Serenade of the Seas Cruise Review by Pcfriar11
- Sail Date: July 2019
- Destination: Baltic Sea
- Cabin Type: Junior Suite
Our trip began with a little bit of conflict as one of our suitcases did not make it to Stockholm. Onboard the Serenade, Jasmine was most helpful by calling us every day, several times a day, to tell us of the latest whereabouts of the bag. She really went above and beyond and by the time we made it to Helsinki we were supremely confident that the bag would be there as Jasmine had shown her extreme dedication to the process!
This was only the start to what was what we all unanimously agreed the best service that we’ve ever had on a cruise ever (and we’ve been on plenty!). Immediately we noticed that we had a very jovial crew. This continued throughout the entire stay with absolutely outstanding service throughout.
Our waitstaff for the majority of the nights was a team of Kelly/Lissandro and they were beyond phenomenal. We ate at the main dining room every night and they were exemplary. We never had a dry glass or an empty plate. Lissandro we all joked was like Linus from How I Met Your Mother (a reference that I’m not sure how many people here will get, but I can assure you is the highest of high compliments!) and Kelly was the most well-versed on the menu server we’ve ever had in addition to being wonderfully attentive and patient. On one night the maître d (whose name escapes me sadly but was also excellent) sat us with TingTing and Samsul who were also outstanding. We apparently made an impression because every night after that TingTing/Samsul greeted us all by name.
Additionally, this was the cruise where by far the staff also knew us all by name. Koko (a drink specialist) learned our names on the very first day and we saw him throughout the vacation and he was always outstanding. Aaron the pool bar bartender was also phenomenal! He made us an inhuman amount of Kracken Coladas (which I couldn’t recommend more!) and by the end of the second day he had both memorized our names, room numbers, and our orders.
Franklin was our very first bartender onboard and we saw him throughout and the interactions were always warm and wonderful. We saw him both in port and in the other bars and he greeted us every single time! Ashford (I believe his name was, unfortunately there were so many great people that a few of the names escape me!) was another great bartender that we really enjoyed.
Beyond the service, the food was also the best we’d ever had on a cruise. Specifically, dinner every single night was incredible. We never had a single complaint on any appetizer/entrée/dessert. In particular, the entrée choices every night were outstanding and I can’t remember a cruise where I had so many amazing dessert choices every night (NOT good for those of us that are dieting back at home, but some things are just more important than that!)
I do wish that there was more late night eats/drinks on the cruise. The ship does stop serving alcohol at 2 am. Probably not an issue for most (particularly this cruise wasn’t exactly a frat/sorority getaway) but the fact that there wasn’t an easy burger/fries/pizza location was a bit of a bummer (again, not a college kid getaway). We did get room service one night and I can say that the grilled cheese/fries I ordered were quite good!
The ports were also great as well. It’s amazing that for a vacation that we picked with the ports in mind that the service/food we had onboard was the thing we’ve talked about the most, but in truth, it was THAT good.
St Petersburg, Russia lives up to all the hype. It’s a little surreal to be in Russia and to be sure, it confirms a lot of the stereotypes. We did Alla Tours and we did the Must See Tour, thinking it might be a little less extreme than the Grand Tour. While The Comfort Tour is supposedly the more laid-back version, the Must See Tour was still extremely taxing on us. We got to see A LOT (and Polina, our tour guide was incredible) but we came back to the ship both days (2 day tour) absolutely wiped. 4/6 of us collapsed for a nap upon arrival both days and that’s the younger part of our group!
To be clear, you see a TON on Alla Tours. We saw the museums and the palaces and did the canal boat cruise. Polina, our tour guide, has apparently been doing tours for 10 years but she had all the enthusiasm and happiness of someone on their first day (while being as well-versed as someone that’s been doing it for 10 years). Just amazing that anyone could have that much enthusiasm for anything but she absolutely did.
The one knock that I will say on Alla Tours is that we found the lunches to be lacking to put it kindly. Both days were “restaurant lunches” and for $230 for two days with lunches included we thought we were getting a steal but in actuality we were sort of getting what we paid for. Chicken kiev the first day and beef stroganoff the second day at two different restaurants were very uninspiring choices. One member of our group was essentially knocked out of commission due to an upset stomach after both. Not sure how much Alla Tours can do about the lunch choices but we were underwhelmed on that front.
For Helsinki we also stuck with Alla Tours (they gave us a discount on our tour there because we had done the one in Russia). The first part of the tour we absolutely loved. The downtown part of Helsinki was great, the city is beautiful and the tour guide was great fun. Then, speaking of underwhelming, was the second part of the tour, Seurasaari, the open air museum. For two hours we walked around an old campground area. Interesting enough for some people, I guess, but for those of us that had never been to Finland (all of us) we really felt like we could’ve easily spent the time in downtown Helsinki.
Tallinn we did more on our own (it’s a little walk from port to downtown but nowhere near bad of a walk as Helsinki/St Petersburg are from downtown). We did do a KGB Tour at the Hotel Viru which was very interesting (and it also had the best view from the 23rd floor of anywhere). We probably should’ve allotted ourselves some more time in Tallinn; the old town area was beautiful, and there was plenty to do in the way of exploring/shopping/bar hopping/eating through town that could be very fun/doable for a family. As aforementioned though, we were kind of just wiped from the previous three days worth of tours!
After hearing that Visby was the “throwaway port” (and we’ve seen some throwaway ports in our day! Sydney, in Canada, NOT Australia! Is the gold standard in “throwaway ports) I booked us a “Free Tour” that I found on TripAdvisor with Aiden and I could not possibly recommend that more. It was short and sweet (1.5 hours) and he gave a comprehensive overview of the island/town/his life which were all fascinating. The tour was free (entirely on tips) and we tipped him handsomely because he really made our day. As much as we loved Polina, Aiden was a tour guide that really made the port for us and really put a nice capper on the trip.
After returning to Stockholm, we all agreed that we were a bit burnt out on doing “tours” in the traditional sense. Our group split up amongst ourselves. We stayed at the Hilton Stockholm Slussen which is a nice place to keep you close to Old Town and the like. We tend to be rather fatigued at the end of trips, so we didn’t push ourselves too hard, so no real recommendations on Stockholm. We went right directly from airport to ship to begin the journey, so we had not seen the city at all on the way in.
It was a wonderful trip, and for a family that’s been on many, we do absolutely have to say that it stood out in so many ways, for so many reasons, some of them not expected!
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The rest of us were in Interior cabins. I maintain that I prefer the tomb-like darkness inside but I will say that these cabins seemed smaller than even most interior cabins we've had.