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Thoughts on amazing 13 night Ultimate Scandinavia / Russia on Serenade

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Last week we finished up an epic 13 night ultimate scandinavia - russia cruise on Serenade of the Seas and I thought I would put some of my thoughts down and answer any questions folks might have about the ship, traveling to Russia or anything on this itinerary.

 

The Who:  My wife and I are in our early 40s, DINKs and love cruising and traveling in general.  We are pretty “loyal to Royal” and made Diamond after this cruise, but we have sailed on all the other major lines as well.  We traveled with our friends who are Diamond Plus who travel very extensively and they have a child in their group as well.  

 

The Why:  We wanted a unique and different itinerary and we really wanted to visit Russia! 

 

The Ship:  We have sailed on all classes of ships and we really love the Radiance class.  It seems like it is the perfect size for an itinerary like this. Serenade was in great condition with just the normal amount of wear and tear.   Rita’s Cantina is permanently been made into “just a bar”, so I feel like it could use one more specialty restaurant. Cabin does feel a bit old fashioned after just having done Ovation, but outside of plugs near the beds it really is just fine.  

 

Service: We had just cruised on Ovation in Alaska about 6 weeks before and had *really* bad service throughout the entire ship (see my review here - https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2671153-thoughts-on-ovation-in-alaska-531-67-cruise/ ) so we were a bit worried about the service levels on this ship.  We were pleasantly surprised on how great the service was! Almost every crew member we encountered in every department on every day was AWESOME and very focused on providing great service.  This ship is really doing something right in many categories and other ships in the RCCL fleet should take notice.

 

Internet:  Once again we had just had *horrible* internet on Ovation, but this ship was fine.  It was average cruise ship internet speed which is fine for basic posting of photos, low res video, etc.  We did take advantage of AT&T international day pass service for $10 a day in each port to use our normal unlimited plan in each country.  This worked with no issues except in Russia where it isn’t valid. There our friends used a mifi portable device and we just used the frequent wifi that we found.  

 

Food:  Main dining room food and service has gone down so drastically over the past few years that we decided on our Ovation cruise to just do the unlimited dining plan and just stick to specialty restaurants. For this cruise we did the 5 day plan knowing that we would be off the ship in ports some days for dinner and we would just do Windjammer the other days.  Windjammer has also been going down hill on our past few cruises so we didn’t have very high expectations.   

 

HOLY COW.  Our low expectations of Windjammer were blown away.  The quality of the food in Windjammer on this ship was insane.  Interesting items every day that were cooked perfectly and were flavorful.  Deserts which were decent and flavorful, action stations (like a burrata bar!) that we have never seen before.  Theme nights which were well thought out and artfully presented. Just like service, whatever this ship is doing - others need to copy it.  

We also did Chops and Giovanni’s twice and Izumi once and all were very good with good food and service.  

 

The one negative with F&B was the main dining room.  We made the mistake of going there on the sea day for lunch.  Service was less attentive than the random bussers in Windjammer.  Salad and “buffet” were a disaster with no one controlling the lines, guests pushing, etc.  Food quality also wasn’t good - how was this the same team that did Windjammer and the Speciality restaurants.  It simply solidified our feeling that we would avoid the main dining room whenever possible when we cruise.

 

Oh… one more thing… probably the creepiest thing that has ever happened to us on a cruise.   On the second to last night the head waiter for the main dining room section that we had been assigned to came to Chops to find us.  We thought originally that he was just making sure we were OK, etc. Nope - he was coming to tell us that we should give the main dining room staff all 10s, that even though we didn’t eat there we should rate the food as a 10, etc.   Then when we all must have given him odd looks he asked if we could send something to our stateroom to help out to ensure we rated him 10s… essentially trying to bribe us. It was a really ***** kinda moment. 

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The Ports:
Let me preface this by saying that we almost never book cruise ship tours.  We find that it is almost always cheaper, easier and better to book things independently.  Most ports on this tour were quite far away from the city center in industrial areas.  Be prepared to either take a taxi, uber or shuttle to get where you need to go. RCCL did provide a “what to know in each port” at the beginning of the cruise but some ports didn’t have the best info.

 

Stockholm: Embarkation was very easy and quick.  We had flown in the day before so we came directly from our hotel to the port around 1pm.  No lines, no issues at all.  Uber is usable but wonky in Stockholm.  We had some challenges getting an XL Uber a few times.  The local taxi drivers seem to run both and may or may not come as quickly as you are used to back home.  We visited the theme park Grona-Lund (wonderful!), the ABBA Museum (good if you are really into ABBA) and on the second day we did a boat tour (Under the Bridges of Stockholm) that we did as a walk up that was fine, but not as exciting or nice as some other boat tours we have done.

 

Helsinki:  We took a self-booked bus tour from the city center.  It was fine and Helsinki is very nice, but I feel like I would have been able to get just as good a feel for the city by exploring by foot.  We also visited the rock church which was very beautiful and worth going out of your way for. 

 

St. Petersburg (3 days with 2 overnights):  Having two overnights was important for us because we knew that we wanted to see Moscow and also do a custom itinerary.  We booked a private custom 3 day tour though TJ Travel and they were PHENOMENAL.  We had two of the best guides that we have ever had anywhere in the world and they understood the unique destination requests of our group from the beginning and really did an awesome job catering to us.  The minibuses they provided also had ridiculously fast wifi and bottled water.  We would all book with them again in a heartbeat.  Instead of going into details about our unique itin (we visited a Russian theme park!) I want to briefly go through what it was like going through Russian customs.

We had just done Cuba last year and figured Russian customs and Cuba would be similar.  We were wrong - Russia was very easy and RCCL had done their normal fear mongering to convince you to book one of their excursions.  The first day is the longest to go through customs but we only waited 15 minutes or so.  Some in our group were asked for Sea Pass card, some just passport but none were asked for any proof of tour booking.  You get your passport stamp that first day along with a small visa “document” and then when you return to the ship that night they stamp the passport again and take that document.  The other two days you simply show the passport, they look at the stamp and they let you through.  Everyone we saw in line that first day had their tour documents out and we didn’t see customs look at anyones.  That being said, they could change tomorrow and start asking for additional documents, etc… but I think this is a case of RCCL trying to push you into booking their own excursion.  The port is *VERY* nice and has a great selection of merchandise in shops if you don’t feel comfortable shopping or don’t have time during your tours.

 

What’s Russia like overall? Amazing.  We all fell in love and can’t wait to return.  Both St. Petersburg and Moscow feel like any one of the great cities in the world.  We even went off the beaten path a few times and never felt unsafe, dirty, etc.  If you have any stress about visiting Russia… don’t.  Just do it - you won’t regret it.

 

Tallin Estonia:  This is the one port where we booked an RCCL shore excursion since we didn’t find a way to book it on our own.  We did “the soviet experience” where we were taken around in an old style soviet era bus, shown propaganda, sung songs, etc.  It was actually well done and a lot of fun even though it was a bit short at 2.5 hours.  We also explored the “old town” of the city and had some fun wandering down small paths, geocaching, etc. 

 

Riga Latvia:  In doing research ahead of time we had read about these huge food halls in old converted WW2 blimp hangars.  It was about a 30 minute walk from the ship, but it was totally worth it!  Amazing selection of food, things to look at and even a flea market outside.  We would do this again in a heartbeat.  We also explored the old town a bit as well.

 

Visby Sweden: We were lucky enough to be in port during the week of their medieval festival and it was AMAZING!  If you aren’t into renaissance fairs or this type of thing (as the rest of our group isn’t ) it was still fun to walk around a bit and try food, people watch, etc.   After we walked around the festival for a bit we then walked through the small Visby streets, looked at the city walls, and historical building, etc.  I could see this port not being quite as interesting if the festival wasn’t going on.  

 

Warnemunde Germany:  This is the port that many use to go to Berlin, but taking a long bus ride each way with a short amount of time in the city didn’t appeal to us so we decided to just explore this cute little seaside german town.  This is *VERY* much a touristy place with tons of toursity shops, restaurants, etc.  It also has a real beach, a ferry right by the port you can use to go across to explore more of the area, a train stop right in port you can easily go to Rostock using, etc.     I wouldn’t mind coming back and going to Rostock to explore more.

 

Fredericia, Denmark:  We rented a car at this port and drove to another awesome theme park, Djurs Sommerland.  The car rental was especially convenient with Enterprise rent-a-car set up right as you exit the ship.  This is another port where you could easily do anything the ship was offering for ½ the cost by renting a car right there.  This port also had the local band welcome us and see us off with a cannon salute.  It was super cute!

 

Copenhagen, Denmark:  We did Tivoli Gardens and loved it as always.  The ship is ported VERY far from the city center and we saw very long lines at the bus terminal near the port so Taxi’s are probably your best option.  Unfortunately Uber is no longer in Copenhagen due to the taxi unions so you can expect high rates and limited service.  We struggled getting one on our “port” day there (we overnighted there before disembarking) because all the taxis were at the Norwegian ship that was disembarking for the high airport fares.  Debarkation the next day was super easy with no customs or immigration to go through but taxis were once again a mess.  This might be the one time booking the RCCL transfer to the airport might be wise if you had an early flight.  

 

Overall it was an amazing cruise, amazing itinerary and amazing staff.  Can’t wait for our next cruise even though it won’t be quite as epic as this one!
 

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Thanks for the detailed report.  How odd and off-putting for the headwaiter to bother you in Chops.  I would make sure to report him and jis behavior by name on the survey.

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11 minutes ago, Host Clarea said:

Thanks for the detailed report.  How odd and off-putting for the headwaiter to bother you in Chops.  I would make sure to report him and jis behavior by name on the survey.

 

I haven't gotten surveys on my last two cruises.

Empress and Harmony 🤔

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12 minutes ago, Host Clarea said:

Thanks for the detailed report.  How odd and off-putting for the headwaiter to bother you in Chops.  I would make sure to report him and jis behavior by name on the survey.

 

Thanks and we did!  I do have another reply on this post waiting for moderator approval with info about each port if anyone is interested!  Hopefully it will post soon.

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We were completely stalked by the MDR, when we had the UDP and never went to the MDR.  3 phone calls and chocolate covered strawberries and wine sent to our room!!

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15 hours ago, vacationlover_mn said:

We were completely stalked by the MDR, when we had the UDP and never went to the MDR.  3 phone calls and chocolate covered strawberries and wine sent to our room!!

 

Wow.  With stuff like this happening and being asked by at least one crew member on every cruise recently to rate them 10s, I have to imagine that RCCL just doesn’t care if they do these type of things. 

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Thanks for the review we will be on Serenade for the Trans Atlantic next week. Also there is a current thread about being hounded by the MDR staff on Jewell... interesting

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17 hours ago, disneyfan1313 said:

Oh… one more thing… probably the creepiest thing that has ever happened to us on a cruise.   On the second to last night the head waiter for the main dining room section that we had been assigned to came to Chops to find us.  We thought originally that he was just making sure we were OK, etc. Nope - he was coming to tell us that we should give the main dining room staff all 10s, that even though we didn’t eat there we should rate the food as a 10, etc.   Then when we all must have given him odd looks he asked if we could send something to our stateroom to help out to ensure we rated him 10s… essentially trying to bribe us. It was a really ***** kinda moment. 

 

Thanks for the great write-up!

 

I really don't do the MDR any longer, but the last couple of times I've joined friends there the push to be scored perfectly was very explicit and direct.  The MDR staff must be absolutely terrified of their rating system, which kinda completely negates its usefulness.  Any rating system that also includes a question asking you to name anyone who asked you to rate them well is ridiculous.  It shows there isn't any nuance to the program, and anything less than perfect is unacceptable.  That's not how you query guest experiences to improve things.

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We've experienced the hard push for a 10 while in the dining room, but never had anyone try to track us down somewhere else.  The bribery for a 10 is just unethical.  I'd like to say that this is shocking behavior, but I'm not really all that surprised.  

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19 hours ago, disneyfan1313 said:

Last week we finished up an epic 13 night ultimate scandinavia - russia cruise on Serenade of the Seas and I thought I would put some of my thoughts down and answer any questions folks might have about the ship, traveling to Russia or anything on this itinerary.

 

The Who:  My wife and I are in our early 40s, DINKs and love cruising and traveling in general.  We are pretty “loyal to Royal” and made Diamond after this cruise, but we have sailed on all the other major lines as well.  We traveled with our friends who are Diamond Plus who travel very extensively and they have a child in their group as well.  

 

The Why:  We wanted a unique and different itinerary and we really wanted to visit Russia! 

 

The Ship:  We have sailed on all classes of ships and we really love the Radiance class.  It seems like it is the perfect size for an itinerary like this. Serenade was in great condition with just the normal amount of wear and tear.   Rita’s Cantina is permanently been made into “just a bar”, so I feel like it could use one more specialty restaurant. Cabin does feel a bit old fashioned after just having done Ovation, but outside of plugs near the beds it really is just fine.  

 

Service: We had just cruised on Ovation in Alaska about 6 weeks before and had *really* bad service throughout the entire ship (see my review here - https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2671153-thoughts-on-ovation-in-alaska-531-67-cruise/ ) so we were a bit worried about the service levels on this ship.  We were pleasantly surprised on how great the service was! Almost every crew member we encountered in every department on every day was AWESOME and very focused on providing great service.  This ship is really doing something right in many categories and other ships in the RCCL fleet should take notice.

 

Internet:  Once again we had just had *horrible* internet on Ovation, but this ship was fine.  It was average cruise ship internet speed which is fine for basic posting of photos, low res video, etc.  We did take advantage of AT&T international day pass service for $10 a day in each port to use our normal unlimited plan in each country.  This worked with no issues except in Russia where it isn’t valid. There our friends used a mifi portable device and we just used the frequent wifi that we found.  

 

Food:  Main dining room food and service has gone down so drastically over the past few years that we decided on our Ovation cruise to just do the unlimited dining plan and just stick to specialty restaurants. For this cruise we did the 5 day plan knowing that we would be off the ship in ports some days for dinner and we would just do Windjammer the other days.  Windjammer has also been going down hill on our past few cruises so we didn’t have very high expectations.   

 

HOLY COW.  Our low expectations of Windjammer were blown away.  The quality of the food in Windjammer on this ship was insane.  Interesting items every day that were cooked perfectly and were flavorful.  Deserts which were decent and flavorful, action stations (like a burrata bar!) that we have never seen before.  Theme nights which were well thought out and artfully presented. Just like service, whatever this ship is doing - others need to copy it.  

We also did Chops and Giovanni’s twice and Izumi once and all were very good with good food and service.  

 

The one negative with F&B was the main dining room.  We made the mistake of going there on the sea day for lunch.  Service was less attentive than the random bussers in Windjammer.  Salad and “buffet” were a disaster with no one controlling the lines, guests pushing, etc.  Food quality also wasn’t good - how was this the same team that did Windjammer and the Speciality restaurants.  It simply solidified our feeling that we would avoid the main dining room whenever possible when we cruise.

 

Oh… one more thing… probably the creepiest thing that has ever happened to us on a cruise.   On the second to last night the head waiter for the main dining room section that we had been assigned to came to Chops to find us.  We thought originally that he was just making sure we were OK, etc. Nope - he was coming to tell us that we should give the main dining room staff all 10s, that even though we didn’t eat there we should rate the food as a 10, etc.   Then when we all must have given him odd looks he asked if we could send something to our stateroom to help out to ensure we rated him 10s… essentially trying to bribe us. It was a really ***** kinda moment. 

Having a friend that works on one of RCCL's cruise ships, I can explain why they are asking for 10's.  Since the cruiselines started automatically charging tips ....the process that the tips are distributed rely heavily on how many high marks (10's) a employee gets.  The more high marks, the more tip money.  

 

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Thanks for all the info especially in the ports, we have this booked for next year and are looking at the different ports

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On 8/15/2019 at 4:12 PM, disneyfan1313 said:

Last week we finished up an epic 13 night ultimate scandinavia - russia cruise on Serenade of the Seas and I thought I would put some of my thoughts down and answer any questions folks might have about the ship, traveling to Russia or anything on this itinerary.

 

The Who:  My wife and I are in our early 40s, DINKs and love cruising and traveling in general.  We are pretty “loyal to Royal” and made Diamond after this cruise, but we have sailed on all the other major lines as well.  We traveled with our friends who are Diamond Plus who travel very extensively and they have a child in their group as well.  

 

The Why:  We wanted a unique and different itinerary and we really wanted to visit Russia! 

 

The Ship:  We have sailed on all classes of ships and we really love the Radiance class.  It seems like it is the perfect size for an itinerary like this. Serenade was in great condition with just the normal amount of wear and tear.   Rita’s Cantina is permanently been made into “just a bar”, so I feel like it could use one more specialty restaurant. Cabin does feel a bit old fashioned after just having done Ovation, but outside of plugs near the beds it really is just fine.  

 

Service: We had just cruised on Ovation in Alaska about 6 weeks before and had *really* bad service throughout the entire ship (see my review here - https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2671153-thoughts-on-ovation-in-alaska-531-67-cruise/ ) so we were a bit worried about the service levels on this ship.  We were pleasantly surprised on how great the service was! Almost every crew member we encountered in every department on every day was AWESOME and very focused on providing great service.  This ship is really doing something right in many categories and other ships in the RCCL fleet should take notice.

 

Internet:  Once again we had just had *horrible* internet on Ovation, but this ship was fine.  It was average cruise ship internet speed which is fine for basic posting of photos, low res video, etc.  We did take advantage of AT&T international day pass service for $10 a day in each port to use our normal unlimited plan in each country.  This worked with no issues except in Russia where it isn’t valid. There our friends used a mifi portable device and we just used the frequent wifi that we found.  

 

Food:  Main dining room food and service has gone down so drastically over the past few years that we decided on our Ovation cruise to just do the unlimited dining plan and just stick to specialty restaurants. For this cruise we did the 5 day plan knowing that we would be off the ship in ports some days for dinner and we would just do Windjammer the other days.  Windjammer has also been going down hill on our past few cruises so we didn’t have very high expectations.   

 

HOLY COW.  Our low expectations of Windjammer were blown away.  The quality of the food in Windjammer on this ship was insane.  Interesting items every day that were cooked perfectly and were flavorful.  Deserts which were decent and flavorful, action stations (like a burrata bar!) that we have never seen before.  Theme nights which were well thought out and artfully presented. Just like service, whatever this ship is doing - others need to copy it.  

We also did Chops and Giovanni’s twice and Izumi once and all were very good with good food and service.  

 

Oh… one more thing… probably the creepiest thing that has ever happened to us on a cruise.   On the second to last night the head waiter for the main dining room section that we had been assigned to came to Chops to find us.  We thought originally that he was just making sure we were OK, etc. Nope - he was coming to tell us that we should give the main dining room staff all 10s, that even though we didn’t eat there we should rate the food as a 10, etc.   Then when we all must have given him odd looks he asked if we could send something to our stateroom to help out to ensure we rated him 10s… essentially trying to bribe us. It was a really ***** kinda moment. 

Yikes that is creepy.  Not sure how I would have reacted to that situation.

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Great review, thank you for posting.  Nice to see your experience of Russia was 180 degrees opposite of ours.

 

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