We just got back from our first cruise. We had such an amazing time that we think most of our future vacations will definitely be cruises. Our southern Caribbean itinerary was on the Serenade of the Seas. We visited St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Antigua, St. Lucia and Barbados, with one day at sea back to our home port of San Juan.
We could not have been happier with everything in general, and are delighted to have met such great people and had such a great time. We are 27 and 28 years old, and have been married for just under a year.
We'd like to thank the CruiseMates community for all your postings and comments that helped us prepare for our first cruise. In the spirit of this message board, we wanted to post our review. We rated everything from an A (outstanding) to an F (poor).
Reflections Main Dining Room Grade: A. Bekir was our head waiter, and Anil was his assistant. Bekir had a tastefully sarcastic personality that we all loved; we felt fortunate to have him at our large table. Service was outstanding. Lots of little things really made it better than merely good: De-crumbing our place settings between courses, serving the ladies before the men, the wine service, and so on. Christina has a food allergy to “tree nuts,” which we let RCI know before we left, and our wait staff ensured we did not order anything that might contain walnuts, pecans, etc.
We had requested a small table during the second seating, but we were seated at a large one at our requested time; this worked out quite well. We enjoyed chatting with our table mates: Ulr and Dorthey from Sweden; Sandy and her daughter Angie from Pennsylvania; and Sue, Paul, Winny and Aaron from Indiana & Kentucky. In general, we were pleased with the food. I generally had the chef's specialty entrees and suggested menu items each night. I was pleased with both the taste of the food and the portions -- they were not so big as to leave me hurting because I ate so much. Christina usually had the fish and was "just OK" with it -- some of it was bland, particularly the tilapia and halibut. We both had the lobster, a first for us, and thought it was amazing. I'm not a big dessert person, but Christina is... and she found them to be very good. She strongly recommends the Warm Chocolate Cake; I think it was served on Monday. We also stopped in at Reflections for breakfast a couple days -- we enjoyed being seated with some new people, as opposed to the Windjammer, which was buffet style. Omelettes and pancakes were very good in the main dining room.
Chops Grade: A-. I did not think the service at Reflections could be beat, but Chops may have done it. I really enjoy a good steak, and I was delighted to have a presentation and explanation of the different cuts of meat. I chose the 10 ounce filet mignon. The wait staff got our bottles of wine that were stored in the main dining room for our visit here, which was great. My steak came perfectly cooked (when it came out, I was asked to slice into it to make sure it looked OK -- a very nice touch). I was also presented with several treatments/sauces that I could use with the filet... yummy! Christina ordered the fish from Chops, since she does not eat red meat; she was not that pleased with it, and started to feel sick due to the motion of the ship. If you have a tendency to get seasick, you may want to be seated closer to the interior of the restaurant.
Portofino Grade: B. We really looked forward to Portofino after all the great things we heard about it. We found the service here a bit more impersonal than the other places. I ordered the steak and Christina ordered the fish. My steak was very good, but nothing amazing. Christina's fish didn't have any real flavor to it, and she only ate half of it. We enjoyed the rest of the meal, though -- appetizers, bread, dessert, and pasta.
Schooner Bar Grade: A. The Schooner piano bar was really a hotspot. We only had an opportunity to stop here twice, but we had a great time while we were there. Matt Yee, the performer, is unlike any piano entertainer we've experienced -- he takes it to the next level in getting everyone involved and having fun. He makes lots of fun of himself, dressing up as all sorts of interesting characters to keep everyone entertained!
Seaview Cafe Grade: A. We didn't have high expectations of the Seaview Cafe with the Windjammer Cafe just one deck below, but it was really nice. It had a great menu and great food. I clogged my arteries with the yummy onion rings and nachos (the only place on the ship you can get nachos); Christina had a tuna fish sandwich she really enjoyed.
Lobby Bar Grade: A. We didn't expect to spend much time here, but we did hang out in the lobby bar several times listening to the excellent piano and violin music -- very relaxing and a delight to the ears. It was also a good spot for people watching.
Champagne Bar Grade: C. A single glass of champagne here cost something like $14. I wasn't watching the expenses too closely on our trip, but this seemed like a rip-off, since you can get champagne at the other restaurants and bars for much less. The lukewarm appetizers didn't taste that great. Needless to say, we only made one visit here.
Midnight Buffet Grades: Presentation, A; Taste, C. We were stunned to see such a gorgeous display of food, and brought our camera for the 11:30 p.m. “viewing.” It was like nothing else we've ever seen, and we snapped lots of photos. The attention paid to making everything look great was amazing. We went back to eat the food around 12:30 a.m. and there was plenty. We both loaded our plates with the “let's try new things” mentality. Unfortunately, I can't remember more than one or two things that tasted very good.
Windjammer Cafe Grade: B. We had breakfast and lunch here on several occasions, buffet style. There were plenty of different kinds of food and in general, the food was good -- not great. One thing not to be missed was the delicious strawberry/vanilla frozen yogurt.Around the Ship
Arrival & Embarkation Grade: A. We arrived at San Juan's airport around 4 p.m. on Saturday. After picking up our luggage, we took one of the many “Taxi Turistico” white taxis to the cruise terminal. This was $19 plus $1 per bag, around $23 total for us. At the terminal we dropped off our luggage with the porters and tipped them $1 per bag. We went inside and showed the Seapass form we had filled out online and printed out ahead of time. The embarkation staff did a great job -- it was no more than 15 minutes from our arrival at the terminal until we were on the ship: no lines, no waiting.
Stateroom Grade: A. We had an interior stateroom on Deck 4 mid-ship (4527). Mattresses and linens were new; we slept extremely well. It is amazing how well these rooms are designed to maximize the use of all space. While the bathroom and shower were small, they were plenty adequate for us. There was plenty of room for hanging clothes and bins for putting folded clothes; several drawers by the desk helped too. Two of our three larger pieces of luggage fit under the bed. Stateroom attendants cleaned up our mess at least twice per day. We were glad we brought a miniature flashlight to use at night; there are little reading lamps on each side of the bed, although we didn't do much reading as we were pretty pooped by the time we went to bed. The phones have an easy-to-use wake-up call feature we used most nights. There were two electrical outlets by the desk; we brought a power strip to handle our electrical connections.
Solarium Grade: A. We used this as a great place to relax and recharge after being out on the islands all day. The lounge chairs were very comfortable and the architecture was well done. I enjoyed the big golden elephants. There is a little spot where you can get pizza; this was yummy too.
Main Pool Grade: B. We probably would have given this a better grade if we used it more. We only went to the main pool once, on the only sea day, around 1 p.m. It was very crowded, and it took us 45 minutes to find lounge chairs; a nice couple was leaving and gave us theirs. We were told the cruise staff will remove towels that are “reserving” lounge chairs for more than an hour without anyone claiming them. The chairs are very close together, but this didn't bother us. We saw the ice carving demonstration and the belly flop competition; both were nice diversions.
Safari Club From what I read ahead of time online, I didn't expect much from the Safari Club, but we ended up here quite a few times -- for the Captain's Welcome Aboard reception (free drinks), dancing, karaoke, the Quest, and other activities.
Vortex Night Club Grade: A. We only made it up here one night, but the dancing was great -- it was 60s/70s night, and some of the crew staff dressed up as the Village People. We learned a fun line dance, and generally had a great time partying. We ended up staying up way past our bedtime!
Rock Climbing Wall Grade: A. I expected a long wait for this, but there wasn't. I initialed a form in a few places and put on the gear. The staff showed me which course to go up, and it was really fun (and a bit more challenging than I expected).
Miniature Golf Grade: B. This was a nice little diversion; the grass is made of green carpet. There are nine holes. It's nothing like a mini-golf course you would pay for, but it was still fun.
Helicopter Pad We came here several times to check out an island we were leaving or one we were passing. It offered a great view of everything; it's on Deck 5.Island Ports
St. Thomas Grade: A. We took the Sunny Liston tour and couldn't have been happier with everything we got for $25 per person: shopping, scenic views, and some beach time (Sapphire Beach). We should have done more shopping here, as it was the best deal of all the islands we stopped of. We loved the “Days of the Week” song that Sunny played and sang to. We will definitely go on his wonderful tour again if we visit St. Thomas in the future.
St. Maarten Grade: A. We didn't have a reservation, but went over to the booths and got a brand new 2007 Toyota from Hertz for $50 for the day. I had pre-programmed a bunch of stops into my GPS receiver, and we spent the day circling the island. We stopped at Divi Little Bay, Maho Beach, Mullet Beach, Friar's Beach, Happy Beach and Orient Beach. Divi Little Bay seemed the most luxurious and private -- it is inside a gated resort but is open to the public; there were free lounge chairs and not many people. Maho was interesting just to see the planes landing above our heads. Mullet Beach was Christina's favorite -- it was beautiful, long, and not crowded. Friar's Beach was similar to Mullet but we instead hiked a 15-minute trail on the east side to Happy Beach, a huge stretch of pristine beach with maybe five people on it. This was my favorite of them all. Last stop was Orient Beach, which was overcrowded and commercialized. We were glad we stopped to see what all the hype was about (half of it is a nude beach), but were glad we didn't spend our day here.
Antigua Grade: A-. We took the Eco Kayak/”Paddles” tour. Motorboats took us around and staff pointed out some small islands in the area. It was some of the nicest scenery we've ever seen -- lots of tiny islands in the beautiful Caribbean Sea. After motoring around, we got to Bird Island, where we took a trail up to the top and saw more amazing views (and I found a GeoCache!). We went back down to the boat and snorkeled. Then we were taken to the kayaks and did that for about an hour; our guide showed us some starfish and the mangroves. We had a fun, entertaining and exhausting kayak race back to the boats. We were given some light refreshments and headed back. This excursion was a great value for the money (around $50 per person).
St. Lucia Grade: B. This was the one island where we couldn't decide what to do. We took a taxi to Rodney Bay/Reduit Beach and spent most of the day here. The beach was pretty crowded, and the locals were rather meticulous about making sure you paid them for the beach chairs -- it got a little annoying. We did get a jet ski from a guy in a green shirt named Froggy, which was really fun. If we visit St. Lucia again, we'll have to figure out something else to do; others reported that the Zip-Line was really fun.
Barbados Grade: A. We spent the first half of the day walking around downtown Bridgetown. This was a little disappointing, as most of the shopping was more for locals than tourists. We booked the Thriller Turtle & Shipwreck Adventure and could not have been happier. Stephen was a wonderful host; he took us along the Barbados coast as his assistant Matthew pointed out interesting things along the way. At our first stop, we went swimming with sea turtles. This may have been the highlight of our cruise -- it was amazing to swim right next to and touch these magnificent creatures. Next stop was a coral reef and a so-called shipwreck. The snorkeling here was probably the best we had -- lots of great-looking fish to swim with. Our next stop was a place the catamarans don't take you: the "real" shipwrecks. One was a very large ship that sank more than 100 years ago; the other was purposefully sunk about five years ago. This was almost as interesting as the turtles. If you are a good snorkeler/swimmer, you can swim down and through parts of the shipwrecks. After we got back on board, Stephen took us to a nice beach where we hung out and drank rum punch for about an hour before we headed back.