14 Day Southern Caribbean Cruise
Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas
January 8 - 22, 2011
By: Philatsea

Serenade of the Seas and Azur
Serenade of the Seas and P&O Azur in Grenada

This was two 7 day cruises we did back to back from San Juan Puerto Rico.

08-Jan San Juan, Puerto Rico 8:30 PM
09-Jan Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas 8:00 AM 6:00 PM Docked
10-Jan St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands 7:00 AM 5:30 PM Docked
11-Jan St. John's, Antigua 8:00 AM 5:00 PM Docked
12-Jan Castries, St. Lucia 8:00 AM 5:00 PM Docked
13-Jan St. George's, Grenada 8:00 AM 5:00 PM Docked
14-Jan Cruising
15-Jan San Juan, Puerto Rico 6:00 AM 8:30 PM
16-Jan Tortola, British Virgin Islands 8:00 AM 5:30 PM Docked
17-Jan Philipsburg, St. Maarten 8:00 AM 5:30 PM Docked
18-Jan Basseterre, St. Kitts 8:00 AM 5:00 PM Docked
19-Jan Roseau, Dominica 8:00 AM 5:00 PM Docked
20-Jan Bridgetown, Barbados 8:00 AM 5:00 PM Docked
21-Jan Cruising
22-Jan San Juan, Puerto Rico 6:00 AM

I had been asked by Chris (Northof60) and his wife Bev if we would cruise with them again. I asked my daughter Amy to cruise with us again and she was once again keen to cruise with the "older" folks again.

I waited till the first week of December before booking this cruise but had booked air to San Juan weeks before. The interesting thing was round trip air appeared high from what I had seen. It turns out that buying two one way tickets was about $100 cheaper per person than buying them together. It also allowed us to get the flight we wanted for the trip down and the flight for the trip home. As the weather in January can be be bad I wanted to do through Miami if I could and this was done. We elected to drive to Seattle and then fly Seattle to San Juan and return. Flying to San Juan from Vancouver can be a challenge in the winter.
We decided to catch the red eye to Miami on Thursday night arriving in Miami at 6:45 AM then change planes and arrive in San Juan at 1:45 PM on the Friday giving us 24 ours in San Juan before the cruise.

I had talked to Bev and she had found a nice place on Tripadvisor called the Posada Colonial near Old San Juan. This is basically a 4 apartment building that is rated number 1 for this type of property. There are choices of either two bedroom or 1 bedroom with a day bed. I emailed Christiane and asked if she had one room available. I was emailed back the next day saying yes and the cost was $75 per night. She needed my flight number and time I would arrive. Christiane was going to pick us up at the airport and deliver us to the apartment. I explained we had friends that were staying there and they had a car and that would not be needed.

Posada Colonial

We arrived to find this place more than met our needs. Christiane stopped by after we arrived to make sure all as okay. This place comes with a kitchen that includes pots and pans and a stove as well as a fridge. You can stay here for longer periods of time and there is a major super market about 3 blocks away.

Soon after we settled in we headed out, this time to the Bacardi Rum Factory for the tour. It was about a 30 minute drive and when we arrived we headed to the tour desk to find out we would be on the last tour of the day. We were given 2 drink tickets each and could visit the bar to have have a drink now and then one after the tour.

Bacardi Rum Factory Demonstration Bar

We had arranged to meet a group of people from Cruise Critic called the Maniacs at a place called Cafe Del Angel for dinner. This is local restaurant that isn't anything fancy but the service and food are good. They had a separate room for us with several tables pushed together except ours.
We walked from our apartment to here and back and the walk was about 20 - 25 minutes. At no time did we not feel safe.

Chris and Bev had to have the rent a car returned for 10:00 AM and Christiane would meet us there and take us to the ship. That is exactly what happened. We arrived at the ship shortly after 11 due to traffic getting into the port.
We can not begin to Thank Christiane enough for driving us to the port. I would not hesitate to stay here again if I were to be in San Juan again.

We lined up to drop our luggage off and then fill out the usual questionnaire on health. Once this was done we passed through the doors and security and lined up to check-in for the cruise. We walked straight up to the counter got our boarding cards and went straight on board. We arrived on board about 11:45 AM. I must say though all the cruise documents and the Royal Caribbean web site say not to arrive before 4:00 PM for boarding. We ran into many people later in the day who found some where to store their luggage and do something for the day so they would arrive at 4:00 only to find they started boarding at 11:30 AM.

We went up to the Windjammer to have lunch and meet up with the other Maniacs. We sat at the back of the ship on the open deck and chatted.

Once we were done here we went down to our cabin for 1:30 PM as they were available then. We were then to meet at 2:00 at Deck 4 Centrum where Chris and I and Remi would go back ashore to go Geocaching.
Now when Amy and I arrived at our cabin (3512) we found the distilled water waiting for us that I had ordered for my CPAP machine but no extension chord. Benny our Cabin Steward soon arrived and introduced himself to us. I asked him about the extension chord and he said I had to now go to the Front Office and sign it out, they no longer placed them in the cabin.
I had some time so off I went to the Front Office to get my extension chord. I asked for one and was told no problem I just had to sign it out. I explained I was doing back to back cruises and was then told oh sorry you have to return it by 8:00 AM on Saturday or you will be charged for it and then you can sign it out again at 10:00 AM. I was not impressed with this.

Now I am going to change the way I normally do a review and talk about things in general terms as this cruise was very port intensive.

I have to say I love the Radiance class ships, which this is one of. I would go on to say it is likely the best designed and laid out ship I have been on. Royal Caribbean get top marks for this.

Entertainment

I am going to say that the Entertainment on this cruise is likely the best I have seen on a cruise in some 10 years. I don't like production shows and this cruise was no different.
I would like to say we had the best Cruise Director I have had in 15 years at least in Marc Walker.
We had the likes of the 1950's group The Diamonds on board. Now this group was good but there was one small problem, none of these guys are from the original Diamonds. The way they talk and phrase things they make it sound like they are them. The big problem you notice is the age of some of them, and they could not have performed as The Diamonds in the 50's.
We had Olympic Gymnast Lance Ringnald on board for both weeks. Okay you may ask how this is entertainment. Lance didn't have anything special other than silks from the ceiling. He came out at the start with a walker, yes a walker and used an ordinary walker at his pommel horse. It was amazing. When all said and done both weeks he received a standing ovation. He also gave a 1 hour talk both weeks.
We also had Ron Lucas a Ventriloquist who does an excellent show.
We did have a miss with Dean Austin a comic who kept wiping his bald head all night and was very distracting.
There was one night where we had Domenick Allen from the rock group Foreigner. He did a melody of songs through the ages. He played several different instruments and his drummer was amazing. He also received a standing ovation.

Dining Room

Lets discuss our Dining Room assignment and all that goes with this. We requested second seating and a large table and to be seated with Chris and Bev. That is what we got near the door coming in and beside the window.
Our Waiter was efficient and met our needs. There were a couple of problems that cropped up during the first week. One night three of us ordered Prime Rib Medium Rare. When it arrived at the table it was anything from Rare to Medium with the Medium arriving in front of me. I looked at it and said ahh this isn't right and the Waiter said that is Medium Rare. I said okay look at the other two and they are all suppose to be Medium Rare, do they look the same? The Waiter removed it and went to the kitchen to get another one. The replacement soon arrived and was really rare but I can eat it that way so I just let it go.
I was recently told that the kitchens on board Royal Caribbean have had to cut their budgets by 40%.
At the end of the meal the Head Waiter came over to talk to me about the meat. It was explained that the Waiters are told to take it to the table and serve it even if it isn't just right and hope that the passenger will accept it and eat it cutting down on waste. It is when one complains they can return to get it corrected. This policy if in fact true really needs to be looked at. The passenger should get the correct meal the first time. What if you were allergic to something and it was served by accident even though the waiter knew it?

Now most meals came luke warm at best. The soups were not hot but warm. There was one night when most ordered the Escargot and to put it simply they were cold. They all went back and once again the Head Waiter was there asking what was wrong. We told him and asked if the waiter has to pick these up and then they are cold why is he serving them? No answer. We were further told our comments would be forwarded to the Executive Chef. Now lets fast forward to the second week and we ordered the same thing, guess what same problem different week. This problem was not corrected. The best guess we can come up with is they are left over from First Seating?

Prime Rib Dessert

One of the things that several of us like is Coffee Ice Cream which happened to be served the first night. We asked the waiter if he could make sure a container of it was kept for the whole week and we have it every night. This was done! Our waiter told our new waiter for the second week of our request.

Thursday night arrived and the Head Waiter visited us to find out if we wanted to change our dinning for the following week. I explained that our reservations were linked and we were to be with Chris and Bev both weeks. The Head Waiter went off and came back to say Amy and I were at the same table but Chris and Bev were at the next table. What the heck is this? He said he would go look at it and make the change. At the end of dinner we were told all was good and Amy and I were now at the next table with Chris and Bev.

During the first day Chris and I each ordered wine packages ( 5 bottles each of the Gold Package) for the two weeks. We had asked if this was possible during back to back and were assured this was the case. Well on the Friday we asked the question how this was going to work since we were getting new key cards and it was our current key cards that had the sticker. The Head Waiter came back and and told us that we would have to pick our last 5 bottles for the last week and our table number would be placed on them and placed in the Wine Cellar.

The four of us attended the Mystery Dinner again even though we did it one year ago. It is a great evening where you attend the Safari Club and served drinks and finger food and then watch a murder take place. You then head into Portofino's and have a Italian meal complete with wine. During the meal you try and solve the murder and then your answer is entered into a draw at the end for those that guessed right. The charge is abut $50 and it lasts about 3.5 hours.

There is a matter of Dress in the Dining Room. It appears to have changed drastically from one year ago. In a word or two, there is no dress code. On Formal Night there were shorts, mussel shirts, sandals and baseball caps and nothing was said. Shorts were common most nights along with baseball caps and sandals. There is the option to eat Dinner in the Windjammer and the Maitre'D should direct these people there.
Now having said this Royal Caribbean is like a Pit Bull when trying to bring any alcohol on board. It could be a bottle of beer and it is gone at the gangway. So they will enforce rules that may hit their bottom line and not other rules such as dress code. What they have to understand is people go why am I paying all this money to cruise with shorts and mussel shirts.

Booking the Cruise

Now this brings me to a subject that has me wondering about what I call the backend of Royal Caribbean. I booked this cruise as an outside guarantee. I  also asked my Agent that these reservations be linked so Royal Caribbean would try and give me the same cabin both weeks. My agent said when he contacts the consecutive cruise desk the reservation is basically locked and tough to look at it and add/change things. I pointed out if we don't do this then I would likely have to change cabins half way through. He agreed on this and called the consecutive cruise desk and talked to them. I was part of this call and the indication was that they would try and put us in the same cabin both weeks.
The following morning I logged into my Royal Caribbean account to look at Shore Excursions for a couple of ports. When I logged in I noticed I had my cabin assignment. I noted the cabin number and checked the second week to find different cabin different deck. I look at the cabin inventory and saw there were many cabins in my category I could have both weeks. Since my agent had left for his cruise I had to call his partner North, to see if he could correct this. I had to leave a message and left it at that. I went back to looking at shore excursions and my phone soon rang. I looked at the call display to see Royal Caribbean, interesting I thought. I answered it and North started talking saying he was on the line with Royal Caribbean and if I was logged into my reservation, I said yes looking at shore excursions. The Royal Caribbean Agent said I can not log into your reservation with you logged in. I had to log out in order for them to make changes.  

All I can say on all this is I have done many consecutive cruises with other lines and NEVER had to change cabins. It has been treated as one cruise. I am going to suggest that Royal Caribbean is new to people taking consecutive cruises so they don't have it down how to handle them. There were about 90 people taking back to back cruises and many of them had to change cabins.

Ports

I have been to San Juan, St.Thomas and St Maarten before. I have always wanted to visit Tortola The British Virgin Islands and go to the Baths on Virgin Gorda this along with the stop in the Barbados were going to be the highlight of the cruise.

In St. Thomas the plan was for  go Geocaching. I did a couple of caches near the pier and ran into another family of cachers there. We then headed over to grab a Jitney and go to Magen's Bay. There was a cache there that had been placed weeks before the cruise and yet had no one find it. It turned out to be our lucky day with the group being the first to find it. On the way back we stopped at a common lookout most Jitney's stop at where there was another cache.
Once we completed this stop we headed back to the ship. We walked around a few shops but there really wasn't much I wanted or needed.

The group of cachers in Magen's Bay and holding the cache. Jitney Stop - Phil,Amy,Remi,Bob,Chris Looking down on Magen's Bay

I must say St. Croix didn't have a lot to offer other than tents set up on the main street as you leave the pier. All the vendors wanted you to stop by and look and it became a real hassle.  We soon returned to the ship.

In almost all ports we had decided to geocache and some will ask why? I have to say many caches are located at historic places and in this case in was old Forts on the various islands. This gave us a chance to see local history. In particular on Grenada we had to do a cache at the fort over looking the port. After a long climb up the stairs we arrived and did the cache outside the fort. We decided to pay the $2 to enter and see what was inside. There is a Plaque on the inside stone wall of the Fort that says Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and his Cabinet were shot in this Fort on  October 19th 1983. I remember when this happened and now I was standing where it happened.

The Plaque in Grenada View from Fort George in Grenada Inner Harbour St Georges Grenada fron Fort George

There was Fort James in Antigua and Fort Barrington built by the British in 1779 on top of the hill at the entrance to the Harbour there.
Instead of doing a beach we visited historic places and learned something about the places we were visiting.
In St Kitts we did a cache in the Guard House at the Island Veterinary College. To our surprise we learned this is one of the top colleges of it's kind in the world.

Looking from Fort Barrington was built by the British in 1779 in Antigua Enterance to Fort James beach with no one on it near Fort James Leaving Basseterre, St. Kitts and Wind Song and unknown sailing vessel View from Fort Barrington

As  I said  always have wanted to go to Virgin Gorda and the Baths. We booked a shore excursion that would take us there. We left the ship and walked down the pier and boarded a fast ferry to Virgin Gorda where we boarded a Jitney and had a 20 minute drive to start our walk down to the baths. We took an alternate trail from the rest as there was a cache at the baths and we would meet the ladies at the beach on the other side of the rocks. It didn't take us long to locate the cache and then we were off to walk between the rocks and make our way to the other side. Once at the other end we enjoyed a couple hours of swimming. There was a small restaurant there that served mainly beer and there were a few picnic tables.
Amy had never been in ocean water this warm before and enjoyed it along with me.
This is now off my bucket list.

Looking out between the rocks at the ocean from the baths walking between the rocks walking between the rocks hiking back upi to the top and Skull Rock Phil,Remi,Chris,Bob at the enterance to the caves beside the Geocache

In Dominica we decided to do tubing. Tubing was a lot of fun and none of us have ever tried it down a river before. We were supplied life vests and helmets and the inner tube. The river can be fast in places and you will hit rocks from time to time. I managed to go through a bamboo forest over hanging the river.
Now the roads here have a lot to be desired. After the tubing we visited a plantation to have a drink and see Cocoa trees where we were asked if we like to try one of the seeds.
From here we went up to Emerald Falls about 45 minutes away and well into the rain forest. The group had not planned to do a cache on Dominica because they were far away from the port but it turns out there was one at Emerald Falls. It was our lucky day.
This was a good tour and all that went enjoyed it very much. There are no photos here because taking a camera tubing was not advised. Wearing a Bikini is also not advised unless one wears a T-Shirt -Think about it.

I have to say St Maarten is my favourite port in the Caribbean. When there are many ships in port it can be a zoo. The easiest way to get to Philipsburg is by water taxi. You pay $6.00 and get a all day wrist band. There is almost no waiting and the boats leave every few minutes. I have gone to Orient Beach in the past but today we went to Great Bay Beach. WE walked the beach and decided on a less crowded part where you get 2 beach chairs and an umbrella and 5 drinks (beer, soda, water) for $20.00. This is a great deal. We went swimming and had a great afternoon at the beach. It was just nuts back at the pier I suspect as more ships arrived during the day.

The ships in port Costa Mediterranea arriving Costa Mediterranea Great Bay Beach Amy having a swim Amy and Phil

I would be very remiss in not talking about the Barbados. Seacruise has been around for almost 15 years and over this time many friendships have been born. I have had the good luck on meeting almost all of the original group except two. I have always been told that if I was ever in the Barbados I had to call Sarah. Sarah was one of the two I have not met.
 had emailed Sarah when I booked the cruse to let her know. Sarah was very pleased that Chris and I would finally meet her.
We had agreed that we would meet outside the cruise ship terminal. I must say in the Barbados t is a long walk to do this. Sarah was there waiting for us. We all climbed into her car and talked for a few and left it up to her where we went. Sarah took us to St John Parish Church first erected in 1645 and then destroyed by fire 1676 and rebuilt and then destroyed by Hurricane and rededicated in 1836.
This back of this church has graves inside the church like many of that time. It also has graves that go back to the 1600's and as recent as a couple of weeks before we were there. Prime Minister David Thompson died in October 2010 from Cancer and was just interned there.

St John Parish back of St John Parish Old Grave The Headstone over looking the Atlanic on the east side at a Geocache view from Cherry Tree Hill - sugar in the background Cherry tree Hill Morgan Lewis Windmill Amy - Phil on Cherry Tree Hill

We stopped at an old Morgan Lewis Windmill and then to Cherry Tree Hill but not before Sarah stopped to let us grab a couple of Geocaches.
Sarah called her husband Elvis to ask him for a good place to eat a Bajan meal on the west side and was pointed to the Surfside Restaurant and Beach Bar. I have to say this was great where 3 of us had the Rice n' Stew Bajan Style with the fourth having Bajan Chicken and Chips.
I can not even to begin to Thank Sarah for the day. It was a great time and to finally meet her. When we arrived back at the pier Sarah dropped us off inside the pier area and we had a photo taken. Now Sarah shared a small story from her two girls in high school. Sarah said we spend all this time while kids are growing up warning them about meeting people on the internet and then meeting them in person. The Girls said Mom here you are meeting these people on the internet and now meeting them in person, what if they are murders etc. Sarah had pointed out that I had met all the others and posted photos on Seacruise and nothing happened to them so it should be safe.
It was safe and Chris, Bev, Amy and I Thank her very much!

Phil - Sarah - Chris - Bev
Phil - Sarah - Chris - Bev - Thank You!

I will say this ships excursions were not way over priced as compared to what you could get on shore. They were within a few dollars it appeared and you get the peace of mind knowing you won't miss the ship

Phil bidding the last port of Barbados Good Bye....
Phil bidding the Barbados Good Bye

Turn around day - Saturday

I am going to now discuss the turn around weekend. We had been told before we left that we would report to the front office just before 10:00 and then be taken off the ship and then re-check in and be the first back on the ship.
This isn't what happened at all. We went to a cocktail party on the Thursday afternoon and were told we could go p to Deck 8 and pick up our new key cards between 8:00 - 9:00 and would be given an In Transit card which would present to bypass the check-in. We would not have to have our pictures retaken.  
We went down on Saturday and this is exactly what happened. We did not have to leave the ship and a sit down lunch in the dinning room was also arranged for us. We did attend this lunch as we went ashore.
We then received a notice in our cabin that there was a special VIP get together in the Theatre at 5:00 PM on the Sunday. Most of those on the back to back attended and there was a bet on what it would be. Most thought it would be a behind the scenes tour of the Theatre. The VIP Party was hosted by Mark Walker the Cruise Director. He explained this was the first time this had been done and wanted feed back on it.

Pool Area The Seaview Restaurant Rock Climbing Wall Kiddy Slide/Pool Looking at the pool from the lower level Windjammer Cafe - Second Saturday before all were on board Sandwich's Chicken Stew

Well they were half right, we not only went behind the scenes but down a deck to the bow to see where the spare carpet is stored and many other items. We then went down to Deck 2 to the what is called the I-95 hall that runs the length of the ship and many things such as the incinerator is. There are also Crew Cabins down there along with a crew mess. We got to see many
For those that were on our tour they all thought it was a nice perk.

I give Royal Caribbean top marks on how the turn around was handled and the VIP Tour. This was by far the best back to back experience that people who have sailed Royal Caribbean  before. It goes to show that they are trying to change things. It will be interesting to see if it continues.

We also received an off to have dinner in Chops at a two for one  for booking back to back. The four of us along with other back to back people attended dinner and I must say this was one of the best meals I have ever had. The service was perfect and the food cooked as ordered and served at the correct temperature. The meal lasted about 3 hours and was well worth it even if it was not two for one.

In conclusion I find Royal Caribbean's onboard product to be excellent while the back end leaves a lot to be worked on.
As for the extension chord I talked to the Housekeeping Manger during the Crown and Anchor Party when he asked me how things were going and I asked him if anything could be done and he said no that was the way it was. Now on the Friday my Cabin Steward Benny talked to me on how we would handle turn around day. I said it would be great except the extension chord. He said that isn't right and got on his phone right away and talked to his boss and all was settled, I did not have to return it. Wow the Cabin Steward solved it for me.
I may make a suggestion here why not give the Cabin Stewards cards for the passenger to sign and then return it to hm at the end of the cruse.  can't imagine people are happy on ships like Allure of the Seas have to go to the front Office and sign it out and then return it etc. 

I am not sure if I will cruise Royal Caribbean in the near future as I like back to back cruises. There is no real incentive to book back to back when one has to change cabins go through what I did for an extension chord. I notice in places such as Europe with all the ships there that there are no cruises that you can put together without visiting several ports twice.
It would be nice to have the same key card for both weeks along with the same cabin.

What did make this cruise was the ship itself and those many from the Maniacs such as Remi, Sandy, Bob, Gayle, Chris, Bev and of course my Daughter Amy for putting up with me for another cruise.

Royal Caribbean has had a saying in their recent Ad Campaign the Nation of Why Not.  Why Not make it easier to get and extension chord? Why Not ask those not dressed correctly leave the Dining Room? Why Not make it easier to do back to back cruises?