What has more than three acres of glass and floats? Royal Caribbean International's Radiance-class vessels, the newest of which is Serenade of the Seas. Like sister ships Brilliance of the Seas and Radiance of the Seas, the 2,100-passenger Serenade is one classy ship, yacht-like in its on-board ambience, with lots of interior wood, nautical fixings, and tasteful use of sailcloth in our favorite watering hole, the Schooner Bar.
In fact, the Schooner Bar, rather than the nine-deck high Centrum, may well be the focal point of this ship. Located on Deck 6 (public rooms are concentrated on Decks 5 and 6), this elegant, nautical-themed bar smelled of leather and wood when we walked in. The handsome setting features nautical riggings and glass-encased ship replicas - and, of course, floor-to-ceiling glass facing the starboard side.
On either side of the Schooner Bar are Serenade's reservations-required dining venues -- Portofino, an Italian restaurant; and Chops Grille, an upscale steakhouse. These cozy dining nooks have a $20 per person cover charge.
Ambling sternward from the Schooner Bar, you'll find the attractive Safari Club, with its elegant tapestries and British Colonial charm. Here also you'll find the line's famous self-leveling, gyroscopic pool tables. Turn around and head toward the bow (in the direction of the Centrum) to the Champagne Bar. If it's after 4 p.m., when the bar opens, you may want to stop for a glass of sparkly. If not, head down one level to Latte'tudes for a specialty coffee to keep you going strong through the evening.
Need to check e-mail? There are four Internet stations adjacent to the coffee shop. One tech-savvy feature we particularly enjoyed aboard Serenade was that Internet stations have been placed throughout the ship -- near the coffee shop, at Royal Caribbean Online on Deck 4, and at various other locations. The cost of internet access is 50 cents a minute with bulk-minute packages available. Guests who bring a laptop can connect from their cabins for flat rates of $100 for the duration of their seven-night cruises.
Serenade, with its abundance of glass, would be a great venue for viewing New England fall foliage or the rugged Alaskan coastline, and indeed, Royal Caribbean deploys Serenade to both of these destinations in season as well as the Caribbean, the Panama Canal and Hawaii.
You can even travel between decks with an outward gaze on the passing scenery, thanks to the exterior glass elevators. We did so and stepped out on Deck 13, where whimsical sculptured cows reside. Adding to the bovine whimsy was a pile of cow dung (sculptured, not real). We got a kick out of learning that this art piece was commissioned to a cow surgeon.
On this deck, you'll find another watering hole: the Viking Crown Lounge and Vortex, a bar that turns into a disco in the late evening. Imbibers should note that it is the bar, not them, that is rotating, providing 360-degree views from the top deck of the ship.
Equally dizzying, but pleasantly so, is Serenade's $5.3 million art collection: 128 artists from 30 countries were commissioned to produce 3,336 pieces of art for Serenade. The overarching theme, according to curator Joan Blackman, emphasizes two of the most common subjects of art: portraits and flowers.
We found much art to gaze upon in the forward stairwell, including some pieces by Andy Warhol. Particularly striking was an acrylic on canvas in the main dining room, Reflections. At nearly 15 feet tall by 12 feet wide, Californian artist Frank Troia's "Gala Suite" is the largest canvas on any Royal Caribbean ship.
On the exterior Decks 11 and 12, we enjoyed the fun, oversized people sculptures: one of a plump man about to plunge into the pool and another of a gigantic woman and a small dog. (If all this browsing makes you hungry, Decks 11 and 12 also feature Windjammer Café; the buffet style restaurant Seaview Cafe, which serves soups, sandwiches, burgers and bar food (such as fish and chips); and Solarium Cafe, for a healthier touch - hummus, vegetable wraps and the like.
For those more concerned with burning calories than with consuming them, Serenade features RCI's trademark rock-climbing wall, a basketball court, putting green and Royal Caribbean's signature ShipShape Spa and Fitness Center. For relaxation afterward, the adults-only Solarium provides a tropical style refuge with a Balinese theme.
Or kick back in a suite. Serenade features a variety of suites, including the Owner's Suite, Royal Suite (godmother Whoopi Goldberg stayed in Royal Suite 1566), and Grand Suite. On the other hand, Superior Balcony staterooms were sufficiently large and roomy.
Peeking in stateroom 7112, "Deluxe Balcony Accessible" for the disabled, we noted an extra wide door, no raised seals or thresholds, hydraulic bathroom doors, an open floor plan and an extra large bathroom. The location was convenient - near the elevators.
Stateroom 8500, "Family Ocean View," featured a separate sleeping area for kids, with twin beds and a retractable bunk. The area was drawn off by a heavy curtain. We would have preferred a door to the kids' area for privacy. Kids, by the way, can participate in the supervised programs at Adventure Ocean. Teens can hang out at the teens-only Fuel.
Serenade of the Seas sings a sweet song indeed. Of all Royal Caribbean ships, this just may be our favorite.
(Ralph Grizzle is editor of Porthole Cruise Magazine)