of the Seas
by Mary & Vincent Finelli
there is a new ship in port, you can place a safe bet that Vincent will book
a cruise on her. The sleek, beautiful Serenade
of the Seas, the newest ship of the RCI Radiance class, fits that
criteria and Vincent, champing at the bit, made reservations and we sailed
on her just three months into her inaugural year. Captain Nikolaos
Antalis, our friend from the Vision of the
Seas, took her from Amsterdam, Holland to Boston, Massachusetts
August 4-11, 2003 on her first Transatlantic voyage. We looked forward
to renewing our acquaintance with him, but, alas he was on holiday. The Master at this time was the extraordinarily erudite Captain Stig Nilsen
of Norway, who commanded his first ship at age twenty-four, and later
heroically rescued fifty crew members off two Danish ships in danger of
being crushed by dangerous ice floes in the Arctic. His historically
oriented daily "talks from the bridge" put in context the many
islands we visited or sailed close enough to view from the Serenade. It is refreshing to see how much he valued the culture of these island
nations and the heritage that determines their modern status. He
perfectly timed a sail-a-way from St. Lucia to allow passengers a view of
the spectacular sunset as we exited the narrow harbor.
We flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico from Ft Lauderdale, Florida; this
short flight was painless (after we missed our scheduled flight, we were
booked on the next one an hour later). San Juan has a new efficiently
designed airport, and we used RCI's handy American Airlines flight and
transfer. Personnel were stationed at the gate and the baggage claim
area along with porters. A very short walk led to the buses just
outside the door. Luggage is transferred separately by trucks, but
have no fear it quickly gets to the ship!
This was very different from our last time in Puerto Rico, the renovated
airport has made travel much easier. The forty-five minute trip across
town to the port is brief, but offers a nice overview of this beautiful
city. At the dock there were crew to assist us with the luggage and
the wheelchair, and we were on board in twenty minutes. Check-in is
much simpler for the repeat customers of RCI (Crown & Anchor Society
members). For the Platinum (over 5 cruises) and the Diamond (over 10
cruises) there is a special waiting area with refreshments available: no
long lines here! The more we travel, the more we realize that RCI
really values repeat customers.
GTV (gas turbine vessel) Serenade of the
Seas was built at Meyer Werft Shipyards, Papenburg, Germany; she is
registered in the Bahamas and is the third Radiance Class ship, with the Radiance
of the Seas and Brilliance of the
Seas the other two sister ships. This class ship has over three
acres of exterior glass, with the use of more windows to the sea, passengers
see more of this exciting itinerary. We will not soon forget the
panoramic view of Saba and other islands of the Lesser Antilles, which we
admired as the ship passed by closely. Three of the Centrum elevators
overlook the sea. Having sailed on the other two Radiance class ships,
it was a de ja vu for us to go
around and visit the various places on this ship, but we still enjoyed
seeing the original art work and comparing the interior decoration with that
of her sister ships. There are a lot of on board activities from Rock
Climbing Walls to playing pool on gyroscopic (auto balancing) tables, to
golfing simulators and mini courses.
The Serenade is 962 ft. long; has a beam of 105.6 ft., and a draft of 26.7
ft. At a gross tonnage of 90,090, she has a top speed of over 25
knots. Her passenger capacity is 2,501 and she carries a crew of 859,
yet the atmosphere is not crowded. The overall impression is of a huge
yacht, but with the many amenities of a small city: theater, night clubs,
gyms & spas, swimming pools, golf, and music everywhere in the lounges,
dining room and on the open decks.
The nicest thing about this ship is that RCI has adopted a sophisticated
nautical decor with a combination of colors (maroon, navy blue and
gold) repeated throughout the ship, including the staterooms. This
background effectively showcases the many works of art (a collection of over
$5 million) which enhance the Serenade's beauty. We like the
"wood, brass and sea" look throughout the ship.
There are twelve decks dedicated to either public areas or staterooms, with
a total of nineteen wheelchair accessible cabins, all of them located near
Deck Two has some inside and
oceanview staterooms, three of them are wheelchair accessible, two are
oceanview and one inside.
Deck Three contains all inside or
oceanview staterooms, four of them (two inside and two oceanview) are
Deck Four forward has the first level
of the Tropical Theatre and then a series of inside and oceanview
staterooms, four of which are wheelchair accessible (2 inside and 2
oceanview); midship is the main floor of the eight deck tall centrum which
has the Passenger Services desk and Explorations tour desk. There are
balconies over looking the centrum on each deck. The ship was
decorated for the holidays with each deck festooned with green balsam
garlands and maroon and gold bows. High in the center is suspended a
soaring work by Andersen & Lundberg (Norway) named "Bow"
(rainbow). It is composed of a series of aluminum mesh sails which
fill the centrum, but allow one to see through it. It shimmers with
colors and lighting, thus it gives an airy sensation to the area.
The Centrum staircases have huge panels of floral art: Van Der Vegt's
(Holland) "Anemones" is beautiful and graceful in its depiction of
long stemmed flowers on repetitive panels. Another stunner is Koestner's
(USA) Iris Trilogy 1, 2 & 3." It shows bearded iris in
lavender and blue with a botanical aspect to it. There is also
Kivinen's (Finland) "Orchids," a study in yellow/green cymbidium
orchids. We have mentioned only a few of the many floral works.
Aft is the Reflections Dining Room with a two deck high, midnight blue
waterfall and a gracefully curved brass staircase (festooned for the
holidays). It has a mahogany wood, curved balcony, gold drapes on the
brass oversized porthole windows and a simple, but, elegant oval, colored
glass fixture. There were green garlands and maroon bows everywhere.
Deck Five forward is the main level
of the Tropical Theatre, a simple room with an excellent view of the stage
from almost every seat. The fabulous curtain gives the
impression of a tropical forest (shimmering green, blue and lavender). Midship are the Conference Center, the Photo Gallery and the ample on board
shops. Aft is the balcony of the Reflections Dining Room.
Deck Six like Deck Five is all public
areas: Forward is the balcony of the theatre; toward midship is the cinema
(featuring recent movies), and the Pit Stop sports bar. Midship is the
Casino Royale where are located several fine art works such as the
following: Zsiba-Smolover's (USA) "Neptune's Muse," a graceful
renaissance style sculpture, and "Oceania Rising" a sea nymph
offering a giant pearl. You won't find anything "faux" on
this ship, just interesting original art work.
Midship, at the centrum is the Champagne Bar (with intriguing designer shoe
sketches). Toward aft is the Schooner Bar with the "Jenny Lind
Galleon Figure" by Ab (Sweden). The famous "Swedish
Songbird" holds a golden nightingale; there is an interesting story
behind this figurehead which was made for the clipper "The
Swedish Nightingale" and ended up as a scarecrow on a farm in
Sweden. Now, this poignant all white statue is lightly gilt and
stands beautifully in the middle of the Schooner Bar. The art work
behind the bar is a series of "Military Uniforms" by Folkes
(Britain) and they are very interesting.
Specialty restaurants such as Chops Grill (wonderful grilled steaks and veal
chops with unique side dishes) and Portofino (upscale Italian menu) are
located here. All the way aft is the Safari Club with a nice
combination of game rooms (pool, billiards, chess, checkers and other games)
and a bar.
Decks 7, 8. 9 & 10 are all
staterooms with the Explorers Lounge, the Library and the Concierge Club
(with the wonderful Maritza in charge--more about her later) clustered
near the elevators. Here are the remaining 8 wheelchair accessible
staterooms, all with balcony, six of them are on deck 7 (Categories E1 and
E3) and two on deck 10 (Junior Suites).
Deck Eleven is all public areas
starting with the Spa forward. The Solarium has a South Sea Island
Bali theme. There are two huge gold gilt elephants with ivory tusks
flanking a delicately carved wooden Temple gate set behind a curved bamboo
bridge. The combination of trees and plants on the deck and up above
gracefully surrounds the pools. This, adult only area, is pleasant for
early morning or evening swims, or relaxing in the hot tub. Next is
the open deck pool area with another pool and two hot tubs.
Aft is the Windjammer Cafe with many food stations for buffet lovers: main
courses and meat carving stations, pizzas, sandwiches, salad bars and
dessert displays are all eye-catching. The entry had a friendly
hostess and a miniature Gingerbread town with its own railway, running train
Deck Twelve has forward the Fitness
Center and a jogging track (no cabins below it, thank heaven). There
is the Crown & Anchor Lounge and aft is dedicated to the young cruisers
with the Adventure Ocean and the Teen Pool. The Sea View Lounge, Golf
Simulators and Sports Areas are also located here.
Deck Thirteen holds the Viking Crown
Lounge with its circular bar crowned with a Chrome Star and 180 degrees of
curved windows to the sea. It's wonderful to sit up here during the
day, surrounded by the sea. At night this room is transformed by
radiating shafts of light and fiber optic stars. The Crown &
Anchor Society had a cocktail party here with a huge full moon perfectly
framed in the center of the windows. We think that Captain Nilsen planned
Also located on Deck Thirteen is the Vortex Lounge with cyberspace art like
the Swarovski-Crystal & Glass panels and the Savoy Studio's (USA)
"Wave," with the many panes invoking images of ocean waves and
ships. Stunning. There is the Hollywood Odyssey Lounge, an intimate
club which places the audience in close proximity to performers. Overall this ship is elegant and lovely in its decorations.
FOOD & SERVICE
There is excellent service on board under the experienced eye of Hotel
Director Francois Wache (France). This Parisian brings a personal
touch to service; his international background and attention to detail shows
up all over the ship in the quick and friendly attitudes of the crew. This is a tribute to Francois.
Chief Purser Doug MacLennan is an old
friend from the Vision of the Seas. He was top notch, both welcoming us and helpful in many ways, his staff
reflects his efficiency. Asst. Purser Sinead Coll (Ireland) was
especially courteous to us.
The dining room was under the supervision of Maitre D' Yusuf Cavdar
(Turkey), whom we had previously met on the Grandeur
of the Seas. And it was everything we have come to expect from Yusuf, perfection.
He set a table for two especially for us in front
of the staircase, where the grand piano was played nightly by Glen
Stevenson. This pianist's repertoire included almost every beautiful
melody we love! Our waiter Rajesh Singh (India) and assistant Zoltan
Turscu (Romania) were excellent. The Assistant Maitre D' Orlando Rosa
(Portugal) stepped up to the task, when Yusuf departed in Barbados. He
circulated throughout the dining room, made helpful suggestions about the
menu, and kept things running smoothly. Maitre D' Yusuf can be proud
of his staff and their work. It is not easy serving more than 10,000
meals per day to about 3,500 passengers and crew members.
The food on board is quite abundant and varied. We enjoyed every meal,
since there were many selections to choose from and all were plated
elegantly. Room service was prompt every morning and served full
American or Continental breakfast. Breakfast was also available in the
Windjammer Buffet, or in the main dining room (where all the classics were
served: Eggs Benedict, Pancakes, Waffles, Hot & Cold Cereals, Bagels
& Kippered Herring and fresh fruits.
Luncheon at the buffet was plentiful and a sampling from the main dining
room menu included Fruit Medley with lychee, papaya, grapefruit and grapes;
two soups and entrees such as Chicken Caesar Salad, Sea food fettuccine, BBQ
spare ribs, Quesadillas or a NY Burger. Desserts were apple strudel,
cheese cake (optional sugar free desserts) or several homemade ice creams.
Dinner from the International Menu had Appetizers such as Australian kiwi,
Shrimp cocktail, Thai spring roll, French lentil soup, Chef salad with
Russian dressing. Entrees included Linguine alle Vongole (spaghetti
with clams), Sweet & Sour Mahi Mahi, Roasted Tom turkey w/all the
fixings, and Roasted Prime rib. There are also Ship Shape (calorie
conscious) and Daily Alternatives of popular foods which are always
available. Desserts were interesting and included Creme Brulee, Soufflés,
Warm Chocolate cake and a multitude of pies cakes and cookies.
We had dinner on Formal Night as the guests of Captain Nilsen and his lovely
daughter Lynn. The traditional Captain's meal was topped off with a
dessert named "Chef's surprise," tantalizing! Captain
Nilsen was very cordial and spoke of his project: renovation of a Swedish
minesweeper/fishing boat, and his home town in Norway, only two hundred
miles north of the Arctic Circle, where warm currents allow for swimming. Needless to say, we had a wonderfully interesting evening.
With the Concierge, Maritza Moolman service was very personal. This
very adept young woman was helpful in booking tours, getting foreign
newspapers for Vincent and the NY Times Fax for Mary. We cannot thank
her enough for her kindness.
Junior Suite #1028 is wheelchair accessible with automatic wide doors and a
mahogany archway leading to the sitting room. When entering, on the
left there is a large walk-in closet with shelves, the personal safe, and
many wooden hangers. Next, there is a TV, open bar and the mirrored
desk/vanity with a velour chair, and then a blue and gold love seat. There are two maroon velour easy chairs with an ottoman and a large coffee
table. A large bath is to the right of the entry, with a 4'X4'
shower with seat and safety rails, and finally a triple mirrored medicine
There is a mahogany navy blue bench, a king bed with two night stands and
reading lamps. The head board is maroon velour and the wall is
mirrored. RCI has carried out the color scheme of blue, maroon and
gold, even in the pictures selected for the walls. There were two
scenes of white stucco homes with red skies (calling to mind the old adage,
"Red skies at night, sailor's delight."). We had two
excellent stewards Frederick in 7610 and then Pablo in 1028.
Cruise Director Allan Brooks is a seasoned "globe trotter" and
understands that passengers hail from many nations. There is a variety
of music from classical violin by Mr. Martin Lass, to a tribute to
"Stage [&] Screen" by the RCI singers and dancers. Or,
if you like Big Band music, the Serenade of the Seas Orchestra was featured
at the Safari Club. There were variety acts like British Magical
Champion, Mark Taylor a man who is never without an umbrella (He made dozens
appear on stage!).
There are more than the usual shipboard activities: Seminars for health,
Team Trivia, Sports Trivia, Exercise & Dance Classes, Bingo, Casino
Tournaments, Afternoon movies, etc. and add to this Rock Wall Climbing and Port tours
or you can just sit on deck and rest or read.
PORTS OF CALL
1. San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sailing: 10:00 pm
This can be toured either before or after the cruise; it merits planning to
spend a night or two here.
2. ST. Thomas USVI, Arrival:
7:00 am Departure: 5:00 pm
Try the St. Thomas SNUBA (a combination of scuba & snorkeling) or a
scenic ride to the famous Magen's Bay beach. Many passengers felt that
this island has lost its "Best Shopping Port" title.
3. Phillipsburg, St. Maarten, Arrival: 7:00 am Departure:
Interesting excursion: America's Cup Sailing Regatta, 3hrs, $84; Butterfly
Farm and Marigot, 3.5 hrs, $38.
4. St. John's, Antigua, Arrival: 7:00 am Departure: 3:30 pm
Try the Jolly Roger Pirate Cruise (the Best party Boat with unlimited
complimentary rum!), 3 hrs, $39.
5. Bridgetown, Barbados, Arrival: 8:00 am
Departure: 5:00 pm
We took the Beautiful Barbados & Francia Plantation House tour (tropical
vegetation similar to Florida), 3.5 hrs, $39.
6. Castries, St. Lucia, Arrival: 7:00 am Departure: 5:00 pm
This island has a very beautiful bay. Interesting tour: Island
Splendor (scenic drive), 3.5 hrs, $36.
7. Day at sea.
This was another great cruise. It seems that the more we cruise
the better we enjoy cruising. By now we know what to expect from each
line and particularly from each ship. We know exactly what we want and
most of the times we achieve it. We frequently encounter people we
have met on previous cruises and that facilitates acquaintances and
friendships. We booked this cruise hoping to see our friend Captain
Antalis; however, we had the opportunity of meeting Captain Stig Nilsen, the
current Master of the ship. And now we have one more reason to look
forward to cruising on RCI ships: the probability of encountering Captain
Nilsen again as well as several other captains we have met before. Thus there are many more reasons for us to return.
We have already
booked three more cruises on RCI ships: The Mariner
of the Seas, in February and
two on the Brilliance of the Seas,
the Transatlantic crossing in April, and the Mediterranean cruise in May. However, before these cruises, in January we are going on the new Costa
Mediterranea for a Western Caribbean cruise.
courtesy Royal Caribbean Intl.
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