Southern Caribbean Cruise
January 22-29, 2005


We chose Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas for our 24th cruise, our eighth on Royal Caribbean. We loved her twin sister Radiance so we knew that Serenade would be a fine choice for a Southern Caribbean itinerary. The ship was leaving from San Juan Puerto Rico so we decided to arrive a couple of days early and do some sightseeing. The flight from Oakland was long but efficient, and we arrived late in the evening at the Sheraton Old San Juan, right in the center of old town. We learned that the feast of San Sebastian was in full fling, and the city was full of music and celebration. Dining in the hotel's restaurant made us appreciate the fact that our meals would soon be complimentary on the ship!

Bright and early next morning, we joined up with our friends Paul and Karen and met our guide Victor from ShoreTrips and left for a tour of the El Yunque Rainforest, one of the major attractions of San Juan. This was a wonderful trip and featured a great deal of very beautiful scenery. The tour included hiking the Camitillo Trail which is a good choice for non-active people like us.

Back in San Juan, we had time for lunch and a drink at the famous Senor Frog's!!

Then we met our guide Debbie from Legends of Puerto Rico for the night time walking tour of Old San Juan. This was a thoroughly entertaining experience as we covered many of the buildings of the old city from pirate strongholds to the prison.

The next morning we boarded Serenade of the Seas. Although our documents listed the boarding time as 4 PM, and we were told by RCI in Puerto Rico that the earliest would be 2 PM, we went on out by cab and arrived about 1 PM. The lady checking us in told us they had opened at 11:30! So much for getting accurate information from the cruise line! We had a special line for Platinum cruisers, but in fact we did not need it as the checkin was very quick and easy, and very soon we were on board and hitting the Windjammer buffet. Without a doubt, the buffet on RCI ships of this class is the very best afloat! The many stations eliminate lines, and make it easy to go around and choose salads, sandwiches, hot dishes, deli items and desserts as you wish. My usual complaint of small glasses has not been corrected, however, and I always had to balance three glasses on my plate to prevent having to go back frequently! The staff was very attentive and the food was delicious! During the day our Darling Daughter Andréa arrived on her red-eye from California, and we were delighted to have her along. Dinner that night in the dining room was the first of many wonderful experiences. Our waiter Gustavo from Uruguay was very good, and our assistant Nadia from South Africa was one of the most attentive and efficient servers I have ever encountered. From the very first night she learned to keep my water and ice tea filled up, left a dish of lemon wedges by my seat, kept DD provided with complimentary cranberry juice, and served my wife's wine. She was a wonder! Sadly we were not allowed to bring her home with us. This was a very port intensive cruise. We had no sea day scheduled until the very last day. The first stop was St. Thomas, and since I had been there many times I chose to just stay aboard and relax in the Thermal Suite and the hot tub. Of course, my ladies could not do that, and had to take off for the shopping. A man of true genius has built a shopping mall right next to the docks so it is very easy!


Serenade is a beautiful ship, with many different venues to relax or enjoy entertainment. We soon settled into the beautiful Champagne Bar in the centrum of deck 6. From here we could hear the music from the centrum, but were not crowded. We spent most evenings here. We tried breakfasts and lunches both in the dining room and the buffet and enjoyed all of them. The theater is magnificent, and the sight lines are good all over. I found the chairs in the last row of the balcony to be the most comfortable and the view great, so we spent most evenings there. This first night the show was a marvelous magician, presenting a number of big scale illusions, ending with producing his beautiful wife from nowhere, riding on a Harley!!

The next day was St. Maarten. We had booked on the Caribbean Ducks, and they gave us a wonderful tour of the island.

The specially designed amphibious vehicle first took us around the island for the beautiful views. St. Maarten is the Dutch side of the island, and St. Martin is the French side. We had a great tour up and down hill around the island. There are many beautiful views and secluded bays.


Then the duck drove over the beach and into the waves to splash into the bay! We saluted the sunbathers with the quackers they gave us. Then we had a nice tour of the bay, and lots of complimentary Caribbean punch.

Back aboard the ship it seened a good time to try the french fries and onion rings at the Skyview Cafe back by the kid's area. It serves almost anything that can be fried in hot fat, all complimentary, of course! Then we spent the afternoon in the Thermal Suite.

That evening was the first formal night. It was a good opportunity to get a photo in the wonderful solarium. This bridge over the pool is bathed in lights of changing colors every evening and the giant golden elephants keep watch. We loved the solarium day or night and it was very lightly used. There was a bar in one corner, and a pizza and pastry cafe in the other.

The ports come fast and furious on this itinerary. The next day we were in Antigua. Renée had scheduled the helicopter ride so off she went!

The helicopter flew over the neighboring island of Montserrat where the volcano is still active. Renée was fascinated by the steaming crater and the widespread devastation.

That afternoon we were booked on the ship's shore excursion of historical Antigua. Our wonderful guide Suryan took us around for the beautiful scenery, tales of pirates and sugar plantations, and a look at Nelson's Dockyard for a lesson in the building and repairs necessary for those old sailing ships. The things the seafarers accomplished with minimal technology to assist are amazing!

Here are some things we scanned in to answer specific questions that are often asked:

Kids Programs were wonderful on this ship. We often saw the kids with their counselors, such as when they paraded through the dining room dressed as pirates, or lining up for the waterslide!

The premium dining rooms are Chops and Portofino's. They are both beautiful venues and charge $20 service charge.

Bar prices on board ship are very reasonable, but you have to watch yourself or they can mount up by the end of the trip!

The daily Cruise Compass lists all the activities and entertainment available. There is plenty to keep everyone busy!

CONTINUE

with our trip report, more ports, more about the ship and more on the wonderful Thermal Suite!

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