Day 2: St. Martin. We took the “St. Martin Island Tour” in the morning. This was a good tour, but not as good as I was expecting. We had about 30 minutes of shopping time in Marigot. We were on an air conditioned bus for the rest of the tour. We also did the “Afternoon Beach Bash” to Orient Bay Beach. This was a very nice beach with rum punch, chairs and umbrellas included in the cost. However, we were only there for ~2 hours. So, it seemed that by the time we got situated, it was time to leave. Both of these tours were through Royal Caribbean. Once again, not much time for shopping. We were anchored in port, so we had to tender to shore. This went very smoothly, and did not take much time. Day 3: Antigua/St. Johns: Nice port. We did not do any organized excursions here. We shopped in the morning and then took a cab to a beach that was close by (I can’t remember the name). The shopping area was very nice. Day 4: Bridgetown/Barbados. We didn’t do much in Barbados. There was a little shopping area near the ship, so we spent a couple hours there. We then headed back to the ship for some R & R at the pool. Day 5: Castries/St. Lucia. This was my favorite island. Very pretty and lush. We took the “Land Rover Explorer” tour through Royal Caribbean in the morning. This was an awesome tour and a lot of fun. We rode in an open-air land rover through banana plantations and through the rain forest. We hiked to a waterfall and then spent about 45 minutes at a black sand beach (very hot on the feet!). After the tour, we did a little shopping and headed back to the ship. Day 6: Sea Day. This was a great day! A couple more sea days would be nice, and is much needed. In the morning we looked at all the photos that were taken on the ship and decided which ones to purchase (more on that later). Then we checked out the “sales” at the on-board shops. Around 11:00 we headed to the pool. Of course, all the chairs were taken even though there were signs everywhere stating “saving chairs is prohibited”. We found a spot in the shallow part of the pool, which worked out just fine. The barbeque buffet for lunch was good. Mostly, we hung out by the pool, danced to the bands, watched the ice carving and horse racing and just tried to relax. However, since this was the last day, there was paperwork to fill out (customs forms, etc.), tip envelopes to fill out and deliver, and of course, the dreaded packing, so it was hard to totally relax. Day 7: San Juan. We signed up for the morning “Walking Tour of Old San Juan” through Royal Caribbean. We thought this would get us off the ship quicker, since our flight departed at 3:00 pm. It was good and informative, but I don’t think I would do it again. Debarking was a breeze – very organized. Customs was not a problem either. Our luggage was all nicely organized and easy to find. I was very impressed. Overall: Food: A very nice variety in the Windjammer. There were so many stations and so much variety that there were never any lines. Unfortunately, we did not have a chance to eat lunch here. The Sea View Café had excellent sandwiches and fries. The Solarium Café had great wraps, pizza and warm cookies. The Barbeque buffet on sea day was good with a lot of variety. The dinners, I thought, were excellent. Our biggest problem was trying to decide what appetizer, entrée and dessert to order because they all sounded wonderful. By the second night, Sipahi decided to help us out and brought us “one of everything” (almost!). The midnight buffets looked fabulous, but we were way too full to even try a nibble (we had the late dinner seating). Photography: There are pictures being snapped all the time. Every time we got off the ship at an island, they were there taking our picture. Also, every evening before and after dinner, they have several photographers with several different backgrounds where you can have your photo taken. You can have as many or as few taken as you wish. There is no obligation to buy any of them. Each night you can view your photos from the previous day and decide whether or not you want to keep them. We kept all our photos together until the last day so we could view them all at once and then make our decisions. I thought the pictures were very nice and very reasonably priced. Staff: As mentioned earlier, our wait staff absolutely made our trip. They were so nice and so attentive, but yet very modest. Sipahi was fantastic. Marlena, our assistant waitress, was very good also and very patient when we were trying to decide what wine to order. Our maitre de, Vijay, was also very attentive. He even had the chef make us a special Indian dish, which was very good. The wait staff are very, very busy. During the day they rotate through all the dining venues. One day, Sipahi was working in the Sea View Café where we ordered sandwiches for the pool. He took our order and then happily delivered them to us poolside. Way above and beyond the call of duty, in my opinion! As you can see, I can’t say enough about our waiter! Our room stewards were just as attentive. We asked to have ice in our room in the middle of the afternoon/evening. Sure enough, every day there were two buckets of ice waiting for us. Anything we needed, they were able to get. Very impressive. We had all of our shore excursions booked ahead of time, so we did not encounter any of that staff. All of our tickets were delivered the first day on board, and everything was in order. Shows: Unfortunately, we did not attend any of the shows. We were very busy during the day with shore excursions and opted to enjoy the pool and sunsets before dinner rather than being inside in the theater. After dinner (late seating) we were too full and too tired so we either enjoyed the hot tub or walked outside on the decks. Being from Minnesota, we wanted to spend as much time as possible outside. The glass. The glass elevators overlook the ocean and the Centrum. This is a very big ship, but it is very easy to find your way around. The dining room is well laid out and was not crowded. I was a little disappointed in the Shops as there was not much variety. I was hoping for more “Serenade of the Seas” attire (sweatshirts, specifically). We spent a lot of time on the pool deck watching the sunrise and walking the track. They have what looked like a very nice exercise facility, but unfortunately I did not take the opportunity to use it. The outdoor pool was quite small, but yet never seemed crowded. There are 2 outdoor whirlpools, and these were always busy. There is a separate pool for kids with a water slide. This pool seemed well used and well liked by the kids. The Solarium is beautiful with an indoor pool and whirlpool. This area was not very busy, but we had beautiful weather, so I’m guessing most everyone was outside. All in all, I would sail the Serenade again in a heartbeat!

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Aug 21, 2004

Alaska Inner Passage

We have just returned from the Alaska Inner Passage cruise on the Serenade of the Seas, August 22-29. Before I even start, I would like to say, that before I left, I had read some negative comments about the trip and the ship on this website and other cruise review websites and felt that they were not true at all. This is a great trip!!!!!!!! And a great ship!!!!!! Our trip was comprised of 3 families (6 adults and 7 kids). The kids were

all between 6 and 11 years old and all had a great time. We flew to Vancouver on the Friday before the trip. I have never been to Vancouver and was very impressed, it is a great city. There are mountains and water and all right there. We stayed at the Westin Bayshore which is very nice. It has an indoor pool, which was good for the kids and is adjacent to Stanley Park, which is the equivalent to the Central Park of Vancouver. From the Westin, you can easily walk to Robson and Denman Streets, where there are a lot of restaurants and shopping. We also took the sea ferry and bus trip to Grouse Mountain which was great. They have a neat lumber jack show and other activities at the top of the mountain. You can even see the two orphaned bears that they are training to go back to their natural habitat. After the cruise, we took a day trip to Whistler, which is a 2 hour car ride from Vancouver. Whistler is a great place with a lot of outdoor activities, hiking, biking, luging and a village to walk around (similar to Vail village). We even saw several bears from the gondola as we went up the mountain. Back to the cruise. I had read other reviews and followed the advice about arriving at the pier early. We left the hotel around 10:15am and arrived at Ballantyne Pier at 10:30am. You will have to wait in some lines, but you will be in the second group to board the ship and you should be on by 12:05pm. The customs officials do not come on until noon and that is when they allow the first group on. The first group will always be the Crown and Anchor member (15 or more cruises). We were in the next group. TIP: arrive at the pier early. The lunch buffet is ready and you will have a lot of time to explore the ship. As soon as you walk onto the ship, they will give wristband bracelets to the kids so that they will know where they need to be in case of an emergency. Our group all had cabins on deck 10. The cabins are pretty small, but still nice. We had balconies which was nice, especially for whale watching. The junior suites are a bit larger that the regular balconies and had a nice walk-in closet and a bath tub. They are still a bit tight for a family of 5. FOOD: we found the food to be very good overall. We had a terrific waiter and assistant waiter (bizu and Neisha) and they took very good care of all of us. We had originally booked reservations at Portofino and Chops, the other restaurants, but ended up canceling because we enjoyed the food and service in the main dining room. The breakfast is better in the main dining room than the buffet (if you are not in a rush) to leave on an excursion. The windjammer buffet is open pretty much all day. You can always stop in for a drink or snack. A few times we took the kids to get dinner at the Windjammer at 6:30, if they did not want to come to the dining room for our 8:30 seating. SPA: the spa was good, not great. They charge $10 for a lot of the classes, which is annoying and then the instructor has you sign and they want you to add a gratuity to the $10. The spa services were good and it was pretty easy to book appointments. Especially since we were on board right after noon. The best class was the yoga classes. The pilates was a little lame and the spinning was ok. TIP: Board early and go to spa to book appointments (if you want any). Also, the last day at sea, they had a spa special. You could have 2- 25minute services for $79, a pretty decent value. Pools: There are several pools on board. 2 out of 3 are salt water. Only the kids pool is fresh water. The kids did enjoy the water slide at the kids pool. They allow the kids to swim in the indoor (adults only) pool in the solarium from 12-4 most days. This is nice on days at sea, especially if the weather is poor. The slide was only open certain hours though. Rock Wall: get there early, there will be a long line. All the kids did the wall and some of the adults too and enjoyed it. Game Room: there is a decent game room with air hockey and other games on deck 12 near the kids club. Our kids enjoyed being in there. Adventure Ocean: is the kids club. It seemed to be a nice program, although our kids thought it was boring and would rather wander around the ship. Excursions: In Skagway, we had signed up for the Float and Fjord trip. They take you by bus to a place about 30 minutes away, give you a pretty gross lunch and then you take a 1.5 hour float trip through some fjords. The float part was lot of fun. Our guide on the bus was a bit “rough” and was preaching about not eating farm raised salmon the entire time on both bus rides In Juneau, we did the whale watching trip which was great. We saw some humpback whales as well as a pod of Orca whales. We also were able to see about 100 sea lions lying around on a small island, which was really neat. That was in the morning and in the afternoon, most of our group did the helicopter trip to mendenhall glacier. I did not go on the helicopter trip, but those that did really enjoyed it and seeing the glacier and walking on it. In Ketchikan, it supposedly rains almost every day. The day we were there was no exception. Most of our group did the back country jeep and canoe trip. They said it was not great. I stayed on the ship and got off and walked around and picked up some souvenirs in the town. Hubbard Glacier and Misty Fjords are both spectacular experiences. You do not want to miss being out on the deck to see them the entire time the ship is there. There are many great places to see the glacier and the fjords from. Seeing the ice calving on the glacier is amazing. -The ship is a beautiful ship! Lots of glass and very modern. -The bingo was a rip-off ($35 for 5 games) -the soda club was a rip off too (just drink water and/or iced tea) -definitely do a whale watching trip and a helicopter ride to the glacier -be out on deck to see the hubbard glacier and misty fjords (they are just awesome)

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Jul 31, 2004

Alaska

My fiance and I were so looking forward to this cruise. It turned out to be just an okay experience, but it certainly could have been better. The ship is beautiful and well maintained, and the Captain did a wonderful job of keeping people informed. However, we had many "unenjoyable" experiences, all of which could have been avoided with some coordination and attention from Royal Caribbean. First of all - a personal tip. If you want

a "quiet" enjoyable vacation to Alaska, be sure not to travel during school vacation months. The noise level of kids screaming and running up and down the halls day and night was ridiculous. Not to mention them hogging every table everywhere. We had a nice room with a balcony where we would have liked to sit and have a glass of wine in the afternoon, but with crying kids on the balconies on both sides, not particularly enjoyable. The dining room staff was just okay. Service was slow, and the food was a C-. Another waiter served our bottle of wine to the table behind us, and when we mentioned it to the head waiter, he yelled at us!! Like it was our fault! The salad dressing were watered down, the meat was tough, and the fish was old. We did have a nice table by the window, but we had to tip the maitre d' handsomely to get it. The Windjammer was a nightmare. No one spoke English, and the food was barely warm. Things were hard to find, and there was never anywhere to sit. We gave up after the first morning, and just brought coffee and bagels back to our room to eat. The shows were just okay. A not so funny comedian who repeated his show on the first and last nights, and some musicals by the RC dancers and singers. We walked out on two of them. No information or coordination of anything, anywhere. Complete disorder and chaos. Ask someone a question, and they either didn't speak the language, or didn't know. As far as the e-mail center, we tried repeated to send messages via AOL only to have them disappear and to be charged 50 cents a minute. It wasn't until the fourth day that someone told us that AOL doesn't work from the ship. If that's the case, why do they have it listed as accessible? We got the charges reversed, but they were quite rude about it, and had to ask several times to actually see it reversed. The claimed "computer problems". I think it was more like "personnel problems". The scenery is magnificent and we did have a stretch of good weather. We saw the whales, the seals, lots of salmon, eagles, and some beautiful sunrises. Most of the help was just so-so. Our cabine attendant was the best of those who waited on us. The wait staff in the dining room made us feel like they were doing us a favor. I made an appointment in the hair salon for the following day. When I appeared for my appointment, there was no one to do my hair, and a technician had to be called up from her room to take care of me. I waited 15 minutes. Again, no coordination. The formal nights appear to be nothing but a scam to get you to have your pictures taken. The Captain's welcome event lasted abouat 40 minutes. For this I bought a formal gown. The second formal night was more ridiculous. We changed right after dinner. Of course, photographs were everywhere trying to snap you to fill up the photo walls with your faces for you to purchase at a heft $20 a pop. Dancing for the middle aged people was non existent. You had loud club stuff on the top floor (if you cared to stay up until midnight) and some country hip hop stuff, but no actual "dancing" or dancing music at reasonable hours. The casino was smokey and unappealing, and the people who work there need smiling lessons. It was an okay vacation, but we expected better. Next time, we will choose a different cruise line that pays more attention to detail.

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Jun 26, 2004

Alaska, Inside Passage

I'm a travel agent in Denver, Colorado who has been selling cruises for many years. I have heard from clients and read on these web sites the good, the bad and the ugly. My wife and I have cruised on the Carnival Holiday to the Baja, and the Golden Princess to the eastern Caribbean. We chose the Serenade of the Seas out of Vancouver up the inside passage to Hubbard Glacier, Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan, and Misty Fjords. We decided this

would be an adventure and something fun to do. We were right!!!! I'd like to start by saying that as a travel agent I have to know a lot about many ships and cruise lines. I sell many different cruise lines and would place Royal Caribbean in the same type of experience you would get on Princess. This review will be a comprehensive overview of our experience, and along the way, I'll give some tips I've learned through clients or my own experience. Despite a couple of problems I'll describe, I have mostly great things to say about Royal Caribbean, the ship, and Alaska. Sunday, we took a flight to Seattle. The airfare was much more expensive to Vancouver, so we thought Seattle would be a good choice, and the cost of the Royal Caribbean transfers we're $100.00 per person roundtrip. Although I hate to start out on a bad note, in retrospect, this was a mistake. As you always should, plan your arrival time with plenty of time to spare in case of a late flight. Our Frontier flight arrived at 840a as we were advised to be there no later than 1230p to ensure making the transfer to Vancouver. Four hours and another Frontier flight in between gave us the assurance we needed. We quickly claimed our luggage and found the Royal Caribbean rep holding a clipboard with their logo on it. She escorted us outside to an area where all the cruise line transfers met. We went to the Royal Caribbean desk and were advised to come back at 1115a for the bus. Ok, a two hour wait was kind of a drag, but at least we we're there. At 1115a we went back outside and were advised that the bus would not arrive until 1145a but to stay near by. In the meantime, we saw box lunches being passed out to other bus passengers. Since it was a 3 1/2 to 4 hour ride, we wanted to know if they had lunches for us. They said they were not sure. At 1200n, the bus still had not arrived and the personnel still seemed confused. Finally at 1220p, the bus showed up and we left. Fortunately for us, we were on the manifest for the bus, since those who booked late or that day received no lunches at all. We had even a worse experience coming back. More on that later. Since our bus arrived so late (415p), we had no lines at all. We flew through check in, security, and immigration and were on the ship in about 3 minutes. We had heard the disaster stories of long lines at Ballentye pier, but we experienced none of that. So getting to the pier late alleviates the waiting process. TIP: Save yourself the time, the 4 hour cramped bus ride, the gross boxed lunch, and the disorganization, and just fly to Vancouver to start with. You'll be glad you did! Once we got to the ship, things took a turn for the wonderful and stayed that way until it was time to leave a week later. In a word, the ship is beautiful. It looks fabulous from the outside (unlike Holland America ships' dull blue and white, and Celebrity's X) and even more beautiful on the inside. Glass is everywhere. You first enter on deck 4 into the atrium/centrum area. This is a 8 deck high area with glass elevators, a shimmering glass staircase, grand piano, bar, landings on each of the higher deks with glass partitions overlooking the floor, tropical plants (yes...they were fake), a huge contemporary sculpture hanging from the top, multi colored lights that change throughout the day (even more beautiful at night), live entertainment most of the time, and a general aura of excitement. WOW! The shore excursion desk called "Explorations" and the pursors desk called "Guest Relations" were next to each other off to the side of the atrium. It was not gaudy or over-stimulating at all, but rather inviting and tastefully done. There are many web sights to see pictures of this ship, but until you see it in person, you really haven't seen anything. Going aft on deck 4 is one of the entrances to the 2 deck high Reflections dining room. Another beautiful room with crystal fixtures, brass trim, dark woods, huge windows (particularly on the upper deck area), tables for 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12. Most tables were 6 or 8. Tables for 2 were limited and not in the best locations, so be social and enjoy the larger tables in the better areas. Dining times were at 600p and 830p. No personal choice here unless you go to the buffet or order room service. TIP: First thing when you get on the ship is to go to the dining room to see the table you have been assigned to. If you don't like it, see the Maitre'd right away and ask to be changed. They're standing at the entrance to the room on deck 4 all afternoon. They're happy to help and won't take your tips either. We were assigned a table right at the entrance of the restaurant. I asked to be moved further into the room. No problem! That night, we sat down at a table for 6. None of the other 4 people showed up. One of the head waiters approached and ask us to move upstairs to a table of 8 which had a couple and a family of 5. Apparantely, the family of 5 wanted their own table. He ask if we would switch so they could have their own table. Upstairs we went to even a better table right next to a full panoramic window and with 4 of the nicest table mates we could ever have had. One of the focal points of the room were "marble columns" made from multi-layered fabric, but unless you looked close, you would never notice. There were two smaller dining rooms called Illusions and Mirage. They were for smokers and not nearly as attractive. Forward on deck 4 was the lower entrance to the Tropical Theater. This theater was 3 decks high and contained a sloped/raked floor area so you could always see over the head of the person in front of you. The carpeting and seats were multi-colored muted green and yellow while the carpeting was a cool blue floral pattern with shimmering multicolored main stage curtain. Except for a few drink stains here and there and a couple of lousy seats (due to sight lines) up on the top level, it was a great place to see a show. Cocktail/drink service here was hit and miss. A couple of times, they forgot to bring me my drink, or couldn't find us in the dark once the show started. There are drink holders in the seats. Deck 5 has the main entrance to the theater. In addition there is a conference center, an area where they display ALL and I mean ALL the pictures they take ALL the time. Getting on and off, eating, sitting in a hot tub, shopping, etc., the photographers are everywhere. The pictures are a bit pricey ($9.95 for a 5x7 picture). They do have a formal portrait sittings 3 different nights of the cruise (2 of the formal nights). You can choose from various backgrounds, including the green shimmering staircase in the main lobby. In additions, there is one night where you can have your picture taken in "old fashion" garb. Deck 6 housed the top level of the theater, the casino, a small cinema, a few bars and lounges, as well as Chops and Portofino. The casino had lots of slots, blackjack, Caribbean stud poker, roulette, and video poker. It was smoky and very Vegas like. We spent about 3 minutes there one night and that was it. The Safari club at the back end of the ship was a fun area for live music and the looking out the back end of the ship. It also housed the famous self leveling pool tables. TIP: You've got to see, if not participate in the "Scavenger Hunt" held in the Safari club during one night of the cruise. You've never seen passengers so "revealing" in your life. It was very funny and hosted by Allan, the cruise director. Decks 2-3 and 7-10 were all cabins Deck 11 had the Windjammer cafe (the main buffet for breakfast, lunch, and snacks), plus the outdoor and indoor pools, the spa, exercise room, thermal suite, and locker rooms. The outdoor pool area would be a great place to hang out in the warmer weather climates. It had a pool that ran from 4-6 feet deep surrounded by a splashing area. This area contained the water as the ship rocked about. There were tons of deck loungers in blue vinyl, a pool side bar, and an area for a band to play. There were also 2 hot tubs that seemed to vary in temperature as the cruise went along. Moving indoors was the fabulous Solararium pool area. This area had a Thailand motif. There were multiple tropical plants, two large elephant sculptures mounted to the wall, a wooded suspension bridge over the pool, another bar and one additional hot tub, plus the pool. The deck chairs in here were covered with a thick padding. The pool here ran from 4-6 feet deep as well. Two marble staircases on either side of the hot tub merged into the water of the pool. The water temperature was refreshing; not too cold or warm. Be aware that both pools are filled with salt water. It's very clean and pure, but will be a surprising taste on your lips if you're not ready. The hot tubs are fresh water and seemed to be very chlorinated. They stung my eyes a bit. In the evening, the hidden lights changed colors to create different looks. It was beautiful. The ceiling was transparent and looked like it could be opened for warm weather cruises. Further forward on this deck was the spa, exercise room, thermal suite, and hair salon. We did not partake of these features. However, the exercise room appeared to have lots of modern treadmills, eliptical bikes, and weight machines. One of our tablemates commented that the health area was nice. Deck 12 had the Crown and Anchor lounge, the teen disco called Fuel, a video arcade, the Adventure Ocean Kids Club area, the sports court, a kids pool with slide, golf simulators, and a mini golf course. We looked briefly into Fuel where we got many stares from the teenagers who were in their "private" club. The Adventure Ocean Kids Club was a great area of arts, crafts, computers, maps, games, etc. for kids of all ages. They divide up the youngsters into groups, so your 4 year old is not hanging out with 11 year olds. I highly recommend Royal Caribbean for families with kids. They do a great job. The arcade had your typical video games plus air hockey. The sports court was part tennis, part basketball court. Lots of guys enjoyed this area throughout the cruise. I did not see the golf simulator, but you did have to have a reservation to use it. We played the mini golf course, which was ok at best. The kids pool and slide (the slide is not open all the time) were a hit and nicely separated from the adult areas of the ship. We heard many parents say their kids only wanted to go the the kids club as they were having a ball. There was also a jogging track (6 times around was a mile). Deck 13 was the top deck and housed the Viking Crown Lounge, and two night clubs called Vortex (which was really part of the same space as the Viking Crown Lounge), and a separate area called Hollywood Odyssey. The area was quiet during the day and a great place to take a book and read. At night the place was jumping with a good DJ playing all kinds of music plus theme music hours (70s, country, etc.). Also on deck 13 was the famous Rock Climbing Wall. You must have reservations, and the wall is open only during selected times. Three people could climb the wall at a time. Each person had a spotter holding their ropes and kept them from falling. It looked fun! TIP: Sign up for rock climbing early in the cruise as space fills up quickly. Cabin: We had a category E1 cabin which was a balcony near the front of the ship on deck 9. At 215 square feet or so, including balcony, these cabins are on the small side. Each cabin has a mini fridge, safe, writing desk, plenty of lighting, a TV with multiple channels (CNN, ESPN, Nick, ship channels, etc.), several mirrors including a full length one, and an ice bucket and tongs that was refilled daily. Our cabin had one larger size sitting chair plus our bed. The beds have 4 inch thick foam mattresses that were not the most comfortable thing to sleep on, but not bad if you don't mind a firm bed. Pillows were fluffy and in good supply. In the larger balcony cabins, you get a small couch to sit on. Storage was ok (we had much more storage space on the Princess ship). There was a closet with cubby shelves in the middle and an area on each side to hang things, plus several drawers in the writing desk. We heard talk from some folks with 3 or 4 people in their cabin had to store their luggage out on the balcony. The bathroom was a modular unit with sink, toilet, under sink storage, and a shower. The shower head height was adjustable. I'm 6' 2" and I had no problem fitting under the shower head. Water pressure was meek at best, however, the shower head was a "massager" type and on a coil. They have a shampoo dispenser and body soap, but that's it (ie. no creams, lotions, sewing kits, shower caps). The shower was circular in shape and had two curved plastic doors that you bring together in the middle which meant NO getting wrapped up in a gross shower curtain. Cabin air temperature could be adjusted with a knob next to the bathroom. We like a cold room and we got it! For the warmer climate cruises, I'm sure it's nice. They hide the hairdryer in a cabinet where the safe is. You can plug it in at an outlet at the writing desk or from an outlet in the bathroom located up towards the ceiling. TIP: Unless you want an interesting experience, don't sit on the toilet and flush at the same time. Also, consider paying a bit more for a balcony cabin. In my business we say once you have a balcony, you don't go back. You may say you aren't planning to spend much time in the cabin, but while you are there, it's a great feature! You can go out on your own private balcony and read, watch the scenery go by, or enjoy a meal in peace and quiet. Food: This is very subjective, however, in the dining room the food was good and occasionally great. There was a nice variety of selections including beef, chicken, seafood, lobster, pastas, soups, salads and great desserts. The breads/rolls were a bit of a disappointment as they were often dry and stale. We had special bread at our table. More on that below. An excellent wine list and very knowledgeable staff helped enhance the evening. There are two alternative restaurants (both were $20.00 per person cover charge which included tip). One was called Chops which was a steakhouse, and the other was called Portofino, an Italian place. We did not try either one as we were happy in the dining room with our table mates and the food. You did need to make reservations early in the cruise for the establishments. Other reviews have suggested the food at the alternative restaurants is even better. The Windjammer cafe is the casual buffet area up on deck 11. Most people had breakfast and lunch here (although you can go to the dining room) and in a word, the food here was poor. If you wanted breakfast/lunch/snack in a hurry, this was the place to go, but don't expect much. The eggs were powdered, the pancakes and waffles were stale, the breads were dry, the salads and mystery casseroles tasted like leftovers. You get the point. During meal times, finding an empty table was not a possibility. Plan on sharing a table with others. If you don't mind eating outside, there was a nice "patio" on the back of the ship where you could take your tray. It was a nice view out there, but too cold for Alaska cruises, particulary if the ship is moving. Other possibilities for food are the Seaview cafe on deck 11 next to the golf simulators. This was hard to find and didn't seem to be open much of the time, so we didn't try it. Room service was efficient and punctual. There was also a pizzaria in the Solarium pool area. The pizza here was good and could settle your afternoon hunger pangs if you have late seating. In terms of free beverages, you could have water, milk, juices, ice tea, coffee and tea. That was about it. As is the case on most ships, you can purchase a soda card. Royal Caribbean sells them for $6.00/person/day ($42.00 for the week). This gets you unlimited fountain soda drinks. They put a Coke sticker on your cruise card and give you a Coke mug. The cost of a soda separately was about $1.75. They serve Coke products on this ship. For some reason, I thought the fountain drinks tasted different than usual, so I ask for sodas out of the can where available. TIP: Even if you plan on drinking a lot of soda, get one sticker and share it. If you don't think you will buy 4 sodas a day or you are planning on getting sodas from the can, just buy them individually. Remember the sticker doesn't count for canned drinks. Service: With very few exceptions, the service on board was EXCELLENT. In the dining room our Waiter (Riza from Turkey) and assistant waiter (Hannah from India) provided outstanding service with a personal touch, such as remembering to bring a plate of lemons for our waters. They were both very friendly and seemed genuinly happy to see us each night and get to know us. We grew fond of them and were sorry to say goodbye as I think they were as well. We also had a head waiter (Uzin) who came to check on us each night to ensure everything was right. One of our tablemates had mentioned that he really liked sourdough bread. I overheard Uzin calling to the kitchen the next day about the bread, and sure enough, we had fresh sourdough bread at our table the rest of the cruise. It's personal touches like this that make a cruise so much fun. Our cabin steward was excellent as well. I don't remember his name as we saw him once during embarkation and that was about it. We had requested the beds be pushed together but when we arrived, they were not. I asked him if he could change the configuration for us. He said he would do it while we were at dinner. We left, but them came back to the cabin a few minutes later, and he had already made the change. We were never at a loss for towels (yes....we did get the towel figurines a couple nights), and he kept the cabin very clean. Service at the Guest Relations and Explorations desk was good as well. We did have one problem with ordering our shore excursions. The ship has a system called RCTV which is an interactive system on the TV in your stateroom. You can view shore excursions, view shore excursion videos, check up on you stocks, see where you are via graphics showing ship position, speed, winds, temperature, see your guest folio, order movies (regular and adult), look at a feed from the front of the ship, etc.. Anyway, we ordered our shore excursions through this system, but ended up being double booked for everything. I thought I had done it correctly, but called the Explorations desk and they fixed the problem right away. It turns out they had a computer problem that day. TIP: as long as you are more than 10 days out from your cruise, book and pay for your shore excursions on line at www.royalcaribbean.com It's much simpler, plus your tickets are provided to you by your cabin steward your first night. As we walked around, most all of the employees greeted us with a Hello and a smile....some did not. Our assistant waiter Hannah also doubled as a greeter in the Windjammer cafe and hugged us each morning. That was nice. Entertainment: The theater shows are performed twice nightly for each of the dinner seatings. Early seating shows were at 900p and the late seating shows were at 1045p. On certain nights, the late seating show was made a pre-dinner show and performed at 715p. Watch your "Cruise Compass" (your daily activity guide and schedule) for times. My wife and I are both classical singers and have a lot of stage experience in musical theater and opera, so we have a good knowledge about production values and talent. The two production shows were "Vibeology" and "Stage to Screen" The costumes, lighting, sets, and general production value were outstanding. They obviously spent a lot of money in this theater and on these shows. The talented singers and dancers were good (not great). The Royal Caribbean orchestra was excellent! Other theater shows included Kelly McDonald, a commedian who was very funny (Seinfeld-esque). There was a magician who was good if you like magicians. There was a headliner singer, Kenny James who was fabulous (a 13 time Star Search winner), a duo who performed circus-like tricks (spinning plates on tubes, balancing on single rail ladder, etc.), the Love & Marriage game (think Newleywed gameshow) and the traditional welcome aboard and farewell shows. TIP: Don't miss the Love & Marriage game. It was hilarious!!!! Also, if a show only performs once (like the magician did on our cruise), be sure to get to the theater early to get a seat. We ended up standing in the back on the 3rd deck up. Our cruise director, Allan Brooks was terrific. A very funny guy with energy to burn. He obviously likes his job and certainly enhanced all the entertainment. Watch for his special "sign off" each night. He was the emcee for the Love & Marriage show, and was outrageously funny! You can also see him as "Elvis", a member of "The Village People", and various other encarnations thourought the week. Other bands, trios, duos, and solo musical acts we're scattered about the ship and sounded good. Ports of Call: Hubbard Glacier was our 1st stop (although you don't get off). This is in the Yakutat bay nearing the top of the panhandle of Alaska. What an amazing sight this glacier is!! It's hundreds of feet tall and hundreds of yards wide. As you near the glacier, you start passing chunks of ice in the water. The scenery getting into the bay is beautiful, but once you get to the glacier itself, well...you can't imagine how incredible it is. Parts of it have a blue glow (due to the ice being so compacted that it absorbs all colors of the spectrum except for refracting blue light). You hear the "glacier thunder" which is the sound of the glacier calving (ice falling off the end of it and crashing into the water). Our captain (Nikolas Antanlis) positioned the ship very close to the glacier with the port side facing it first and then turned the ship 180 degrees so the starboard side could see (about 30 minutes per side). So, if you have a balcony or outside cabin, you can enjoy the glacier right from there. If you had an inside cabin, you could stand on the deck 5 or deck 6 promenade. Another great spot was the helicopter pad at the very front of the ship. On our cruise, a native indian guide came aboard and offered narration over the PA system on the area and glaciers. He was difficult to understand, and after a while people kind of tuned him out. Also, there was a glacier talk in the theater that morning from a geologist. It was very interesting if you like science stuff. TIP: If you want a good spot on the helicopter pad without having to look over lots of people, get there early. They sell hot chocolate and all sorts of various liquored hot drinks to keep you warm out on the pad. Skagway was our first actual port. It's a small town (about 6 blocks wide by 10 blocks long) which is easy to walk around. There are 3 docks in Skagway. From each dock, there is a town shuttle service called "Smart" I believe. For $1.50 per person, they'll take you from the end of the pier into town and drop you at 3 or 4 different places. Royal Caribbean uses the railroad dock which is big enough to hold two megaships. We were docked behind the Island Princess which made walking to the end of the pier quite a distance. So to alleviate that problem, there is a large golf cart that can drive you to the end of the pier where the "Smart" bus is waiting. There is lots of shopping in town and a couple places to eat. One of them is the Red Onion, which is a former brothel turned into a restaurant. The town has a "colorful" history which you can read up on in one of the many tour books out there. The folks are friendly and happy to help you find the perfect gift (s). When the ships are in town (there were 5 the day we were there), the streets are a crowded, but not unmanageable. You can rent bicycles to get around as well. There are multiple shore excursions offered in each port, but in this review, I will only describe the ones we did. To see other information about other excursions go to www.portreviews.com. We decided upon the White Pass/Yukon Railway and Trail Camp Adventure for $136.00 per person. The train station is located very close to the ships and leave at 3 or 4 intervals during the day. The Victorian parlor cars are fun to ride in, although not much room for your knees between the seats. It traverses up White Pass to around 3000' in elevation. There is narration along the way which describes the various climates you go through. It's a beautiful ride with several hair raising turns next to shear cliffs. You can take the ride to the US/Canadian border or continue on, which we did, to the town of Fraser BC. You will see everything from lush forests and waterfalls to barren tundra. It's about an 1 1/2 hour ride to the top. You can stand between the cars for better picture taking. Complimentary water is available in cleverly shaped bottles. On our tour we continued onto a motor coach for a ride down the other side of the pass. On the train, you pass the US/Canadian border, so before you get on, they check your documentation. On the way down, we stopped for picture taking at a beautiful alpine lake. The last stop was Liarsville which was an old mining camp. They served hot cider and cookies, performed a hokey show and taught you to pan for gold. Naturally, everyone left rich :) The great thing about the camp was it's beautiful location in a rainforest with babbling brooks, a small waterfall and a tree canopy over you. TIP: Sit on the left side of the train going up. That's where most all of the scenery is. Juneau, the capital of Alaska, was the next port call. This city was much bigger than Skagway. They had a free tram from the cruise port to the downtown/shopping area that ran every few minutes. Shopping here was much the same as in Skagway. My wife took the Whale Quest, Mendenhall Glacier & Salmon Bake tour for $160.00 per person. First of all, this tour guarantees you will see whales or you will receive most of your money back. She was not disappointed. Her group went out in a specially designed, environmentally friendly jet boat. Basically many animals were getting injured by the propellers of boats so this vessel is propelled by "jets". The engines can be stopped instantly so as not to disturb the wildlife. There was a naturalist onboard describing whales and their lives/patterns. She said it was facinating. They did indeed see many whales including young whales (mostly humpback). Next it was on to Mendenhall Glacier for a walk around of the lakes and forest areas near the glacier. Although not as impressive as Hubbard glacier, she nevertheless enjoyed the scenery. Lastly was a salmon bake. They went to another camp area for a buffet of baked salmon with all the trimmings. She said it was not as good as having a salmon filet. Basically you had to pick around the skin and bones to get to the meat. This was a 6 1/2 tour with time for shopping at the end. TIP: Unless you really want to eat salmon, save yourself the money and just go on the whale/wildlife quest and then catch a taxi or shuttle to the Mendenhall Glacier visitors center. You'll save money that way I was reserved for a helicopter tour with a glacier landing and walk around. Unfortunately, it was quite foggy and all the helicopters that morning were grounded. The afternoon weather improved greatly, but those rides were already sold out. Ketchikan, our last stop, was in between the size of Skagway and Juneau. The ship docked right in the heart of the shopping area. This definately was the best port for shopping. There were 4 ships in port that day, however the dock only holds 3, so the 4th ship (the Norwegian Star) had to anchor offshore and tender their passengers in. If you're looking for jewelry (particularly diamonds) at heavily discounted prices, this is your stop. Of all the stops, this was easily the most convenient from the ship. You got off and were within 50 yards of the stores. We decided to go to the Lumberjack Show which was $29.00 per person. It was located a short walk from the ship and was a great way to spend an 1 1/2 hours. It's an outdoor show area with covered grandstands. We had a great emcee who divided the two grandstands into the Canadian side and the US side. Lots of cheering for your team which consisted of 2 guys per team competing in log chopping, pole climbing, ax throwing, log rolling, chainsaw carvings, etc.. It might sound hokey, but between the action, the amusing emcee, and the "side" shows going on, it was really a lot of fun. Kids especially would enjoy this excursion. In the afternoon, I went on the Misty Fjords Floatplane tour. This was absolutely the highlight of the whole trip for me. We departed from a dock about 1/2 mile from the ships and seeing it's a floatplane, took off from the water right between the cruise ships at the dock and the Norwegian Star. What a thrill! The plane was a 7 seat De Havilland Beaver. Each seat had a set of noise-canceling headsets which played music during the flight with narrations interjected at points along the route by our pilot. The plane is very loud as it had a 13 cylinder radial engine. I was seated in the co-pilot seat which was fun since I have prior piloting experience. The flight started down the shipping channel while we gained altitude and then headed east to the Misty Fjords National Park. The views were incredible! We saw huge waterfalls, shear granite cliff walls, whales swimming in the waters, and gorgeous forests. Then we flew into one section of the fjords where we landed on a fresh water lake surrounded on all sides by granite mountains. Our pilot brought the plane to the shore line where we got out and walked for about 25 minutes. It was literally in the middle of nowhere. What serenity and beauty!! The shore line was covered in a alpine forest with wild berry trees scattered about. You could eat these berries right off the trees. A gentle layer of clouds hugged the tops of the mountains. They don't call it MISTY Fjords for nothing. This was simply the most beautiful place I had ever seen! On the flight back, I was chatting with the pilot about my former flying experience and she asked if I wanted to fly the plane while she ate her lunch. So I got to fly the plane all the way back to Ketchikan. She landed of course, but it was a great thrill. All in all it was about 70 minutes of flight time plus the lake landing. As we left Ketchikan on the back to Vancouver, the ship cruised into the Misty Fjords Park. It was so great to see the same areas by ship as I had by plane a few hours before. The captain stopped the ship at the end of one of the inlets, and gently rotated it so everyone could get 360 degree views. It was beautiful! TIP: If you don't mind flying in small airplanes, you have to do this tour! It was well worth the $199.00. It's an experience you will get few other places. Go for it! Not all the operators will bring the plane to the shoreline on the lake. Some just stop and have people get out and stand on the pontoons of the plane. Our operator was Island Air Tours operated by a woman named Michelle. Get your tickets inside the Tour Kiosk building right on the dock. Be sure to ask for Michelle's tour company as their are several floatplane companies there. Weather Ketchikan and Juneau are notorious for their yearly rainfall. Ketchikan averages 15-17 feet of rain per year. That's FEET. On our cruise, we had cloudy skies most of the time whether at sea or in any of the ports. The daytime temperatures were comfortable (60s and low 70s). We packed rain coats and umbrellas, but never used either. Each day, it threatened rain, but we never got much more than a few drops. All of southeast Alaska is a wet area, so you still need to pack for that contingency. The coldest we ever were was actually during sea days while spending time on the outside areas of the ship. The wind chill really gets you here, but by no means is parka and gloves weather. Not surprsingly, the kids on the cruise enjoyed the outdoor pool and many adults enjoyed the outdoor hot tubs. Motion You will feel some motion on this ship. Most of the cruise is conducted in water that despite nearby land, does cause motion. The higher up you go, the more you feel. We noticed a light shimmy/shaking in our cabin. Perfectly normal as we've felt that before. You will notice some gentle side to side motion as well. Actually you feel rocked to sleep and it's somewhat relaxing. Talking about motion is not meant to scare anyone, but don't assume that just because you're cruising the inside passage on an enormous ship (90,000 GRT), you don't feel anything. It's generally very light. We don't have a problem with motion sickness, but there are numerous remedies for those who do including SeaBands, Dramamine, patches that go behind your ear, etc.. Getting off the ship was the only really negative experience we had. The night before you leave you are ask to leave your luggage outside your stateroom with colored tags on it. In the morning they dismiss you from the ship by color. The order of colors is based on whether you have flights to catch, other tours to go on, post cruise hotels, etc.. Our color was orange. We were expected to be out of our cabin by 800a and to wait in a public area for the announcement of colors. We left our cabin at 750a and went to the pool area to wait. About 930a, after several colors had been called, we went down to the guest relations desk to see when orange would be called as we had a flight out of Seattle at 330p. We were advised orange was called at 738a. The ship was not even supposed to dock until 8a, and by the time the ship cleared customs, it would surely be 830a or 9a before they started to call colors. The other problem was that Royal Caribbean does not "pipe in" the public announcements into the staterooms. If you turn on your TV to channel 32, you can hear them, but we just assumed no colors would be called until later. Anyway, we quickly got off the ship and found the Royal Caribbean ground staff who advised us the bus for Seattle left already, but they could get us on another bus that left at 1030a and would take 3-4 hours to get there. This would be cutting it close, but we should make our flight. Meanwhile, we had no idea where our luggage was. Considering our experience with the 1st transfer, we were not in a very trusting mood with these people. They assured us our luggage went ahead of us on another bus and would be waiting in Seattle. Since we had no way to verify this, we just had to belive it was true and get on the 1030a bus. Fifteen minutes into the bus ride, the driver announced we would arrive at the Seattle airport at 340p. My wife jumped up and questioned the driver who said this was a scheduled bus and made several stops along the way. Well now we were stuck. We had been put on the wrong bus, were going to miss our flight, and had no idea where our luggage was. I phoned the Royal Caribbean customer service desk to advise of what was going on. He put me on hold and called the reps in Seattle and then assured me the supervisor there would meet us with our luggage. At this point, we could do nothing else except hope this was true. After 4 1/2 more hours, we did get to Seattle and the supervisor was really there with our luggage, so kudos to him. In any event, it was quite upsetting and angered us that we had received so many wrong directions and answers. The next flight was relatively empty so we were put on it right away and got home only about 1 hour later than originally planned. TIP: Listen carefully for your color to be called (even earlier than you think it should)! LAST TIP: Get some books about Alaska and learn about it's history, glaciers, fjords, and geography. It will really enhance your trip. A really good book is called "Alaska by Cruise Ship" by Anne Vipond. In SUMMARY, despite the transfer snafus both ways, we had a marvelous time!!! The ship was beautiful, the staff was friendly, we enjoyed our cabin and balcony, the scenery was fabulous, the ports of call were enjoyable. Would we cruise again on the Serenade of the Seas? You bet we would....in a heartbeat! Royal Caribbean has their act together and do a good job (at least on the ship). If you're looking for the ultimate in luxury, food, and service, this is not it. However, if you want good food, great facilities, lots of entertainment, and great scenery, this is your ship. I hope this review, all be it long, has been helpful. Thanks for reading!

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Jun 5, 2004

Alaska

Adios to Royal Caribbean. This was my third cruise on RCCL and my last Overall I think this was an ok cruise. Good: The ship was beautiful. There is lots of glass which was good for seeing Alaska. The captain did an amazing job of maneuvering the ship at Hubbard Glacier and Misty Fjord. Alaska is a great place to cruise to. The casino personnel were very helpful. Bad: Service. Service. Service. Check in took an hour in line.

Then we had to wait 2 hours to go through US customs (in Vancouver). The waiting area was an open room with folding chairs with over 500 people in it. You could barely hear your group called. Very poorly done. Our daughter got sick in our room from food poisoning. We had to ask several times to get the carpet cleaned. After cleaning they left a blower to dry the carpet and never returned. The room still smelled and made the hallway outside the room smell too. No one ever checked to see if the room was ok. After asking for some deodorizer we were told they didn’t have any. I guess this was the first time anyone ever got sick on a ship. We finally got a can of Glade to cover the smell. The next day we demanded some action so they cleaned to carpet again and it still smelled. No one checked up afterwards. The room still smelled at the end of the cruise. I feel sorry for the next cruise occupants. The food in the main dining room was consistently only warm, never hot. The meats were generally tough. I would rate the food as marginal. It was a lot like bar food. The service was poor and slow. Several times we were served cold coffee at dinner. Once they were too busy to get us hot coffee after we complained. On the plus side I did save on tips. The ship has dispensers to sanitize your hands before entering the dining room. Good idea. However they only have one at each entrance and they do run out. It takes ten minutes for everyone to get into dinner because of this bottleneck. If they bought 4 more it would eliminate the problem. The Windjammer food was awful. It was impossible to find a table. They also played a game called “find the condiments”. The ship has condiment stations with push buttons to dispense condiments. These stations only worked once in a while and were never marked as being out of service. You had to hunt to find the liquid gold (ketchup, mustard). I asked a manager about the problem and he just yelled at someone at the drink bar who ignored him. I then realized that they must be hiding it behind the drink bars. I was right. I grabbed some packets of ketchup and was scolded by the drink attended for going behind the bar. Royal Caribbean has cut corners to the point where cruising with them is not an enjoyable experience. I enjoyed my previous cruises with them but this was simply not worth the price.

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May 7, 2004

Ensenada to Honolulu

First, let me state that the Serenade of the Seas is probably the most beautiful ship I’ve ever sailed…bar none. RCCL’s Radiance class of ships is a real winner, and the beauty of the Serenade exemplifies the entire class. That said, though, I must admit that our experience on this superb ship was far less than what we had expected. As Diamond Members

of Royal Caribbean’s Crown & Anchor Society, my wife and I have become used to fairly good customer service aboard RCI ships. Such was not the case on our Serenade cruise. We found the Serenade to be staffed by the worst crew we have ever encountered in almost 30 cruises. There were a few notable exceptions: the captain, the concierge, and our waitress. The remainder of the crew was generally rude, surly, uninformed, and unprofessional. This started as soon as we landed in San Diego on embarkation day. There were four RCCL ladies at the airport directing the baggage loading and transfer process. By asking the same question of each of the four, we received four totally different answers, and all were quite dogmatic. This continued aboard the ship. Ask a question of two or three RCI people at the guest relations desk, and we’d consistently receive two or three different answers. This happened both on the phone and in person. Seems like it’s categorically against the ship’s policy for one of their employees to simply say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you with the answer.” It’s much easier to just make up an answer, and it seems that’s what they continued to do. We are not snobs, and we do not expect to be treated any better than with the treatment given any other guest. We do, however, expect decent customer service. Extraordinary customer service should, in my opinion, be give to every guest who purchases a cruise ticket. Unfortunately, the customer service we received was not even satisfactory, much less extraordinary……unless it could be called extraordinarily bad. A few examples follow. After as many cruises as we’ve sailed with RCCL, one might think that they could get dining arrangements right…..but no. We were with a party of 6 (including children aged 5 and 7), and had requested a table for 6. We did this 6 months prior to sailing. Having had problems in this area on past cruises, we wrote a letter to the Crown and Anchor Society requesting that they get it right this time. Lo and behold, they didn’t. We again had to go through the hassle of meeting with an assistant head waiter to change our table. “I’m sorry, but the ship is full, and we can’t make any changes” seems to be their pre-recorded response to virtually every request. When we insisted, the guy reluctantly changed us to a table far removed from the main part of the dining room. When we told him that the “new” table was unacceptable, his attitude and response were both rude and unprofessional. By insisting upon speaking with a maitre ‘d, we did get a decent table for 6 the next day…but why should our vacation have to start out with this kind of stress? Shame on you, Royal Caribbean! Our stateroom was uncomfortable warm, yet when we called maintenance about it, their response was that the room temperatures were set by computer, and that if our room was hot it was because we had left open the door to the veranda. Hogwash…..we had done no such thing. Our daughter’s room was a good 10 degrees farenheit cooler than our room, but the RCI maintenance staff refused to believe it. It was not until the concierge got involved that the situation was corrected. Our daughter, her husband, and their two young children found upon arrival that their stateroom had been set up for two guests, not a family of four. Upon disembarkation 11 days later, after repeated requests for them, they still had not even seen life preservers for the two children. This is patently inexcusable. For the first time since 9/11/2002, bridge tours were given on this ship. Seems the Cruise Director arranged for these to be conducted by his staff. No announcement about the tours was made, either – the information was dispensed by word-of-mouth only. Neither the Loyalty Ambassador nor the guest relations staff was notified about it by the cruise director or his staff. When we heard about it, we were told that the tours were already full, but that we could have our name put on a waiting list. I asked the Loyalty Ambassador if there would be a bridge tour for C&A diamond and platinum members, and he had no idea that there even WERE any bridge tours. I then asked guest relations to put our name on a waiting list for any additional bridge tours. Later that day, at the Diamond and Platinum C&A reception, the captain announced that there would be a special bridge tour for Diamond and Platinum members. My wife and I planned to attend, so we picked up tickets for the first tour. I neglected to ask guest relations to remove my name from the waiting list, and about an hour later, our stateroom phone rang. When I answered it, a member of the cruise director’s staff asked, very rudely, “Where ARE you? Why aren’t you HERE?” Seems to me that it should have been fairly obvious that I was in my stateroom, since I answered the person’s call to my stateroom. At any rate, the rudeness and tone of voice used by that person was totally unacceptable, and would have resulted in termination from jut about any major business in corporate America. There were quite a few other, similar incidents, but these should suffice to exemplify the typical “customer service” afforded guests on this sailing. The concierge, Maritza Moolman, was the singular bright star in an otherwise dark sky of shipboard staff members. We have nothing but the highest praise for this young lady. She ran her concierge lounge in a totally professional manner, and went out of her way to assist us with solving problems that should have been handled by other staff members. She personally delivered items to our staterooms, and even gave personal gifts to our grandchildren. The meal we had at Portofino’s was outstanding, and the service was excellent. The meal we had at Chops was horrid. The steak and prime rib were improperly cooked and very tough, and the service was extremely slow. Generally, food in the Windjammer was consistently better than the food in the dining room. There was nothing wrong with either the taste or the presentation of the dining room food – the problem was with the menu. I understand cost-cutting measures, but on 8 of the 11 nights aboard the ship, my wife and I had difficulty finding something on the menu that we wanted to eat. That had never happened to such a degree on any of our previous RCCL cruises. The only recommendations I could make for the Windjammer would be to (1) increase the number of people making omelets from two to four (The omelet lines were interminably long much of the time) to (2) clean the dirty tables faster and more often, and to (3) restrict the Windjammer tables to diners during dining hours. There were many times when we had to walk completely around the Windjammer two or three times to find a table…..while many tables for 4 or 6 were occupied by solitary people who were not eating, but were just reading or napping. For years, Royal Caribbean has been my clear favorite of the five cruise lines I’ve used. Unfortunately, though, on the basis of our experiences during this cruise, Royal Caribbean’s standards seem to have been lowered to the point that I’m not sure I want to sail on their ships again…..and that’s a shame.

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Mar 6, 2004

Southern Caribbean

If I was asked to review Royal Caribbean and Serenade of the Seas they both would receive failing marks. We had 5 family members traveling with us, myself, my husband, our 7 month old son and my parents. We had connecting cabins on the eighth floor with balconies. The staterooms were very nice with wonderful storage space and the balcony was

a great size. That is the only positive thing I can say about our cruise experience. The staff was extremely rude - One evening in the formal dining room my mother ordered Lamb Roast from our waiter and as he made his way around the table accepting everyone else's order - he got to a gentleman sitting across from us (at our table) who also ordered the Lamb Roast. The waiter told the man that he does not recommend the Lamb and he proceeded to bring the Lamb out to my mom and brought the man the Lamb and the chicken dinner, "because he knew the man was not going to like the Lamb." He never said one thing to my mom. So I guess the Lamb was good enough for my mom but not for the man. Another example of total disregard was our first night on the ship we were told we would get a crib for our son. Their idea of a crib is a play pen with a mat that is less that 1/4 inch thick for him to sleep on. We tried for over an hour to set the play pen up but one of the sides kept collapsing. So I called our Room Steward at 10pm. I called again at 11pm and again at 11:15pm. We got no responses! By 11:45pm my son was sleeping in our bed. The next afternoon our room steward "stopped by" to see what the trouble was. Apparently, he had better things to worry about then us. One thing I still don't understand is we paid $500 for our son to come on this cruise. He is 7 months old and did not eat any of their food or participate in any activities. Then I had him in the baby pool for his first experience "swimming" and a pool attendant came up screaming at me in front of a crowd of people saying that he can not be in the pool because he is not potty-trained. He was wearing the Huggies Swimmies so there was nothing getting in or out of the diaper. The attendant was so rude that I asked to speak with a supervisor - who was very condescending. It was VERY obvious they did NOT want children on this cruise. We were treated like outcasts. The food on this cruise was terrible also. The fruit was from a can. They didn't even have sliced oranges. Twice when I was getting breakfast and put strawberries on my waffles the strawberries were still frozen. It was a joke. On the last day of the cruise, we had to be out of the stateroom by 8am and then we had to wait in one of the bar areas until we could depart the ship. By 10am my son was getting very antsy and wanted water. There was nothing open on the ship so my husband went to the Guest Relations desk to ask about purchasing a bottle of water. He was told to take our son to the bathroom and let him drink from the sink. That is APPALING. To expect that anyone would drink from the bathroom sink makes me sick. I have been on Celebrity and Carnival Cruises and would recommend both highly. I will NEVER sail on another Royal Caribbean cruise again.

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Feb 21, 2004

Southern Caribbean

Quick Summary Overall: Great trip Dining Room food: Main courses average, appatizers excellent. Windjammer food: very good Entertainment: Very good Best things: Itinerary (It was nice being in port everyday but the last, from 7-5), Look and style of the ship, late night entertainment, not crowded, no lines, deserts, casino and Mike

the shopping guy. Disappointments: 7 days was not enough, the dining room food was average restaurant quality (not exceptional), Barbados. We arrived in San Juan around 1:30 pm and were at the boat at around 2:30. There was practically no line to register and get the sail and sign cards. I would say we were in our stateroom within 20 minutes (and we stopped twice for rum punch) The stateroom was bigger than I was expecting (although still smaller than a hotel room). The beds were together as requested. The bathroom was the expected size. The shower was actually quite a lot bigger than I was expecting. The decor, was tasteful, rather than flashy. The ship has tonnes of windows. The centrum looks up from deck 4 to 11. There are two elevetors that overlook the centrum and 4 elevetors that look right out to sea. Whenever we were in any port, our ship always looked the nicest. Our first stop was the windjammer cafe for lunch. It was set up with multiple buffet stations, so we never had to wait in line the whole cruise. Our luggage was delivered at about 7:30 which just gave us enough time to shower and change for dinner. We were at a table for 10, and everyone at our table was in our age group. (We are 28, the age range was 24-35) Our waiter and assistant waiter we great throughout the cruise and it was always fun watching them do their little performances at the end of every dinner. We had the late seating and never saw any children. (In fact, throughout the cruise RCL did a great job of entertaining the children. I never saw any children running around unattended) The first stop was St Thomas, we got up early to do some shopping but all the stores are closed until 10. We went to Saphire beach which had great waves and a beautiful view. The taxi ride ($8 each way) was an adventure in itself. Locals were not pushy or annoying. Sunday night was the first formal night. Men were about 50/50 tuxes/dark suites. We went to Disco night at the Vortex which was a lot of fun. At midnight they had the "Almost Village People" put on a great show. Monday we were in St Maartan. We took the water taxi downtown and after passing the first block of people wanting to do hairbraids and sell stuff we weren't bothered. THe shopping was great and visited a few local outdoor bars. The town is really quite nice. European style architecture with Caribbena style colours. (This was my favourtite port) In the afternoon we just stayed at the beach in town. Some of our tablemates went to the Orient beach on the other side of the Island and really enjoyed that. Tuesday we were in Antigua. Similar to St Maartan, once you pass the first block, no hassles. The shopping was good. We took a cab to Runaway Bay in the afternoon. This is a local beach so there was hardly any one there (about 6 people that we could see). We rented a beach lounge chair for $4 and enjoyed a quite peaceful afternoon at the beach. Tuesday night was country western night in the safari club. The quest is not to be missed. (It is probably the funnest night time activity) Wendesday we were in St. Lucia, we took the afternoon snorkling excursion offered by RCL and it was amazing. I recommend only doing the 1/2 day tour. I think I would have been bored being there the whole day. That night was the 50's and 60's night at the safari club. Thursday was Barbados. It was the only place I wish I did a shore excurion. The locals are quite pushy and didn't take no for an answer in many cases. Thursday was the next formal night which was fun. We got old fashioned style pictures taken. Friday was a relaxing day at sea. (And we both needed it). The Solarium was my favoutirte daytime spot on the ship. Quieter than the outdoor pool and great decorations. Embarkation on Saturday was a breeze. We are non-US citizens, and unlike I've read on other cruiselines, they give you your passports the night before, so there is no getting up extra early. We were up at 8:00 and off the boat at 9:30. All in all a great cruise

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By Dave_CR

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Jan 31, 2004

Royal Caribbean gets a thumbs down. I have been on several cruises and this one was very disappointing. The food at the Windjammers was horrible. We went with a group of 12 and none of us liked the food. The main dining room was good, not great. Service was good, not great. The entertainment was boring, several people we were walking

out of the shows early. It was like they got the cheapest entertainment they could find. The kids program is a joke. I have two small children ages 6 and 3. They have a small staff and did they not interact with the kids. They were often sitting talking with each other. My kids did enjoy playing with the other children on board. Adult activities were poorly managed. They scheduled a ping pong tournament and no staff from Royal Caribbean showed up. We had to call and they finally sent someone. This happen twice both with the means and women's tournament. When the staff showed up he said he was the only one working. It was almost like we were bothering him. The ship is beautiful and the islands are a great place to visit. I think you could find a better cruise line to sail with.

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Jan 3, 2004

Southern Caribbean

This was my husbands and I third cruise and second on Royal Caribbean. We had a great time and highly recommend this cruise. Let me share a little bit of feelings about the cruise. Embarkation J: We flew into San Juan via Houston on Continental. Once you arrive at the airport and pass out of the security area of the airport there are Royal

Caribbean people everywhere. One thing we did not do was put our luggage tags on our bags before we left home. I WOULD RECOMMEND YOU PUT YOUR TAGS ON BEFORE YOU LEAVE. It would have saved us a lot of time waiting for the bags come to come off the plane. If you don’t put the tags on, you have to find your bags, put the tags on the bags, and place the bags back on the baggage claim. Royal Caribbean loads all the bags with the tags on to a truck to bring to the ship. We took the Royal Caribbean arranged shuttle to the ship. When we arrived at the ship we were able to check in without a problem and didn’t have to wait at all. That was a huge relief. We got our ship card and got right on the ship after a painless picture was taken. The Ship: The ship was about 6 months old and was beautiful. It was tastefully decorated with lots of blues and wood accents. The elevators looking our towards the see are awesome. My only complaint was that going from the theater to the centrum after a show was difficult since you had to wind your way through the picture gallery and the on-board shops. It was a maze. Stateroom: We had an oceanview stateroom. It was about 170 square feet. We were pleasantly surprised at how spacious it was especially after the tiny room we had on our previous Royal Caribbean voyage. There are tons hidden cubbies behind mirrors above the desk and in the bathroom and the closet is a decent size. The love seat was comfortable and most suitcases easily fit under the bed. Food: We ate in the main dining room every night. The food was very good, but not great. The best part is the variety - there is something for everyone. Our waiter was great with his recommendations for the meals. My husband followed almost every one and didn’t regret it. I would highly recommend the shrimp cocktail! We ate our breakfasts and most lunches in the Windjammer. Food was good and buffet style. Entertainment: Overall we enjoyed the entertainment. The cruise director, Alan Brooks, was extremely entertaining. I don’t know how he could do so many high jumping kicks without falling and breaking a leg. If anything, you wanted to go to the shows just to see what he would do. He was very involved in all the entertainment on the ship and seemed to have a great time doing it. As far as the shows go, it was hit and miss. The comedian for the first night was funny. We really liked the impressionist on the fifth night and the Miller Brothers show on the third night was good, especially the children that performed. The first production show was OK, but the second was better. I think it was the 70’s theme of the first show that didn’t appeal to us. The love and marriage game was funny, but the one on our previous cruise with Royal Caribbean was better. We didn’t get to see the magician. They tried a murder mystery on the ship for the first time. It was a great idea, but needed perfecting to get more passengers involved and make it more of a scavenger hunt for clues. I hope to hear what they do with it in future reviews. Ports: Do not go on this cruise if you want to stay on the ship while floating at sea. There is only one day at sea and that is the last day. The rest of the time you are in port from 7AM to 5:30PM. We loved the idea of visiting so many ports and that is the reason we chose this cruise. Sunday – St Thomas: Unfortunately on Sunday the in-town shops close at 1pm. Fortunately the shops near the ship is open until 5pm (when you had to be back on the ship anyway). Keep this in mind if you want to do an excursion and go shopping in town. We did the Water Island Bike Tour. It was great and we highly recommend it. Water Island was hit heavily by hurricanes in the past, so it is non-commercial and has lots of natural beauty. At the end of the bike tour we got to go swimming in an almost deserted (rarely deserted per our guides) Honeymoon Bay. It was a great way to get the dirt of ourselves after biking. Monday – St Maarten: It was a beautiful day in St Maarten. There were a few quick rain showers, but otherwise the weather was great. We did a catamaran and snorkel trip. The water was a little rough, so the tour modified the snorkeling site slightly. The first site was near some rocks, so you had to be careful not to get pushed by the waves in them. Then we went to a calmer beach. The snorkeling was great at both places. After the tour, we got cleaned up, ate lunch, and had plenty of time to take the Water Taxi to town to look around the huge number of shops. I have never seen so many jewelry stores. Tuesday – Antigua: This was probably our favorite location. We did a snorkeling and kayaking tour around the mangroves. The sea was a little rough getting to the snorkeling site, but once we got there it was beautiful. Then we went to a calm bay to do some kayaking. The tour ended up back at the dock where we were greeted with warm aromatherapy hand and face towels and a snack of rum cake and rum punch. The tour site is about 45 minutes from the pier and you get to see some countryside during the bus ride there. After we got back to the pier we got cleaned up and walked around town. Wednesday – St Lucia: This island reminds you a lot of Hawaii and is beautiful. We went on a tour called Kool Kayaking. The tour starts with a large group of people all going to a common location for multiple events (biking, snorkeling, scuba, hiking, sun bathing, and kayaking). We broke up into groups. The first part of the kayaking started with a lesson on how to sea kayak on land and then some practice in the water. The first part of the water lesson is learning how to do a wet escape. During this skill you flip your kayak and get out of it. It was actually a lot of fun. After lunch we went back out in the kayaks and followed the shoreline. We got to see some water caves. We also got to see the Pitons from the water. It was an awesome site. We turned around and headed back to headquarters. We then took a 50min boat ride back to the pier and boarded the ship just in time to get ready to leave. Thursday – Barbados: This island is the complete opposite of St Lucia since it is very flat. Since we don’t have our scuba certification we decided to try SNUBA. It is kind of a combination of scuba and snorkeling. You wear a respirator like in scuba, but the tank floats on top of the water. After a brief training lesson we went out on a boat, got fitted with our respirator, mask, weight belt to keep you down, and went underwater to see some fish around the shipwrecks. It was definitely better than snorkeling since you get to see so much more. We got dropped off in town on our way back to the ship and got to see some of the shops on our walk back. Friday – Day at Sea: Unfortunately our day at see was the last day. This kind of made it a prolonged departure day. We tried to do some more activities this day, so we watched an art auction and sunbathed on deck for a little while. While we were on the ship we got to see some Islands from the ship like Montserrat, St Kitts, St Barts, and Seba. Montserrat was definitely the most interesting because you could really see the devastation from the volcanic eruptions. Disembarkation L: It was a sad day leaving the ship. We ate our last breakfast in the dining room, a nice change from the Windjammer. Disembarkation went very smoothly. We had no problems going through customs. We put our bags on a truck to get to the airport and got on a bus for the airport. Unfortunately we had to wait for a little while for the bus to arrive with our bags, but they arrived safely and we made it to the airport with 3 hrs to spare before our flight left.

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Dec 13, 2003

Southern Caribbean

Unfortunately this cruise was my family’s first cruise. I had picked Royal Caribbean thinking it would be the premiere cruise line serving the Caribbean. I’m not going to go into the intense details like some of the other reviewers have, but I hope that within a couple short paragraphs I can help others not make the same mistake we did. Serenade of the Seas is an extremely impressive ship, very beautiful to say the least! We stayed

in an Owner’s Suite and had second suite - Oceanview for our 4 children. The décor within the suites was definitely nice, but if you began looking at things a little closer, you’d soon find it to be on the cheap side when it comes to quality. On our second day, we had a lamp that was attached to an end table fall over at the base. After making several calls to attempt and have the lamp fixed or replaced, wires exposed, someone from maintenance finally came and removed the lamp, but never replaced it. The safe in the unit was pulled partially out of the wall. It took maintenance 2 days to repair it. Unfortunately the food offered was something more like you’d find at the local buffet. The food was frequently cold and the service in the assigned restaurants hurried to say the least, and we were the second seating. An exception, “Chops” the additional $20 a person fee restaurant. That was absolutely outstanding. After boarding the cruise, we were advised that a large group had booked on the ship. A group that comprised more than 2/3rd of the ships inhabitants. This made a huge difference in the day to day life on the ship. The music, the atmosphere, became geared to serve that group of people. Several staff members informed us that life on the ship usually wasn’t like what we were experiencing. The group was overall very loud and rude. Frequently running into you, cutting in the buffet lines etc... I filed a formal complaint with Royal Caribbean after returning home. I contacted them by phone, mail and email. It took two months to receive a response. I received a call from a representative with RC. She informed me my comments would be passed on, but refused any sort of refund, gift certificate or voucher to be used towards a future cruise. She told me point blank “Royal Caribbean doesn’t do that” I will NEVER go on another Royal Caribbean ship again. We spent almost $15,000 on this trip. Let me also mention the air arrangements made by RC were horrid to say the least. I would strongly recommend planning your own air.

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Dec 6, 2003

Southern Caribbean

If there is a new ship in port, you can place a safe bet that Vincent will book a cruise on her. The sleek, beautiful Serenade of the Seas, the newest ship of the RCI Radiance class, fits that criteria and Vincent, champing at the bit, made reservations and we sailed on her just three months into her inaugural year. Captain Nikolaos Antalis, our friend from

the Vision of the Seas, took her from Amsterdam, Holland to Boston, Massachusetts August 4-11, 2003 on her first Transatlantic voyage. We looked forward to renewing our acquaintance with him, but, alas he was on holiday. The Master at this time was the extraordinarily erudite Captain Stig Nilsen of Norway, who commanded his first ship at age twenty-four, and later heroically rescued fifty crew members off two Danish ships in danger of being crushed by dangerous ice floes in the Arctic. His historically oriented daily "talks from the bridge" put in context the many islands we visited or sailed close enough to view from the Serenade. It is refreshing to see how much he valued the culture of these island nations and the heritage that determines their modern status. He perfectly timed a sail-a-way from St. Lucia to allow passengers a view of the spectacular sunset as we exited the narrow harbor. EMBARKATION We flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico from Ft Lauderdale, Florida; this short flight was painless (after we missed our scheduled flight, we were booked on the next one an hour later). San Juan has a new efficiently designed airport, and we used RCI's handy American Airlines flight and transfer. Personnel were stationed at the gate and the baggage claim area along with porters. A very short walk led to the buses just outside the door. Luggage is transferred separately by trucks, but have no fear it quickly gets to the ship! This was very different from our last time in Puerto Rico, the renovated airport has made travel much easier. The forty-five minute trip across town to the port is brief, but offers a nice overview of this beautiful city. At the dock there were crew to assist us with the luggage and the wheelchair, and we were on board in twenty minutes. Check-in is much simpler for the repeat customers of RCI (Crown & Anchor Society members). For the Platinum (over 5 cruises) and the Diamond (over 10 cruises) there is a special waiting area with refreshments available: no long lines here! The more we travel, the more we realize that RCI really values repeat customers. THE SHIP GTV (gas turbine vessel) Serenade of the Seas was built at Meyer Werft Shipyards, Papenburg, Germany; she is registered in the Bahamas and is the third Radiance Class ship, with the Radiance of the Seas and Brilliance of the Seas the other two sister ships. This class ship has over three acres of exterior glass, with the use of more windows to the sea, passengers see more of this exciting itinerary. We will not soon forget the panoramic view of Saba and other islands of the Lesser Antilles, which we admired as the ship passed by closely. Three of the Centrum elevators overlook the sea. Having sailed on the other two Radiance class ships, it was a de ja vu for us to go around and visit the various places on this ship, but we still enjoyed seeing the original art work and comparing the interior decoration with that of her sister ships. There are a lot of on board activities from Rock Climbing Walls to playing pool on gyroscopic (auto balancing) tables, to golfing simulators and mini courses. The Serenade is 962 ft. long; has a beam of 105.6 ft., and a draft of 26.7 ft. At a gross tonnage of 90,090, she has a top speed of over 25 knots. Her passenger capacity is 2,501 and she carries a crew of 859, yet the atmosphere is not crowded. The overall impression is of a huge yacht, but with the many amenities of a small city: theater, night clubs, gyms & spas, swimming pools, golf, and music everywhere in the lounges, dining room and on the open decks. The nicest thing about this ship is that RCI has adopted a sophisticated nautical decor with a combination of colors (maroon, navy blue and gold) repeated throughout the ship, including the staterooms. This background effectively showcases the many works of art (a collection of over $5 million) which enhance the Serenade's beauty. We like the "wood, brass and sea" look throughout the ship. There are twelve decks dedicated to either public areas or staterooms, with a total of nineteen wheelchair accessible cabins, all of them located near elevators. Deck Two has some inside and oceanview staterooms, three of them are wheelchair accessible, two are oceanview and one inside. Deck Three contains all inside or oceanview staterooms, four of them (two inside and two oceanview) are wheelchair accessible. Deck Four forward has the first level of the Tropical Theatre and then a series of inside and oceanview staterooms, four of which are wheelchair accessible (2 inside and 2 oceanview); midship is the main floor of the eight deck tall centrum which has the Passenger Services desk and Explorations tour desk. There are balconies over looking the centrum on each deck. The ship was decorated for the holidays with each deck festooned with green balsam garlands and maroon and gold bows. High in the center is suspended a soaring work by Andersen & Lundberg (Norway) named "Bow" (rainbow). It is composed of a series of aluminum mesh sails which fill the centrum, but allow one to see through it. It shimmers with colors and lighting, thus it gives an airy sensation to the area. The Centrum staircases have huge panels of floral art: Van Der Vegt's (Holland) "Anemones" is beautiful and graceful in its depiction of long stemmed flowers on repetitive panels ---- another stunner is Koestner's (USA) Iris Trilogy 1, 2 & 3." It shows bearded iris in lavender and blue with a botanical aspect to it. There is also Kivinen's (Finland) "Orchids," a study in yellow/green cymbidium orchids. We have mentioned only a few of the many floral works. Aft is the Reflections Dining Room with a two deck high, midnight blue waterfall and a gracefully curved brass staircase (festooned for the holidays). It has a mahogany wood, curved balcony, gold drapes on the brass oversized porthole windows and a simple, but, elegant oval, colored glass fixture. There were green garlands and maroon bows everywhere. Deck Five forward is the main level of the Tropical Theatre, a simple room with an excellent view of the stage from almost every seat. The fabulous curtain gives the impression of a tropical forest (shimmering green, blue and lavender). Midship are the Conference Center, the Photo Gallery and the ample on board shops. Aft is the balcony of the Reflections Dining Room. Deck Six like Deck Five is all public areas: Forward is the balcony of the theatre; toward midship is the cinema (featuring recent movies), and the Pit Stop sports bar. Midship is the Casino Royale where are located several fine art works such as the following: Zsiba-Smolover's (USA) "Neptune's Muse," a graceful renaissance style sculpture, and "Oceania Rising" a sea nymph offering a giant pearl. You won't find anything "faux" on this ship, just interesting original art work. Midship, at the centrum is the Champagne Bar (with intriguing designer shoe sketches). Toward aft is the Schooner Bar with the "Jenny Lind Galleon Figure" by Ab (Sweden). The famous "Swedish Songbird" holds a golden nightingale; there is an interesting story behind this figurehead which was made for the clipper "The Swedish Nightingale" and ended up as a scarecrow on a farm in Sweden. Now, this poignant all white statue is lightly gilt and stands beautifully in the middle of the Schooner Bar. The art work behind the bar is a series of "Military Uniforms" by Folkes (Britain) and they are very interesting. Specialty restaurants such as Chops Grill (wonderful grilled steaks and veal chops with unique side dishes) and Portofino (upscale Italian menu) are located here. All the way aft is the Safari Club with a nice combination of game rooms (pool, billiards, chess, checkers and other games) and a bar. Decks 7, 8. 9 & 10 are all staterooms with the Explorers Lounge, the Library and the Concierge Club (with the wonderful Maritza in charge --- more about her later) clustered near the elevators. Here are the remaining 8 wheelchair accessible staterooms, all with balcony, six of them are on deck 7 (Categories E1 and E3) and two on deck 10 (Junior Suites). Deck Eleven is all public areas starting with the Spa forward. The Solarium has a South Sea Island Bali theme. There are two huge gold gilt elephants with ivory tusks flanking a delicately carved wooden Temple gate set behind a curved bamboo bridge. The combination of trees and plants on the deck and up above gracefully surrounds the pools. This, adult only area, is pleasant for early morning or evening swims, or relaxing in the hot tub. Next is the open deck pool area with another pool and two hot tubs. Aft is the Windjammer Cafe with many food stations for buffet lovers: main courses and meat carving stations, pizzas, sandwiches, salad bars and dessert displays are all eye-catching. The entry had a friendly hostess and a miniature Gingerbread town with its own railway, running train and station. Deck Twelve has forward the Fitness Center and a jogging track (no cabins below it, thank heaven). There is the Crown & Anchor Lounge and aft is dedicated to the young cruisers with the Adventure Ocean and the Teen Pool. The Sea View Lounge, Golf Simulators and Sports Areas are also located here. Deck Thirteen holds the Viking Crown Lounge with its circular bar crowned with a Chrome Star and 180 degrees of curved windows to the sea. It's wonderful to sit up here during the day, surrounded by the sea. At night this room is transformed by radiating shafts of light and fiber optic stars. The Crown & Anchor Society had a cocktail party here with a huge full moon perfectly framed in the center of the windows --- We think that Captain Nilsen planned that well! Also located on Deck Thirteen is the Vortex Lounge with cyberspace art like the Swarovski-Crystal & Glass panels and the Savoy Studio's (USA) "Wave," with the many panes invoking images of ocean waves and ships ----Stunning. There is the Hollywood Odyssey Lounge, an intimate club which places the audience in close proximity to performers. Overall this ship is elegant and lovely in its decorations. FOOD & SERVICE There is excellent service on board under the experienced eye of Hotel Director Francois Wache (France). This Parisian brings a personal touch to service; his international background and attention to detail shows up all over the ship in the quick and friendly attitudes of the crew. This is a tribute to Francois. Chief Purser Doug MacLennan is an old friend from the Vision of the Seas. He was top notch, both welcoming us and helpful in many ways, his staff reflects his efficiency. Asst. Purser Sinead Coll (Ireland) was especially courteous to us. The dining room was under the supervision of Maitre D' Yusuf Cavdar (Turkey), whom we had previously met on the Grandeur of the Seas. And it was everything we have come to expect from Yusuf, perfection. He set a table for two especially for us in front of the staircase, where the grand piano was played nightly by Glen Stevenson. This pianist's repertoire included almost every beautiful melody we love! Our waiter Rajesh Singh (India) and assistant Zoltan Turscu (Romania) were excellent. The Assistant Maitre D' Orlando Rosa (Portugal) stepped up to the task, when Yusuf departed in Barbados. He circulated throughout the dining room, made helpful suggestions about the menu, and kept things running smoothly. Maitre D' Yusuf can be proud of his staff and their work. It is not easy serving more than 10,000 meals per day to about 3,500 passengers and crew members. The food on board is quite abundant and varied. We enjoyed every meal, since there were many selections to choose from and all were plated elegantly. Room service was prompt every morning and served full American or Continental breakfast. Breakfast was also available in the Windjammer Buffet, or in the main dining room (where all the classics were served: Eggs Benedict, Pancakes, Waffles, Hot & Cold Cereals, Bagels & Kippered Herring and fresh fruits. Luncheon at the buffet was plentiful and a sampling from the main dining room menu included Fruit Medley with lychee, papaya, grapefruit and grapes; two soups and entrees such as Chicken Caesar Salad, Sea food fettuccine, BBQ spare ribs, Quesadillas or a NY Burger. Desserts were apple strudel, cheese cake (optional sugar free desserts) or several homemade ice creams. Dinner from the International Menu had Appetizers such as Australian kiwi, Shrimp cocktail, Thai spring roll, French lentil soup, Chef salad with Russian dressing. Entrees included Linguine alle Vongole (spaghetti with clams), Sweet & Sour Mahi Mahi, Roasted Tom turkey w/all the fixings, and Roasted Prime rib. There are also Ship Shape (calorie conscious) and Daily Alternatives of popular foods which are always available. Desserts were interesting and included Creme Brulee, Soufflés, Warm Chocolate cake and a multitude of pies cakes and cookies. We had dinner on Formal Night as the guests of Captain Nilsen and his lovely daughter Lynn. The traditional Captain's meal was topped off with a dessert named "Chef's surprise," tantalizing! Captain Nilsen was very cordial and spoke of his project: renovation of a Swedish minesweeper/fishing boat, and his home town in Norway, only two hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle, where warm currents allow for swimming. Needless to say, we had a wonderfully interesting evening. With the Concierge, Maritza Moolman service was very personal. This very adept young woman was helpful in booking tours, getting foreign newspapers for Vincent and the NY Times Fax for Mary. We cannot thank her enough for her kindness. CABIN Junior Suite #1028 is wheelchair accessible with automatic wide doors and a mahogany archway leading to the sitting room. When entering, on the left there is a large walk-in closet with shelves, the personal safe, and many wooden hangers. Next, there is a TV, open bar and the mirrored desk/vanity with a velour chair, and then a blue and gold love seat. There are two maroon velour easy chairs with an ottoman and a large coffee table. There is a large bath on the right of the entry, with a 4'X4' shower with seat and safety rails, and finally a triple mirrored medicine cabinet. There is a mahogany navy blue bench, a king bed with two night stands and reading lamps. The head board is maroon velour and the wall is mirrored. RCI has carried out the color scheme of blue, maroon and gold, even in the pictures selected for the walls. There were two scenes of white stucco homes with red skies (calling to mind the old adage, "Red skies at night, sailor's delight."). We had two excellent stewards Frederick in 7610 and then Pablo in 1028. ENTERTAINMENT Cruise Director Allan Brooks is a seasoned "globe trotter" and understands that passengers hail from many nations. There is a variety of music from classical violin by Mr. Martin Lass, to a tribute to "Stage [&] Screen" by the RCI singers and dancers. Or, if you like Big Band music, the Serenade of the Seas Orchestra was featured at the Safari Club. There were variety acts like British Magical Champion, Mark Taylor a man who is never without an umbrella (He made dozens appear on stage!). There are more than the usual shipboard activities: Seminars for health, Team Trivia, Sports Trivia, Exercise & Dance Classes, Bingo, Casino Tournaments, Afternoon movies, etc. and add to this Rock Wall Climbing ---- and Port tours ---- or you can just sit on deck and rest or read. PORTS OF CALL 1. San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sailing: 10:00 pm This can be toured either before or after the cruise; it merits planning to spend a night or two here. 2. ST. Thomas USVI, Arrival: 7:00 am Departure: 5:00 pm Try the St. Thomas SNUBA (a combination of scuba & snorkeling) or a scenic ride to the famous Magen's Bay beach. Many passengers felt that this island has lost its "Best Shopping Port" title. 3. Phillipsburg, St. Maarten, Arrival: 7:00 am Departure: 5:00 pm Interesting excursion: America's Cup Sailing Regatta, 3hrs, $84; Butterfly Farm and Marigot, 3.5 hrs, $38. 4. St. John's, Antigua, Arrival: 7:00 am Departure: 3:30 pm Try the Jolly Roger Pirate Cruise (the Best party Boat with unlimited complimentary rum!), 3 hrs, $39. 5. Bridgetown, Barbados, Arrival: 8:00 am Departure: 5:00 pm We took the Beautiful Barbados & Francia Plantation House tour (tropical vegetation similar to Florida), 3.5 hrs, $39. 6. Castries, St. Lucia, Arrival: 7:00 am Departure: 5:00 pm This island has a very beautiful bay. Interesting tour: Island Splendor (scenic drive), 3.5 hrs, $36. 7. Day at sea. CONCLUSION This was another great cruise. It seems that the more we cruise the better we enjoy cruising. By now we know what to expect from each line and particularly from each ship. We know exactly what we want and most of the times we achieve it. We frequently encounter people we have met on previous cruises and that facilitates acquaintances and friendships. We booked this cruise hoping to see our friend Captain Antalis; however, we had the opportunity of meeting Captain Stig Nilsen, the current Master of the ship. And now we have one more reason to look forward to cruising on RCI ships: the probability of encountering Captain Nilsen again as well as several other captains we have met before. Thus there are many more reasons for us to return. We have already booked three more cruises on RCI ships: The Mariner of the Seas, in February and two on the Brilliance of the Seas, the Transatlantic crossing in April, and the Mediterranean cruise in May. However, before these cruises, in January we are going on the new Costa Mediterranea for a Western Caribbean cruise. Happy Cruising!

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Nov 22, 2003

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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Nov 15, 2003

Southern Caribbean

So…. You want to go on a cruise? Well if you have a big problem with walking long distances and if you like free room service (comes with cost of cruise). Then “Serenade Of The Seas” is a really good ship for you. Well I must say, there are some really good things and some really bad things. I’ll start with the good. Good things about the

ship-- -Service in the reflections dining room-at table 464 on floor 4 we had the best service. I think it was probably the best service in the dining room. -Activities-there was really fun activities on this ship. There are things such as rock climbing, arcade, teen hangout, and ocean adventure for your little ones. There were also some great activities for the adults like arcade with your children. There was the disco bar on the 13th deck and more but I mustn’t go on. -Crew-there was some extremely nice crew aboard the ship. If you walked into the elevator and one of the crewmembers were in there, I would always have a chat with them. -Pools-The pools…I cant say anything about the pools except that they were awesome!! -Sailing at night-I like the fact that we sailed at night because then you could have the day to look around destinations but then there was the one-day we sailed all day that was a great add in. Now with the bad things…I know awe. Bad- -The sea-view café- the sea-view café wasn’t all that great. -Rock-climbing wall-the rock-climbing wall was closed the whole time I was on the ship so that disappointed me. -Mini-golf course-the mini golf course… well that shouldn’t be under bad but it also shouldn’t be under good. So I don’t know where to put it. It had 9 holes but there weren’t very good. So to end the review I was overall impressed with the cruise and I would defiantly go back again

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Oct 30, 2003

Southern Caribbean

Embarkation We boarded the Serenade of the Seas in Philadelphia on October 30, 2003. We left from Philadelphia and visited Labadee, Antigua, St. Martin, St. Lucia, St. Thomas and docked I Puerto Rico. I was traveling with my boyfriend and my parents (parents were first time cruisers). The embarkation process was very quick and easy. We only waited in one line (for about 2 minutes) before we were given our Sea Pass cards and allowed to

board the ship. There was plenty of staff on hand at the port to assist travelers and answer questions. All staff was very friendly and polite. Ship’s Décor/Rooms When were boarded the ship we were astonished by the beauty of the ship. The Centrum is gorgeous. There was a glass elevator that went to the 13th deck and if you were on the outside you had a beautiful view of the ocean while you were sailing. If you sail on this ship go to the top floor of the Centrum and look down. It is a gorgeous view. There are colored lights, glass elevators, lighted glass steps, art, etc. We also particularly liked the sports bar, disco and solarium. The decor of the sports bar was chrome with black, white and red accents. It reminded me of a racecar theme. The disco was spacious with plenty of cocktail tables and comfortable lounging chairs. Also there was a rotating bar in the center that was completely illuminated. It was really cool. The solarium was gorgeous. Be sure to check it out at night as it is lit up and absolutely beautiful. The gym was very nice. There were plenty of bikes, treadmills and weight machines. There was also an aerobics floor and TV’s all around the room. There were different classes daily. There was also a walking track outside. It seems this was used a lot by the passengers. Each day we saw many people walking. Staterooms The staterooms were nicely decorated but a little on the small side. Although the staterooms are small, there is plenty of space to put clothes and toiletries. There is a spacious closet with plenty of hangars. For the first time I didn’t have to request extra hangars from the stateroom attendant. The is a real hair dryer and safe in the room. We had a balcony stateroom and the balcony was awesome. I have never had a balcony before but won’t cruise without one in the future. We really enjoyed the sitting on the balcony as the sun set each evening. We also enjoyed the scenery as we pulled in and out of the different ports. The bathroom was, again, small but there were shower doors as opposed to the shower curtain that soaked the entire bathroom floor. Overall, for the amount of time you spend in the room it was ok for 2 people. Dining In my opinion, the food on the Serenade was excellent. We ate breakfast and lunch at the Windjammer almost every day. For breakfast, there was a large selection of fruit, hot and cold cereal, yogurt, juices, eggs, bacon, sausage (pork and turkey), corned beef hash, pancakes, waffles, French toast, pastries, bagels, English muffins, toast, biscuits & gravy. There was also an omelet station. Any breakfast food you could want was here. I found the food to be delicious. For lunch, there was also a large selection of food that did change daily. Everyday there was a sandwich station offering sandwiches, wraps, etc. Hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza were also offered everyday. There was a salad bar every day, which offered a variety of fresh vegetables, toppings and dressings for salads. A few days there was a taco bar. There were also different entrees, vegetables and side dishes and desserts every day. Soft serve ice cream is available 24 hours a day. Other lunch options were the Seaview Café on Deck12 and the Solarium Café by the Solarium pool. We ate at both a few times and, again, the food was good. Both offered salads and sandwiches. The Solarium Café also offered pizza. We ate dinner in the dining room each evening. Our servers, Jose and Joyce, were EXCELLENT. The food was also excellent each night. We had no complaints with the way the food was prepared! It was delicious. Also, every night there was 1 low fat dessert and 2 sugar free dessert options, which I thought was great for diabetics and those watching their weight. There were also healthy and vegetarian entrée choices each night. We also had room service a few times for breakfast and snacks. Again, we had no complaints. Room service offers breakfast, sandwiches, salads, burgers, pizza and desserts. There is not a large selection on the menu but it was good enough! Food was always fresh, especially the pastries we had for breakfast. We did not dine in the 2 optional restaurants, Portofino and Chops but heard from others that they were both excellent. Entertainment We did not see many of the shows on the ship but the one show that we did see was very good. My parents saw The Platters sing one evening and said they were excellent. The entertainment staff was great. There were different activities going on every day-everything from dance class to contests to bingo. The cruise director and his staff were great. All were funny, energetic and friendly. There were different theme parties each night including a 70’s Disco, Sock Hop, Hoe Down, Caribbean Pool Party and during our cruise, a Halloween party. That was a lot of fun. Many people brought costumes and they had a contest for the best ones. There was a cinema on board for those who wanted to catch a movie, although we did not use it. The casino was always busy. We did not win much. There were also slot tournaments and blackjack tournaments throughout the cruise. There were self-leveling pool tables, which were really cool. When the ship moved or rocked the tables would move so that the balls did not roll around. There was a mini golf course and a rock climbing wall. My boyfriend climbed the wall and said it was a lot of fun. We watched people climb and they all seemed to enjoy it. Debarkation Debarking the ship was HECTIC. Once we were off the ship it was complete chaos. We got our luggage and then went to board a bus that would take us to the airport in Puerto Rico. We were instructed to put out luggage in a large pile with other luggage and it would be transported to the airport. In the meantime, there were hundreds of people waiting to get on a bus. Each times a new bus pulled in tons of people would swarm the bus, pushing and shoving along the way. I wish this process would have went a little smoother as everything on our ship was excellent up to this point. Overall, the ship was beautiful and had much to offer. All of the RC staff was very pleasant and helpful. We had no complaints other than the debarkation process, which was chaotic after we got off the ship. I would recommend this ship to anyone! It is a great vacation experience.

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Oct 28, 2003

Cruise To Nowhere

I was invited to take part in a travel industry only preview of the Serenade Of The Seas that sailed out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for a 2 day Cruise to Nowhere before she relocates to San Juan for the season. After just getting off this morning I've had time to think about the great stuff on board, and the not so great stuff. This was my first time cruising with Royal Caribbean, as I've previously done Carnival and Princess. I was

very impressed with some of the aspects of the ship when comparing it to the other two. Embarkation Embarkation was a breeze, we just arrived, parked, got on a trolley, and checked in, which only took a minute. It was probably easier than normal though because it was all travel. Once on the ship we got to admire the immense lobby and great lobby bar. Though the lobby bar did get very crowded at times (the entire cruise was open bar, and I'm sure RCL lost a LOT of money on this, as people drank a whole lot in just two days). The ship itself was very very nice. I especially liked the movie theater, sports bar, stain glass decorated Casino Royale, Tropical Theater, and mini-golf course/rock climbing wall area. The high point though absolutely had to be the Solarium, which was incredible! Absolutely stunning set up, with vines and jungle like atmosphere all around you. I also liked that the lifejacket muster drill took place before the ship sailed, unlike Carnival, which waits until the ship leaves port. Dining My travel company had a cocktail party in the karaoke bar, which was really nice, and then dinner in Chops and Portofino. We had a standardized menu in both though, not the regular Chops/Portofino fare. We got to choose between Cajun Salmon and Veal chops and dessert was either Tiramisu or Raspberry Cheesecake. Everyone at my table had the Salmon, which was great and the Tiramisu was some of the best I've ever eaten. Lunch at the windjammer was the normal Buffet stuff, which was ok, not great. Windjammer lunch was better day one than two. Day two we had dinner in the Reflections dining room, which is very nice. Good decor, and good service. (We had Juanito from I can't remember where) The menu was a little disappointing choice wise however. Beef tenderloins, sesame Salmon, Vegetable pastry puff, Duck Alaronge, or some chicken thing...Had the duck (very very very good, definitely recommended), Lobster bisque (kinda plain, little spicy), and for desert Strawberry Cheesecake (little dry, heard the cheesecake in chops was fantastic though.) I missed the midnight buffet, and lunch and breakfast in the dining room. Omelettes in the windjammer for breakfast were quite tasty however. Entertainment Caught the shows both nights...First night saw a juggler comedian, and a comedian juggler...the first performer (Chris Matthews I THINK...Don't quote me on that) was hilarious, and the second performer Chris Bliss was not too funny. His grand finale interpretive juggling act was cool though. Cruise director Alan was very good from what I saw, which wasn't much, but I'm sure on a normal length cruise you would see more of him. Second nights show "Vibeology" was phenomenal, with dancing and singing to rearranged pop music... Even had some fireworks! Nobody missed a beat either, the show was flawless and cool. Pretty innovative for a cruise ship I thought. There was no pre-show entertainment in the form of bingo or anything though, which again might be due to the length of the cruise. After dinner entertainment included Karaoke on the lounge next to the schooner Bar which is always funny, and dance club Vortex at the top of the ship, which was really cool. The DJ wasn't too great, but the bar was neat, because it spun! I also checked out the arcade a few times, which had some pretty good games and air hockey (if you check out the Time Crisis 2 machine in the arcade and look at the high scores, I hit number one and three, initials JAK!) Final Thoughts The ship itself was really nice, though I do like ships better with a more promenade like area. Everything here was more spread out by decks. The food choices weren't very good, but what I had was pretty good. The pizza place has some interesting choices (I tried smoked salmon pizza), and is located right in the Solarium. You'll never go thirsty on this ship either with its 11 bars, and coffee bar. I also liked how there was internet access in three separate areas on the ship, so you could usually find a computer free. It was strange cruising without one child on board, but the kids and teen rooms (teen room especially) were very nice, and the children's pool was really cool and imaginative. I'd definitely book people on this beautiful ship, but I'd probably try out a Voyager class ship before I'd do Radiance Class again. Seems like there's more to do on Voyager Class ships. As a note, they did inform us that after RCL accepts shipment of the last Radiance ship, Jewel of the Seas next year, they are taking a break from shipbuilding for about a year before they unveil the new ULTRA-VOYAGER class...Can't wait for that one! No other details now, but I figure to top what they already have they might be shooting for 200,000 tons. If anyone has any questions about the Serenade or other cruises, feel free to E-mail me!

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Oct 3, 2003

Canada

Below is a review of our cruise of Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas… WHO ARE WE? Noreen - 35 years old; First Vice President at an Investment Banking Firm in New York City. I will be the author of the report. Paul (my husband) - 35 years old; soon to be small business owner. We have a beautiful Akita named Kiki who cannot join us on our cruise (too bad they don’t allow dogs). PLANNING Paul and I went on our first

cruise in May 2003 on Voyager of the Seas. Prior to that, I was leery of cruises thinking I’d feel trapped on a boat and bored. I love to be busy all day and our trip on Voyager proved that there are tons of things to do on a cruise. We booked a balcony cabin for that cruise and upgraded at the pier to the owner’s suite. We had a great time and decided we definitely want to cruise again. Paul is in the process of possibly buying a small business. With that going on, we weren’t planning to take any other vacations this year. Normally, we would do two trips of at least a week in length and several long weekends away. The Cruise Driving down the West Side Highway on my way to work every day, I would pass the NY pier and see various cruise ships there. I was always looking to see what ship it was and how they looked; which is probably not the smartest thing to be doing while in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic. I found out about great deals (Happy Hour Specials) on Serenade of the Seas for prices that were too low to pass up. This is a shorter cruise of 6 days and it leaves out of New York (so we don’t have to worry about air fare). These deals need to be booked within pretty short notice of the ship’s sailing date. The Serenade Itinerary is as follows: Saturday – Leave from NY Sunday – At Sea Monday – St John’s New Brunswick Tuesday – Halifax, Nova Scotia Wednesday – At Sea Thursday – Return to NY It also sometimes leaves on Monday and returns on Saturday; then sometimes also has a day shorter cruise leaving on Thursday and returning on Monday. I think the shorter cruise only has one port day. The Happy Hour specials are as follows for the date we want (10/4/03): Inside - $299 per person – total of $640.50 including taxes and port charges Outside - $359 per person – total of $760.50 including taxes and port charges Balcony - $449 per person – total of $940.50 including taxes and port charges On Tuesday 9/16/03 I spoke with the Travel with dinner until around 10:30 so we’re going to try the early seating this time. Transportation We live in Northern New Jersey (Bergen County) so will drive into the city for the cruise. Since I drive to work every day (I work downtown) and pay monthly for a parking spot, we will drop the car off at my lot by my office and take a cab up to the pier to get on the ship. Excursions We’ve been reading about all the excursions on line as well as through various cruise review websites. I think we may try going on our own this time. I’d like to see the Reversing Falls in New Brunswick. I’d like to see Peggy’s Cove and the Citadel and the Harbour Hopper in Halifax. Kiki Anyone who has a pet knows how difficult it is to take a vacation and leave their furry family member home. We’re very lucky in that Peter (a friend of ours) loves Kiki as much as we do and when we go away he dog sits / house sits for us. It works out for all of us in that Kiki is happy since she’s in her own home with someone who loves her, we don’t stress over Kiki not being cared for, and Peter gets to spend time with Kiki, have parties at our house, and make some extra money [we wouldn’t ask him to do this for free]. DAY BY DAY The week before our trip I was busy at work leading up to the trip. The day before our trip – Friday 10/3/03 Nothing out of the ordinary – just busy at work. I worked until about 7:45 (long day since I was there since 7:15 that morning) but I wanted to wrap everything up before leaving. Saturday 10/4/03 We left the house approximately 11am. We arranged for our friend Peter to stay at our house while we were gone to dog sit / house sit so we knew Kiki would be in good hands. He loves her as much as we do. We made good time driving until right before the pier where traffic backed up. Since we booked less than three weeks prior to sailing we did not have official documents, just electronic documents and no luggage tags. We were supposed to pick them up at the pier. When we arrived, Paul mentioned this to the luggage person who pulled us up in their computer, and asked how many tags we needed and gave them to us. Paul stayed at the pier after they took our big suitcase and he took his carryon while I drove downtown to park the car at my lot by my office, then jumped in a cab back to the pier for about $10. I arrived back at the pier at 12:40. Check in was really quick. There was no line at all. We walked through the queue that was set up (in case there was a line) right to the front and were directed to the check in person. Most of them were free. The check in system seemed much more organized than the Miami pier. We gave our credit card, showed our ID and were given our seapass cards. They were pre-printed so the check in person just pulled them from the bin behind their station. We were ready to board less than 10 minutes from the time I arrived at the pier. We decided to stop at the pier coordinators desk to inquire about upgrades. This line took about 15 minutes. The woman that we went to had an attitude. The ship was not full. They had upgrades available to a balcony room for $500. We decided it wasn’t worth it. We paid $400 in May to go from a balcony to and Owner’s Suite for a 7 night cruise. I couldn’t see spending $500 to go from an inside to a balcony for only 5 nights. So we kept our inside. We walked right on the ship, only stopping to take the embarkation photo. There wasn’t a line for this either. Then we were on the ship. We found our cabin #8573 and went in. I was pleasantly surprised. Although it’s small, it is laid out very well. Every inch of space is well utilized. Paul was not as happy with the room as I was. Mark (our cabin attendant) stopped by and introduced himself. We asked him to empty the refrigerator as we brought our own water and soda. They ship has Evian bottled water which we do not like – we like Poland Spring so we brought our own. We also brought a 12 pack of cans of Coke to have in our room. I read through the daily compass and found something odd. We need to move our clocks ahead one hour tonight. I found this strange since on prior cruise, we stayed on ship time even when the ports had different times. We headed up to the Windjammer for lunch then wandered around exploring the ship. It’s beautiful and elegant. As we were walking around, many times there wasn’t any one else around. Our only comparison is Voyager of the Seas. This ship is definitely smaller. We wandered all over the ship, but are having a little trouble finding our way around – we kept running into dead ends. But it’s only our first few hours on board, we’ll find our way around before too much longer. Muster was at 4:15. It was much more comfortable to be standing on deck in a life preserver in 55 degress rather than the 90 degrees we stood out in Miami on our last cruise. No one seemed to be checking off the cabin numbers of those in attendance. I asked the person who was going to demonstrate how to use the life jackets and he asked our cabin, ran off, then returned. We brought our lifejackets back to the room and continued exploring the ship. There was luggage in front of our room, but it wasn’t ours even though it had luggage tags with our room number. Very odd – we saw Mark in the hallway and told him and he said he’d take care of it. 5pm was sail away. We went out on deck where it was really cold and windy. We sailed past the statue of Liberty. Everyone was outside taking pictures. One couple was very serious about their picture taking and had a tripod and a huge camera. We have the early seating for dinner this cruise at 6pm. Our luggage still hasn’t shown up so we went to dinner in our casual clothes. It seemed like many others were also dressed very casually at dinner. We are at table 509 which is a small table for 4. We were really worried since it’s only 2 other people and if we don’t like them, we’ll have to change tables. There were several empty/half full tables. Our tablemates showed up – Rachel and Adie from Brooklyn, NY. There are nice and friendly so we were very relieved. They were around our age. The people at the next table was a family of 4 with the parents being around our age and two children. Our waiter is Alberto and our assistant waiter is Genner – they are both from the Philippines. For appetizers we both had the Vidalia onion tart. This was good which we knew it would be since we also had it on the Voyager. Paul had the Tomato Tuscan soup I had the Spinach salad with Vidalia onion vinaigrette For our entrees I had the shrimp ravioli and Paul had the Mongolian pork chop For dessert Paul had Key lime pie and lemon sherbet; I had the low fat cherry apricot compote For our beverages Paul had iced tea and I had apple juice (with ice). Many criticize the food, but we were happy with it. The food was good. However, it seems like it’s the same menu that we had on our last cruise. One thing we noticed, this is definitely an older crowd. I’d say the average age of passenger is in their fifties and many are older than that. At 7:45pm was the Welcome Aboard Show. There were no seats. We stood for about 15 minutes then left figuring we can see it later on the TV. We saw the cruise director, Allan Brooks, introduce himself and talk about some of the things that would be going on this week. We went back to our room and our luggage was there so we unpacked to get settled into the room. The big luggage (once unpacked stayed in the corner of the room. The two carryons fit in the closet. I was surprised at how much room there was to put things away. We didn’t even use some of it and we both overpack whenever we go away. We went to the casino for a little while. At 10:30 we went up to the Safari club for Karaoke. We ended up talking with the couple at the next table (also about our age) because Paul and John both planned to sing My Way (by Frank Sinatra) so they went up together to sing. Dana came to our table while the guys went to sing. What’s funny is Paul and John both said they were from Brooklyn when asked where they are from. We haven’t lived in Brooklyn in almost 6 years. John has never lived there. Turns out they are from Ridgewood (two towns away from us in NJ). Since they were among the first few singers, they each received a Royal Caribbean key chain and a free bingo card. At 11:30 we went up to the Vortex (the club) with John and Dana. It was the 70’s show tonight. The Royal Caribbean dancers were there and performed, then people from the cruise director’s staff were dressed up as the Village People and they sang and danced too. We went to the Casino after the Vortex until they closed at 2am. We were looking for a little snack, but unlike the 24 hour Royal Promenade on the Voyager, there wasn’t anywhere to get a snack now except room service. We didn’t feel like waiting so just went to sleep. Sunday 10/5/03 Today is a “Day at Sea” We slept until about 8:30 (which under the new ship’s time is 9:30). This is really late for me. I’m a very light sleeper and the second a bit of light comes in, I’m awake. With the inside room, this wasn’t an issue and I was able to get a good night’s sleep. I was worried about showering in the clamshell round shower stalls, but my worries were unfounded. There was plenty of room in the shower. Granted, I did bang my elbows a few times but other than that, it was fine. Paul didn’t find the shower stall as comfortable to use as I did. We had breakfast at the Windjammer around 10:15. There were no seats inside so we sat outside which was very nice. Breakfast was only served until 10 in the dining room today. We liked the drink stations where you can just stop by and pick up your juice without having to wait for someone to fill the cups for you. Also you can take a few with you to your table so you don’t have to go back for more. We stopped by Bingo but we weren’t there when it started at 10:30 so we didn’t get cards. We just watched for a few minutes then left. They play Bingo every day so we have time to play another day if we want to. Paul stopped in the Casino for a little while. I stopped at Guest Relations for our Crown and Anchor coupon book since it wasn’t delivered to our cabin. Many people must have had the same issue since there was a list that people were signing when picking them up. I received two books (one for me and one for Paul). They each had the following coupons: Free Wine Tasting, 5% off in Gift Shop on Logo merchandise, free Bingo jackpot card, buy one get one free cocktail, ?% off spa service, $12 for $10 coin I casino, $5 match play in casino. We went out to try to climb the rock wall but it was closed due to the wind. We wandered through the shops on board. We stopped at the room and received a notice that we didn’t go to the Muster (which we did) so we stopped back at Guest Relations to tell them. They said not to worry, some people received these notices in error. At 1:30 I played in the Slot Tournament (this cost $20). I didn’t make it past the first round but it was pretty fun. At 2 Paul played in the Blackjack Tournament (this cost $20). He didn’t do that great either. He bought in again (another $20) to see if he could do any better, but he didn’t. He still had a good time. Paul won some money playing real Blackjack instead of the tournament, so he gave me $100 of his winnings which I put on our Seapass account. We were starting to get hungry but since it’s already 3pm we didn’t want to eat too much since we have dinner at 6. We went to the Seaview Café for a snack. It’s very cute. You order, they give you a number, you find a table, and they will deliver the food to you when it’s ready. We shared an order of fish and chips and nacho chips with guacamole and sour cream. The portions are small so it was the perfect snack. At 3:30 another round of Bingo was going on so we stopped in there and played the final game only. We didn’t win. At 4:30 we went back to our room and watched the welcome aboard show on TV. Tonight is formal night so we got ourselves dressed. Paul wore his suit and I wore a nice pants outfit with a sparkly top. We went down at 5:45 for the formal portraits. We waited about 15 minutes for the first one (with the ship in the background), then figured we’d go to dinner and have the other pictures taken after. Our assistant waiter remembered our drink preferences and brought Paul iced tea and my apple juice without us asking. For appetizers I had the escargot and Paul had the shrimp cocktail. We shared We both had the lobster bisque soup We skipped the salad For our entrée Paul had the Duck and the Steak; I had the Vegetable in puff pastry. I didn’t like my vegetable dish so had some of Paul’s steak. After the appetizers, soup, and some tasty dinner rolls, I wasn’t that hungry anyway. For dessert Paul had the low fat chocolate cake and orange sherbet; I had the strawberry cheesecake. After dinner, we took the two other formal pictures. One was on the green stairs in the centrum. The other one was in front of this hanging art. We stopped in the Schooner Bar for Paul to see the football scores. At 9pm we went to the show “Stage to Screen”. It was crowded again and we couldn’t find two seats together so sat a row apart. The show was very good. The show ended around 9:45 and we went back to the room to change back into our casual clothes. We headed over to the casino. At 11pm we went to the Safari Club for Karaoke. Paul sang “My Way” again. We were there until 12:30. We headed up to the Seaview café for a midnight snack. Paul had the Feathers and Wings (Chicken Fingers and Chicken wings) with fries and a hot dog. I had the Caesar salad. It was very crowded in the Seaview Café at this time. We went back to the Casino until they closed at 2am, then we went up to bed. Monday 10/6/03 Today we are in St John’s New Brunswick We received an invitation to a Crown and Anchor party Tuesday at 5:15 in the Safari Club. We went to the Windjammer for Breakfast at 9:30. It was much less crowded today than yesterday. Breakfast in the dining room was from 7-9 today. The breakfast hours in the dining room are much shorter than those in the Windjammer. Windjammer served breakfast from 7-11. We were docked at Saint John, New Brunswick so after breakfast we walked off to explore. When exiting the ship, I was given a rose and Paul was given a pin. There were many shops set up right at the pier. It was cool and windy, but bright and sunny out. We stopped at the tour guide booth to get a local map and get some ideas. We were planning to go to the reversing falls. After speaking with the guide, he basically told us not to waste our time. High tide was at 9:45am so if we went now we wouldn’t see anything except calm water. We took his advice and map and went on the route he suggested. We walked through Market Square, City Hall, Brunswick Square, City Market, King’s Square, the Old Burial Ground, and Barbours General Store. We took some pictures and bought a few souvenirs. It is a cute quaint town, but we didn’t find that much to do. I’m not a big fan of sightseeing. I don’t mind seeing something, but I don’t need to stand there for much time staring at it. Once I see it, and maybe take a picture or two, I’m ready to move on. We took some cute pictures when we got back by the ship. I boarded while Paul stayed on the dock. Then he took pictures of me looking out at him. While I was boarding they took someone off the ship on a stretcher. I’m assuming it wasn’t too serious because the patient was yelling at the people pushing her not to let go as they went down the ramp and also at her traveling companion about where some things were in the room. They removed the ramp I boarded from after this lady was taken off so Paul had to get on in a different area. So we met at our room. We were back on the ship by about 1:30. We took a peek at the dining room menu but decided to head to the Windjammer instead. We had a nice buffet lunch outside. We walked through the solarium after lunch and it was much less crowded than it was yesterday. Maybe later we’ll go swimming. The pool was deeper than we expected – it started at 5’5” and went to 6’?”. While wandering around the ship we came across the card/game room near the Safari Club. There were a lot of people in here playing. We sat down and played Life. I never played this before and it was fun. We also played a game a checkers. This was a nice way to spend some time. When else would we get a chance to sit and play board games together? When we’re home, we’re always on the go with something to do. We had fun playing. Around 4pm we went to the Rock Wall. Paul didn’t want to climb but I wanted to give it a try. I was put in my harness and helmet, put on the rock climbing shoes (all this stuff is provided); then started my climb. Paul took a bunch of pictures of me. I didn’t make it to the top, but at least I tried. At 4:45 we went to Bingo in the Safari Club but we didn’t win anything. We used one of our buy one get one free cocktail cards. I had a Gorilla Fever (banana flavored ice creamy type of drink) and Paul had Captain and Coke. We went back to our room to change for dinner. The toilet stopped flushing this evening. It was working again by the time we came back from dinner. Tonight’s dinner was the Italian Feast. For appetizers we both had the Scallop risotto which was really good For our entrée I had the Shrimp Scampi and Paul had the lamb and the rigatoni For dessert I had the angel food cake and Paul had the Tiramisu and Sherbet At 8 we went to Sports Trivia. Paul had to answer the questions, I’m not a big sports fan. At 9 was Celebrity Showtime. The celebrity was Bobby Arvon who sang the Happy Days theme song. He’s a singer/pianist/impressionist. It was crowded again and we couldn’t find seats together. I stayed and watched the show while Paul went to the casino. I met Paul in the casino after and we stayed until they closed at around 2am. Tuesday 10/7/03 Today we are in Halifax, Nova Scotia We had breakfast around 9:15 in the Windjammer. 9:45 we were off the ship in Halifax. We had to carry our ID as well as our seapass cards in Halifax. There were shops set up right near the pier. At the tourist booth I asked for advice about things to do. I already knew I wanted to do the Harbour Hopper but figured maybe we’d get some other suggestions. Paul wanted to rent a car to drive to Peggy’s Cove. We stopped at the car rental counters but they were sold out (both of them). So we walked down the Boardwalk. We found the Harbour Hopper place around 10:15 but the 10:30 tour was full. We reserved for 11:30 and wandered around nearby. We went to Nova Scotian Crystal and watched them make vases. We also wandered around in a small mall. We went on the 11:30 Harbour Hopper tour. This was very fun. It’s an amphibious vehicle that is green and open on top with really big wheels. It starts off giving you a tour of downtown Halifax. Meredith (the tour guide) was very good. We saw the different sites such as the Citadel and the now destroyed public gardens which were damaged during Hurricane Juan two weeks ago. This tour was a good introduction to the area so we’d know where we wanted to wander back to later. After driving around the town, it goes into the water and becomes a boat where we saw other sights we couldn’t see from land. It was very cold on the water. Luckily today I wore a sweatshirt or I would have froze. The tour was over at 12:45. We took a few more pictures and realized the digital camera suddenly was not working. Not only wasn’t it taking any more pictures but the pictures we’ve already taken were gone. We walked up to the area we passed on the tour where there were a lot of shops and found a Fuji place and bought a disposable camera with flash. We wandered around this main street for a while. We were very upset about the loss of all our pictures. We were going to try to re-take whichever ones we remembered taking around the ship. However, some things we would not be able to re-create (such as the pictures from Saint John). We picked up French fries at Bud the Spud since Meredith (the Harbour Hopper tour guide) raved about them. We were planning to have lunch at McElvey’s (another recommendation from Meredith) but with trying to find a place to buy a disposable camera and our wandering around Halifax, it was getting late and we didn’t have time to by the time we passed it. We didn’t find much in the way of souvenirs in Halifax. We did buy the Lobster Chips that I heard about on the Internet. We were back on the ship by 3:15 (all aboard was 3:30) and we went to Bingo. We used our Crown and Anchor coupon for an extra bingo card. We tried to retake some of the pictures we remembered. We stopped in the shops again and looked at the ship pictures. We stopped at Guest Relations to fill out the form to have our gratuities added to our Seapass cards. It came out to $48.75 each. At 5:15 was the Crown and Anchor get together in the Safari Club. They handed you a glass of champagne as you entered. They came around with various appetizers. The captain spoke about the ship itself and some of the future plans for Royal Caribbean. A few people asked questions. We went to dinner at 6 – it’s Lobster night. For appetizers we both had the mushroom with puff pastry For our entrees we both had Surf and Surf. The menu listed Surf and Turf, but I asked the waiter if I could have Surf and Surf instead and he said yes. I received two lobster tails. Paul asked for and received the same. Paul also ordered the pasta with shrimp. For dessert I had the Grand Marnier soufflé and Paul had the sherbet. 9pm was the Vibeology Show. This was good, but not as good as the Stage to Screen show – that was the best one so far. I was cold during the show so after I changed back into my casual clothes/sweatshirt. At 10:30 we went to the Quest which was held in the Safari Club. We watched but did not participate. It was hilarious. At 11:30 we went down to the dining room for the viewing and picture taking for the midnight buffet. It’s really an elaborate spread. You aren’t allowed to eat it until 12:30. Midnight was the late night comedy show with Tim Jones. This was very funny. It wasn’t as crowded as I expected and we had no problem getting seats. After the comedy show, we spent a little time in the casino. We didn’t want to go to the midnight buffet too early because we heard that the line to get in was huge. We went down to the Dining Room at 1:15 for the midnight buffet and there was still a line (not that long though). There really wasn’t that much we wanted to pick on. We grabbed two pieces of sushi, a few shrimp and a piece of carrot cake. All the chocolate covered strawberries were long gone. People were loading up their plates like they haven’t eaten in ages. It ended at 1:30 and they dismantled the tables and displays really quickly. By 1:45 everything was gone. Tonight we had to set our clocks back an hour (we regain the hour we lost the first night). Wednesday 10/8/03 Today is a “Day at Sea” We had breakfast in the Windjammer around 10am. At 10:30 we went to Bingo. We used our second extra Bingo cards from the Crown and Anchor coupon book. Still haven’t won anything but it’s fun anyway. We stopped at the shops and bought a few souvenirs using our 5% off Crown and Anchor coupon. We also bought some of the pictures taken by the ships photographers as well as another disposable camera. At 1pm I went to watch the Men’s Sexy Legs competition held in the Safari Club. This was funny. We took some more pictures around the ship then we went to the casino for a little while. At 2 we had lunch in the Windjammer. 3pm was the Love and Marriage Show. We went to watch. They were already selling Bingo cards for Bingo at 4pm. Someone has to win the jackpot today. So basically, once you have your seats for Love and Marriage you didn’t have to leave. Love and Marriage was funny. We used our other buy one get one free cocktail cards and had a frozen Peach Daiquiri and a Love Connection (combination of Pina Colada, Strawberry Daiquiri and Peach Daiquiri). Bingo at 4pm was fun but we didn’t win anything. One person won the jackpot of approximately $5,000. We started doing some packing afterwards. Our vouchers for gratuities were in our room along with the envelopes. Dinner was at 6pm. For appetizers we both had the shrimp cocktail and shared the vegetable spring rolls. We shared a Caesar salad For our entrees we both had the prime rib and shared an order of turkey For dessert we both had the banana parfait I watched the Farewell show at 9pm which had the cruise director, the singers and dancers, and a guest star Reid Belstock. Reid Belstock’s show was physical comedy. He juggled, rode a unicycle and did various physical tricks. We didn’t see much of Allan (the cruise director) during the cruise. He hosted a few events but most times other people from the Cruise Director’s staff did most of the events. After the show I met Paul in the Casino Since we are doing express departure (carrying off our own bags) we did not have to leave our suitcases in the hallway before going to bed. Thursday 5/15/03 Day to Debark We had breakfast in the Windjammer around 7:15am. It was pretty crowded, but we found a nice seat outside but under cover as opposed to all the way outside. They called someone’s name repeatedly for immigration checks, and we were not able to get off until that person appeared. After breakfast we went back to our room to get our bags. We did the express check out so had all our bags with us and brought them to deck 5 to debark around 8am. By 8:15 we were able to get off. It was a very smooth process and many people chose this option. We handed our immigration form to the person on the pier (they didn’t even ask to see our passports) and we were off and had a number to wait for a cab by 8:30. It was very smart how they handed you a number for a cab rather than the mayhem that would have ensued if they let people fend for themselves. We were number 113 and they were up to about 85 when we got there. Good thing we carried our own luggage or we would have been much later. This was the only delay – there weren’t any cabs there. You would think they’d be lined up knowing that the ship came in (and ours wasn’t the only ship docking either). The cabs started trickling in and the line started moving. We were in a cab by about 9am. We arrived at my parking lot about 15 minutes later but my car wasn’t there. I figured Peter (who was dogsitting/housesitting for us would be at work by now). After a few phone calls, we found out he is on his way and should be here shortly. He arrived about 9:15 and we were on our way. We dropped Peter back off at his office and drove home. We were home by 10:15 to a very excited puppy. FINAL THOUGHTS We enjoyed this cruise very much. Sailing out of NY was great. I hope they bring more ships to sail out this way. It was so convenient. I was very pleased with the inside cabin which surprised me since we had an Owner’s Suite on our first cruise. I figured we’d be spoiled for anything less but I found it very comfortable and functional. And a bit of good news – once we got home, Paul was able to recover the pictures taken on the digital camera even though we still don’t know what’s wrong with it. Now we have to decide where to cruise to next…

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Sep 5, 2003

5 night Canada

We've just returned from a 5 night New York to Canada sailing aboard the shining new star...Serenade of the Seas. We upgraded from a Category D with veranda to one of the five owner's suites and were very pleasantly surprised with the long list of amenities. This stateroom is very similar to a suite at a Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton with it's large marble bath with glass enclosed shower, jacuzzi tub, double sinks and a bidet. Also included

was a very fine concierge service with morning and evening food presentations as well as bar drinks. The veranda was enormous with four deck chairs and a table. The wide flat screen TV swiveled between the bedroom and the living room. There was also a dining room area w/mini bar and enough closet and drawer space for at least 4 passengers. We were disappointed with the mediocre and very bland food served in the main dining room and the service at Portofino, one of the two surcharge restaurants. Chops, the other of the two, was absolutely a 5 star establishment. The Windjammer Cafe served buffet/station style and was good and well maintained, but don't put your fork down for more than a minute or your plate may be carried away by an overzealous attendee. The Seaview Cafe had some very tasty snacks and lunches, however unless you wanted to purchase a beer or soft drink, you had to walk downstairs to the Windjammer for beverages. The ShipShape gym and spa is as beautiful as it is state of the art! There are at least 15 or more treadmills, but there may still be a wait depending on the time of day. Entertainment was very good, especially the comedians who performed several times. The cruise director, Alan, was excellent and quite a comedian himself. You will never be able to be bored on this ship as there are so many activities to keep you busy if that's what you're looking for. The outdoor pool and hot tub area is a hub of noisy activity and constant commotion. The solarium pool is lovely, but could use a few more lounging deck chairs as people tend to save (a big no-no) for those who never actually show. Captain Nikolas Antalis from Greece is very personable and seemed to enjoy chatting and joking with everyone. If you are lucky enough to be included in the concierge level amenities, please be sure to introduce yourself to one of our favorite people on this ship ... Concierge Maritza Moolman. She is absolutely delightful and a professional all the way. She is certainly destined to go far with RCCL or in whatever she may choose for her future endeavors. Someone else worth mentioning would be our assistant waiter at dinner in Reflections upper level 2nd dining ... we ate there only 3 times, but "Charlie" was always ready to greet us with his cheerful smile and expert service. Be sure to visit the beautiful Safari Club on deck 6. Also, your vacation will not be complete without at least one game of pool on the full size self-leveling pool tables. The Casino is quite large with many slots and tables and then there's always that game of bingo ... hey don't laugh, you might get lucky. I won a whopping $72.00. If you're without fear, try the rock climbing wall. We're quite OK with the fact that we didn't, but those who did seemed to love it. A big thank you to our room steward, Maria, who we almost never saw, but we'd always know she'd been there by the treats and towel animal creations she'd leave behind in our immaculate stateroom. Just a few words on the ports. We opted to rent a Hertz car in Halifax for approx. $35 USD and drove out to Lunenberg via the highway and then returning via the coast road and lovely Peggy's Cove (try the delicious lobster chowder at the Lobster Shack on Lobster Lane) and Mahone Bay as well as many other breathtaking cove towns. We left no time to explore Halifax, however, so that will have to wait until our next trip. St Johns is beautiful, historic and quaint. We walked to reversing falls and cabbed back to shop, sightsee and eat lunch. We definitely recommend this ship and cruise line, but are hoping that next time we will see improvement in the food so that we can give RCCL a full 5 star rating.  

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Aug 21, 2003

1 Night Cruise to Nowhere and Naming Ceremony

We arrived at LaGuardia Airport and the taxi ride to the port was $26 plus tip. Embarkation: Check-in was real smooth and the process took about 5 minutes. After a buffet lunch at the Windjammer Cafe we took a walk around to get familiarized with the ship. The Serenade of the Seas is the third of the Radiance class ships. The ship is the first to start it's inaugural season with sailings out of New York. The ship is fairly easy to

get around. The glass elevators in the Centrum facing the outside of the ship give amazing views. Staff: All of the staff were both friendly and very courteous. Everyone greeted you with a smile. Cabins: The cabin was a category E1 outside balcony. The bathroom was about the average size with a shower area and shelves inside the shower stalls to hold your soaps, shampoos and other necessities. There is also a soap dispenser in the shower. Also there was a sofa with a cocktail table. We also had a desk with a chair and a data port for an online hookup for a computer.. Above the desk on either side were mirrors that opened up with shelves for storage behind them. The storage space was very good with a double closet that can hold your clothes and luggage. There was ample room for 2 passengers to move around. Bars and Lounges: This ship has twelve bars and lounges in which there should be no trouble finding one that you will like. Restaurants and Dining Reflections Dining Room Decks 4 and 5. This is the main dinning room on the ship. There is one seating for breakfast and lunch and two sittings for dinner. An extensive menu is offered for all meals. Windjammer Cafe Buffet style dining on Deck 11. This is an alternative to the main dinning room. You can have breakfast lunch and dinner and is buffet style. You can also enjoy a late afternoon tea each day with various types of tea and other beverages along with finger sandwiches, cookies, scones and other sweets. The hat food was kept hot and ice around the cold food. The variety of choices should please everyones tastes. Sea View Café Casual dining on Deck 12. The Sea View offers casual dining and snacks through out the day. Chops Grill and Portofino – Alternative Dining Specialty restaurants on Deck 6 for dinner require reservations and a service charge. Entertainment and other public areas Tropical Theater Decks 4, 5 and 6 Forward. This is the main theatre on the ship for the shows and is stadium type seating. There are a no obstructed view seats that I could find. Casino Royale Deck 6 Midship. This is the place to go if you feel lucky. They have a variety of table games and slots. Shopping and Photo Gallery Deck 6 Midship. There are a variety of shops (gifts and jewelry, fashion, liquor, perfume, souvenir and photo) to purchase tax and duty free items or to purchase pictures taken during the cruise. Conference Rooms On Deck 5 the conference center is set up very nice and equipped with the latest audio and visual technology. The conference center can be made into several small rooms and can be enlarged into the Showboat Lounge if the space is needed. Due to the limited time and the busy schedule these were all of the areas of the ship that we were able to view. The Naming Ceremony in the Tropical Theater was really special. The ceremony started with the Harlem Gospel Choir followed by the parade down each side of the theater by the New York police Department Pipes and Drums Corp. The Naming was done by the ships godmother Whoopi Goldberg. The ceremony ended with more performances by the NYPD Pipes and Drum Corp and the Harlem Gospel Choir. We were delayed departing and we set sail and were treated to a phenomenal fireworks show at the Statue of Liberty. After we had a great dinner in the reflections dining room. The special menu offered a complete five course dinner with your entree choice of Monk Fish or Filet of Beef and white or red wine. After dinner we did some shopping. At midnight we were thrilled by a spectacular show in the Tropical Theater. After the show it was time to say goodnight while the ship sailed off the Long Island coast. In the morning we had breakfast and then we could disembark without waiting as there were no customs to go through. This is a beautiful ship and would highly recommend it.  

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Aug 3, 2003

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 If you have specific questions, please contact us via e-mail

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Nov 30, -0001

southern caribean

This was our first cruise so didn't know what to expect. It turned out to be a wonderful experience. The ship is beautiful, not too small, not too big. The staff were absolutely fantastic - boarding and disembarking was quick and efficient. We ate mainly in the Windjammer Cafe . This offers buffet style dining - there were several stations and getting the food was never a problem. Quality of the food was excellent. The boat does offer 2 other

restaurants for an additional charge of approx 20 dollars-however as windjammer was so good, we never felt the need to go elsewhere. The evening meal was a proper sit down meal. The same waiters, assistant waiters served you every night. They were wonderful (Saju and Lolyd ), on occasions when we could not decide what we wanted, saju would recommend something-he never got it wrong. On the final evening I had wanted to try the lobster, it was served with garlicky shrimps, but as I don't like garlic I plumped for the steak instead. knowing I had wanted to try the lobster, Saju brought me a plate of this, as well - all the waiters were marvelous and couldn't have been of more assistance. My only criticim of the dining is that the coffee was only available at an extra charge of 6 dollars - this may be typical on all cruises, but I thought it should have been included with the meal. We had a stateroom with a balcony which was excellent. The bathroom was a bit on the small side, but I suppose you get what you pay for. My only other gripe is about the bed. I have stayed in numerous hotels, etc. over the years and never had a problem with the beds. However the mattress on this bed was quite clearly past its "sell by" date. My side of the bed had quite a distinctive hollow in it which meant that I "rolled back into it if I moved towards the middle of the bed. I complained to the stateroom attendant, but I don't think he was convinced I had a genuine complaint, nonetheless he tried to fix it by putting a double mattress liner under the sheet -it made little difference and i didn't pursue it any further-I wish now I had done as my back is now quite painful. The on board activities were provided by the crew and a troupe of professional dancers and singers. The entertainment was excellent and I can't fault either the quality or variety. There was always plenty to chose from - a piano bar, latin music in the centrum , disco music in the night club, to name but a few. The waiters in the restaurant also gave an impromptu rendering of the "macerena" during an evening meal in which the whole restaurant joined in. We didn't avail of any of the ships organized excursions instead opting for organizing our own trips to the beach. In St. Lucia, we booked a taxi along with 6 others for a tour to the volcanoes, botanical gardens, waterfall and beach - this cost us 37 Dollars each - the almost identical tour offered by the boat was 69 dollars. No problem getting it, as plenty of drivers touting for business at the port. On Barbados we got taxi to Paynes beach (return trip 15 dollars each) - nice beach, but pestered quite often by locals to purchase goods. We did purchase a 1 hour tour in a glass bottom boat. This was accessed from the beach and included snorkeling with turtles and snorkel over sunken wreck exactly the same places as offered by the ship, but far less congested. The catamarans, on offer from the ship, had easily a hundred people on them and appeared crowded. Also, when they were swimming in the water, I don't know how they managed to see any turtles through huge number of snorkelers. Our boat had 8 people and 2 crew - the crew were chatty and very friendly and gave us a running commentary as we progressed up the coast. They also provided the snorkelling equipment all for 20 dollars each - great value -I think equivalent tour from boat was about 70 dollars, but I suppose they didn't have to pay for the taxis. The boat we were on was great, but beware of some of the other boats for hire they were quite small and I would have doubts about thier sea worthiness. Overall a brilliant trip - the ship was excellent, the crew were very friendly and talented and were responsible for making the holiday one to remember. Only downside was the bed and I suppose the expense. I expected the boarding and disembarkation to be a hassle but they both ran very smoothly and we were on the ship and in our staterooms within 15 minutes of arriving at the port. Disembarking was also a breeze. But i would advise against buying the transfer from the ship to the airport. It cost about 15 dollars each - the bus was difficult to find - we had to wait at least 15 minutes for the bus to fill before it left for the airport. The luggage is loaded in a separate van and was delivered to the Continental Airlines part of the airport. Unfortunately we were delivered (along with 25 other people) to another part of the airport and spent an anxious half hour watching vans unloading luggage which clearly didn't even come from our ship. When the mistake was realised Royal Caribean orgainised a bus back to the correct part of the terminal were we fond ours cases sitting on the sidewalk-some other passengers were not so lucky as i know of at least two who were not immediately reunited with their luggage. Next time I will get a taxi which were even closer to the ship than the bus, is more comfortable, is much quicker, there is no wait for your luggage on arrival and no chance of it going astray and on top of all that its about the same price as the transfer organized by the ship.

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Nov 30, -0001

Southern Caribbean

I had never seriously considered a cruise, a week on a boat, I'd be bored out of my skull! I was wrong. There was always something to do, even after a week I was still finding new places and things to do on board. Food was good, too easy to be a hog, but I resisted that, cabin was just fine, staff were great, my wife went on several excursions, enjoyed every one as well, I was content to wander around the towns we docked in, beats watching the pretty

sanitised versions you see on TV. I was ready to grumble, ready to criticise, ready to find fault, after two days I just settled back and enjoyed myself. The level of service cant be faulted, in fact, I cant really find faults with any of the cruise. Whether the other operators are as good, I don't know, but if you want a holiday you'll look back at and wish it had been longer, here you go.

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By Rose_CR

  • New

Nov 30, -0001

Alaska

I have mixed feelings about my cruise. The ship was such a disappointment. The ship was beautiful, the entertainment very good but the crew were not friendly of helpful and the food was really bad. They did not have enough announcements about the activities but seemed to have plenty about the shopping and photo auctions. They never announced when we were in the area where all the whales were but thank goodness our stateroom attendant was

told us. He was one of the few pleasant ones. They never had Alaskan king crab and the lobster was tiny and they didn't want to give you more then one lobster (the waiter on Princess cruise kept bringing them to us). Hubbard Glacier was so beautiful and the ports of Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan were great. We did the whale watching/mendenhall glacier tour on Juneau. We were guaranteed to see a whale which we saw at least 4. We didn't have enough time at the glacier but I still liked the tour. In Skagway we did the white pass railway and trail camp tour. The railway was great but the tail camp was not. We did the totem pole museum in Ketchikan for $5.00. It took all of 10 minutes to go throug the two rooms, but the walk to it took you pass the salmon, which was cool. The bottom line is the Alaska cruise would be great but do it on another cruise line.

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