Serenade of the Seas is the third Radiance-class ship in Royal Caribbean's fleet. The 90,090-ton, 2,100-passenger vessel fits just within Panamax measurements (with one foot on either side to spare), which means it, like Radiance, Brilliance and Jewel of the Seas, has maximum geographic flexibility and can sail to and from just about any region.
That flexibility extends to the onboard milieu. Serenade of the Seas' greatest strength is that it offers plenty of options, from dining to entertainment, and yet remains a mid-sized ship. It's a good choice for a wide range of traveller -- including families, singles, couples and groups.
Royal Caribbean carries through this ship the Radiance-class' most interesting distinction is the nearly three acres of exterior glass employed in its design -- including glass elevators with ocean views -- that incorporates the outdoors, beautifully, onboard.
The effect is simply dazzling -- and there are remarkable views from nearly every public room. The decorating scheme itself emphasizes elegance, grace, and beauty, and creates quite a harmonious environment. The ship is very easy to navigate, with indoor public rooms concentrated on decks five and six and more-active areas -- sports deck, pools, spa, fitness centre -- on decks 11 and 12.
Daytime: The dress code onboard is cruise casual.
Evening: Expect a formal night and at least one "smart casual" dinner, which means business formal, thought not quite black tie (think dress slacks and nice sweaters). Only a handful of men wore tuxedos on formal night, and the majority of women passed on the full-length gowns in favour of shorter cocktail dresses.
Not permitted: Tank tops are prohibited in the main dining room and specialty restaurants at dinner. Shoes must be worn in all dining venues at all times.
There's certainly no shortage of entertainment -- day or night -- onboard Serenade of the Seas, and you'll find a little something for everyone. Cultural/educational courses like wine tasting and digital photography seminars are offered, along with blackjack tournaments, horse races, elaborate production shows in the Tropical Theatre, and informal dancing nightly in the atrium lobby.
Those looking for more excitement can head over to Vortex, also on deck 13, which is typically where singles tend to congregate. The DJ plays everything from the Village People to Top 40 rap hits till late each evening. The bar at Vortex literally spins -- not for those prone to seasickness -- and it's a great place for interesting people-watching!
The Casino Royale is busy at night, though there was rarely difficulty finding a seat at the slot machines (not sure if this is a good or bad thing!). Blackjack tables got progressively more full as the cruise wore on.
The Schooner Bar, also on Deck 6, was our favourite lounge on the ship. Featuring dark wood decor and strategically near Chops, it's a lively bar with a friendly atmosphere and the easiest place to meet fellow passengers onboard. If you're oscillating about the decision to visit the alternate restaurant, just have a few drinks at the Schooner between 7 - 9 p.m., and you'll be able to get a first-hand -- and let us just say quite-candid -- review of the menu offering and dining experience. The Schooner offers nightly live music, including a Latin guitarist and a pianist with whom everyone loved to sing along.
The Safari Club, located on Deck 6, has the feel of an old-world library - lots of dark woods and heavy pieces of furniture - and is a great place to shoot pool, play cards, or just relax with a drink.
Also of note -- don't miss the "Love and Marriage" show, which is hilarious, though also rebroadcast on your in-cabin television no fewer than ten times, so don't stress if you're on a hot streak in the casino and have to pass on the live event.
The gym facilities at the Vitality Spa & Fitness Center are excellent, with treadmills, universal machines, weights, and everything else the average fitness enthusiast will need to work off the midnight buffet. A jogging track is also available around the Sky Bar area, though this is a common thoroughfare for passengers and seems difficult to use during the afternoons.
Fitness classes like yoga and spinning, as well as personal fitness training, are also available for an additional fee - check out your Daily Compass each day for a schedule. Spa facilities are exotic and have gorgeous Tahitian decor, though the services are a bit overpriced. Don't miss the spa tour on your first day onboard, and keep your eyes peeled for occasional freebies in the Daily Compass. Our favourite place on the ship was the spa's Solarium area; an indoor/outdoor pool (with a retractable roof), it's designed in an exotic Bali-esque scheme. The teak furnishings are as comfortable as they are elegant - and, get this: it's open 24 hours a day. Another advantage: you can always find a space in one of its two whirlpools - and it was a lovely way to relax as the ship was pulling out of port after a busy day.
Another relaxing spot was the spa's thermal "suite" - it's co-ed and offers a variety of scented (and non-scented) steam rooms and saunas. Entry is by day pass or full-cruise pass - though you may be able to negotiate a discount on port days when there's not as much demand.
There are also the "usual" Royal Caribbean diversions - nine-hole miniature golf, basketball court, shuffleboard, rock climbing wall, art studio, and game room.
The main outdoor pool has two hot tubs and is nearly always festive, with a combination of poolside activities (horse racing and the bellyflop contest were favourites) and live music.
The pool's main bar is also usually packed but is where you find the best frozen drinks onboard (but if the crowd's too massive, check out the Sky Bar, just above, as well as the Solarium's bar).
The ship is overflowing with glass and natural light, and the centre of it all is a ten-story all-glass atrium, that features live music and dancing every evening. You'll find the most crowds poolside and around the dining area during major seating times, though the rest of the ship is surprisingly not congested.
Shops onboard are located on Deck 5 and are pretty standard: liquor, jewellery, RCI logowear, perfume. The stores were never crowded and much of the logowear went 50% off on the last day of the cruise.
One of the interesting features of all the Radiance class ships, including Serenade, is that Internet-accessible terminals are located in various pockets around the vessel. The main Royal Caribbean Online area is on deck seven, right off the lobby, but there are others -- a few in Latte-tudes, the coffee bar, and some on deck seven. Teens have their own bank of computers in Fuel. Several Internet packages are available for purchase.
Serenade has a state-of-the-art medical facility and also has a helicopter landing pad for emergency medical evacuations.
Reflections, the ship's main dining room, spans two decks. The focal point of its decor is a cascading waterfall -- a bit of an exotic touch. For dinner, passengers can choose between assigned early (6 p.m.) or late (8:30 p.m.) dining, or opt for RCI's My Time Dining, in which you pick a preferred mealtime (anytime between 6 and 9:30 p.m.), but can change your reservations on a daily basis or simply walk in when you're hungry. (Note: Those opting for My Time Dining will need to pre-pay gratuities.) Otherwise, the restaurant operates under an "open seating" policy for breakfast and lunch. Tables for two were at a premium.
The food was delicious and offered a nice variety each night, including alternate menu items for those on restricted diets (fellow passengers raved about the sugar-free key lime pie!). At dinner time in Reflections, lines tended to form in the entryways before each seating began; We'd recommend arriving about five minutes after your seating time to avoid the crowds.
Windjammer, on Deck 11, is the ship's buffet and is the perfect place to grab breakfast or lunch pre-shore excursion, when you don't want to devote hours to Reflections. There are themed stations (hot food, deli fare, pasta, salads, etc.) and, as with its Radiance-class siblings, the innovative design of the buffet area - lots of stations rather than one long line - eliminates overcrowding.
In the Windjammer you'll find a mini-type bar that sells wine, beer and sodas; lemonade, ice tea, coffee and water are offered on a complimentary basis.
If, at peak hours, you find it hard to nab a table at Windjammer head for the back of the Cafe, where there's a delightful (and oft-undiscovered) outdoor seating area that's covered.
Speciality dining is available in Chops, an upscale steakhouse for an additional fee of $30 per person, though it's worth the charge and a nice change from Reflections. Passengers cited Chops as having the largest baked potatoes they'd ever seen, along with crab cakes that were to die for. Regardless of the ship's official dress code, guests who eat at Chops Grille are asked to go as "smart casual."
Royal Caribbean's room service options are available around the clock via 24-hour menus that offer a range of snacks and sandwiches. At breakfast, continental dishes, along with a handful of egg entrees, are available both in cabins and suites. Only the Continental breakfast is free of charge; all other orders carry a $7.95 surcharge.
Staterooms on Serenade of the Seas run the virtual gamut - from cosy-yet-basic inside cabins to way-over-the-top grand suites (complete with piano!).
Standard cabins (balconies, outside, inside) feature the usual layout and amenities - no surprises there except there are few bathroom amenities (beyond shampoo in a dispenser). The bathrooms are shower-only in these staterooms. We liked the idea of the family suites - there are two different types, one with a living room and two bedrooms, the other with one large room (with bed and sofa) and a small bedroom - but weren't crazy about the layout (bedrooms were windowless in some cases). Royal Caribbean is definitely trying hard to encourage passengers to upgrade to its suites - and in some cases it's definitely worth the extra cash. Suite holders, in addition to getting more room, receive more amenities (bath products, whirlpool tubs, CD players, access to Concierge Lounge) though you'll also pay out a big chunk of cash for the privilege.
One interesting (and good value) in-between (standard verandah and full-fledged suite) alternative is the junior suite. For about $100 more (per person, double) than a standard balcony cabin, you get much more space - both inside and on the verandah -- and a more expansive bathroom (with tub). However, residents of the junior suite do not qualify for any other "official" suite upgrades, such as use of the concierge service.
In all cabins, RCTV, the cruise line's interactive television, offers a first-rate range of channels. There are plenty of movies (free and pay-per-view) - including a daily "classic" selection and we loved channels that ranged from CNN to RetroTV (terrific for catching up on all those "Partridge Family" episodes you missed!). There's an in-room reservations system that can book everything from room service to shore excursions (though you may want to make important reservations over the phone, as we had some challenges with bookings made - yet never received. Other passengers reported similar experiences). There's also a hair dryer and mini safe, and room service is available around the clock.
A couple of points worth noting: As with most new ships these days, standard cabins feature a mere two electrical outlets. And a few caveats to keep in mind when booking: cabins 1598, 1098, 9252, 9652, 8662, 8162, and 8164 have partially obstructed views. On some standard balcony cabins on deck seven, which are adjacent to the roof over the tenders, the sun can reflect off the tender deck; this can make the verandah feel pretty sweltering - especially on temperate Caribbean itineraries.