Updated: Apr 13
This was only the second cruise that I have ever been on, the first being the MSC cruise through the Norwegian fjords. The sights of that cruise had been so breathtaking, that I had been convinced coming up on this cruise that it could not possibly be as great an experience as the last one. Oh how wrong I was.
I say this because the two experiences simply are not comparable. They took place on wholly different sides of the world, and are therefore equally amazing in their own different ways. However, on the subject of the cruise ships themselves, the experience aboard the Serenade of the Seas, Royal Caribbean was so much better than the MSC experience.
I find food to be an integral part of my vacation, and my family thinks the same way. We like to eat good food, and the quality of the food can absolutely make or break a vacation. The food aboard MSC was stunningly mediocre, we got the dining package for the specialty restaurant and that was really the only thing that saved our experience in regards to food. On the Serenade, there truly is no bad meal, I don’t think it’s even necessary to get a specialty dining package, and of course, never get the drinks package. Whatever the price is of the drinks you consume aboard the ship, the drinks package is more expensive. It’s a scam. Don’t do it.
The dining room food was great, and while we did have three specialty dining dinners, I would have been fine eating in the dining room every night. I think the dining room was great on this cruise for two reasons in particular. One was that the menu was themed per night, so the food options changed every night, you weren’t just picking from the same six appetizers the entire vacation. The second thing that really made the dining room so great was the staff. How the dining room works is each family is seated at a table that belongs to them the entire vacation and has the same two servers, a head waiter and an assistant for the entirety of the vacation so you inevitably get to know the staff very well.
That was another part of this cruise as a whole that I think really set Royal Caribbean apart. The staff were incredible. The staff of the ship were from more than eighty countries across the globe and are on the ship for up to seven months at a time with minimal free time and days off, and yet they truly made the best of it and are so kind to everyone aboard the ship. Everyone that we saw on the regular made an effort to learn the names of my entire family, and were incredibly inclusive of my sibling with autism. I point this out because that is not something found everywhere in the world, people with special needs are not treated equally in every country and lots of times places we go will choose to ignore David, or treat him like a child. That was not the case on this cruise.
The Serenade of the Seas is definitely one of the smaller cruise ships, but it’s size definitely didn’t take away from the overall charm of the ship. We set out from Tampa on the first day of the cruise and boarded the ship at around 11 am. Of course the first thing people do when they board the ship is head to the buffet, so it’s always packed when you first board because none of the other restaurants are open. It was at this point that we discovered that the buffet food was quite good. There were plenty of American options, as well as quite a bit of Indian food, fresh fruit and options for gluten free and vegan diets as well.
I will say, the one problem with the buffet that will forever bother me is the lack of hygiene and this buffet was no different. Within the first five minutes of walking around I watched a man grab a burger bun with his hands, and another lady dropped the tongs and in a feat of reflexed caught them…on the wrong end with her bare hand…and proceeded to place them back in the food. So the buffet food is good but people are pigs, so no shock there. Basically, I would recommend the buffet only when necessary.
There is a dress code aboard the ship that is strictly advised, though not enforced, but you will definitely look like a fool for not following it. There are two formal nights on the seven day cruise, one of which is on the second night, and the second of which is on the second to last night. The dress code for the formal nights is as smart as it can get, tuxedos and dresses or ball gowns are expected. All other evenings the dress code for dinner, both in the dining room and in the specialty restaurants is smart casual, implying polos and sundresses. That being said, there was still one idiot family each night that showed up in t-shirts and shorts, or worse, swimsuits, and weren’t turned away. Royal Caribbean follows the same standards for guest service that Disney World does, meaning that the guest is always put first, so people weren’t turned away for ignoring the dress code, though I feel like the humiliation of sitting in a room full of people in ballgowns while you’re in a swimsuit has to be punishment enough. Or maybe not. I don’t know.
Our dinner on our first night aboard the ship was at Izumi, the sushi restaurant aboard the ship, and one of the specialty dining options. The whole family dressed up and headed out. You really do have to be on time, because your table is held only fifteen minutes after your reservation time. So if you’re a bunch of fools like we were and don’t make sure you know how to find the restaurant beforehand and therefore get lost on the way and take the whole fifteen extra minutes just to find the restaurant. The food was amazing though. With the dining package you are allowed to choose an appetizer, a main entree, and a dessert.
Our waitress was absolutely amazing, her name was Roselie, and the first thing she did when she got to the table was introduce herself and ask everyone’s names so that she could address us all by name for the rest of the meal. She also explained how the dining package worked and what choices we had to make off of the menu. I always appreciate when a waiter offers their opinions as well as the chef’s choice because in my experience working in food service, the chef’s recommendation isn’t actually always made by the chef. So the recommendation by your waiter is likely the more authentic recommendation. I had some miso soup as an appetizer which was lovely, followed by snow crab rolls as my main entree, and then the real gem of the meal was dessert. I have a confession: I have an absolute obsession with any type of ice cream that isn’t the classic chocolate or vanilla and comes in an unnatural color that ice cream absolutely cannot achieve on its own. The restaurant had green tea ice cream as one of the options for dessert, and it was an amazing unnatural green color which I immediately found fantastic. I had a vanilla ice cream taste, and then a little bit of an iced tea aftertaste that was lovely.
After dinner, we played some cards on the main balcony surrounding the main foyer where there pretty much always seemed to be some form of live music playing, so it is definitely a really nice place to hang out and enjoy some music. The dates of this trip were a few weeks after everyone’s spring breaks so there weren’t a whole lot of young people on this trip and a lot of the guests were older folks looking for a leisurely vacation, so there weren't a whole lot of options for people to play any sports games with, since it seemed like most of the kids that were aboard the cruise were younger kids.
Since we only spent the afternoon aboard the ship on the first day, our second day would also be a day at sea, and I will note that because this was a much smaller ship than my last cruise ship, I could feel the waves a lot more on this ship, and the Caribbean naturally has choppier waves than the more northern seas. So the choppier waves combined with the smaller boat did definitely mean that I struggled with motion sickness a lot more on this ship than I did on the last one. To combat it, I bought some of the motion sickness bracelets off of Amazon (which are very cheap) and have worked for me on my last cruise and on flights. However, the waves were so choppy and the air on the ship is so dry that I found myself taking pepto on the majority of evenings when we were back out and moving in the water again.