Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas sets sail


Any conversation about new or upcoming Royal Caribbean International ships eventually will turn to bigger things -- like the Ultra Voyager, parent company Royal Caribbean Cruises' vision for a 3,600-passenger, 160,000-ton, ultra-amenity-filled and (hopefully) ultra-moneymaking vessel set for completion in 2006.

A concept like the Ultra Voyager is pretty attention-grabbing; it will be about 15% larger than its predecessors, the Voyager-class ships, the world's biggest ship model to date.

But Royal Caribbean still has a comparatively smaller new-build campaign on its hands with the Radiance-class vessels. And the line recently launched one, the Serenade of the Seas, in Boston and New York.

The Serenade of the Seas is different from the Voyager-class ships in that it carries 2,110 guests, about 1,000 fewer passengers than the 3,114-passenger Voyager of the Seas.

The Serenade also doesn't have a promenade that looks like a suburban shopping mall, a three-deck dining room, an ice-skating rink or Rollerblading facilities.

Singing its praises

However, agents, clients and even Royal Caribbean president Jack Williams can make a pretty strong case for a Serenade-size vessel.

"This is my kind of ship," Williams said as he sat in the middle of the Serenade's Safari Club, a bar and dance floor modeled to look like the library of a well-bred, early-20th century English gentleman.

He commented on the expanse of windows, the ship's "connection to the sea" and the nautical, yacht-like influences on the Serenade's interior.

Of course, in commenting favorably on the Serenade of the Seas, Williams was extending the compliment to the Serenade's sisters, the Brilliance of the Seas and the Radiance of the Seas.

There's really nothing about the Serenade that is noticeably altered or expanded from the year-old Brilliance of the Seas, except that the Serenade's Safari Club (with Africa influences) is named the Colony Club (with India influences) on the two older vessels.

"[The Serenade] has all the features of our previous ships," Williams said. "If it's not broken, don't fix it."

Royal Caribbean has one more Radiance-class ship coming next spring, bumping the trio up to a fleet of four.

But with the emphasis on bigger ships, is there still a need for a Serenade-size ship?

The answer seems to be a pretty firm "yes." The Radiance-series ships are more flexible, itinerary-wise, than the giant Voyager vessels.

They're a nice midsize ship to deploy in Europe during the summers, and their size enables them to slip through the Panama Canal and reposition to Alaska -- which is where the Serenade of the Seas will be headed next spring.

So although the Voyager of the Seas, et al, can command a premium in the Caribbean, the line can base two Serenade-style ships in Alaska and the other two in Europe.

"That'll be our choice for the foreseeable future," Williams said.

No surprises ...

If clients are past Royal Caribbean guests and past passengers on the Radiance or the Brilliance of the Seas, the Serenade of the Seas shouldn't pose any new logistical challenges or surprises.

And even if they've never been on a Radiance-class ship before, they'll still probably find the Serenade of the Seas very navigable.

The Centrum on Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas, which spans nine decks, features a rainbow-inspired sculpture, titled Start in the Centrum, the ship's nine-deck-high central atrium. On one side of the Centrum are the ship's elevators and its gigantic glass wall, which runs all the way up the side of the Centrum and enables light to filter in. The Centrum has lookout spots on each of its decks so passengers on Deck 8 can lean out and survey the action on Deck 6.

Up on the ship's top deck is Royal Caribbean's trademark rock-climbing wall.

The line doesn't just do deck chairs on its sun decks: Nearby are more fair-weather goodies to keep busy, including a miniature golf course.

My favorite pool spot, especially during cold-weather Alaska cruising, is the Solarium, a lush, heated indoor room with a pool, a grill, a bar, wooden loungers with plush padding and, in this case, a Balinese theme to the decorations.

The Solarium shows up on each of the ships with a minor variation in the theme location. And it provides a much more relaxing atmosphere than the outdoor pool, which features the latest selection of pop tunes.

The ship does a great deal to cater to kids: The Adventure Ocean program offers several rooms, including Fuel, the hangout/nightclub for teens that the line recently debuted on the Navigator of the Seas and is looking to put on the rest of the fleet.

... Well, maybe one

Meanwhile, Vortex, the nightclub for grown-ups, is a deck up from Fuel. It's in the Viking Crown Lounge, which also is a staple on every Royal Caribbean ship.

I was a bit taken aback to find that the Vortex's circular bar, and the area just surrounding it, slowly revolves. This gives people-watchers the ability to do 360-degree surveillance of the disco without ever turning their heads. It also requires bar patrons to hop off the turntable when they want to leave.

If Britney Spears gives you a headache, there are two other seemingly popular spots: the Hollywood Odyssey, which offers live music, and the Schooner Bar, which is perfect for pre- and post-dinner socializing.

Speaking of dinner, the ship offers four main dining options: Two alternative restaurants (Italian in one, steak in the other), the lido buffet and the main, two-seating restaurant.

Service on the inaugural cruise seemed just a step behind in the main restaurant, and the food ran from OK to good. I had a very tasty lunch in the casual Windjammer cafe, which is designed to cut down on lines.

In addition, there's the casual Seaview Cafe burger joint tucked way up on the aft sports deck. Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain recommended checking it out.

Royal Caribbean goes a long way to design their ships with classy accents and fabrics in pleasing, noncontroversial colors. Even the giant abstract mobile that hangs in the Centrum and is illuminated by a changing palette of colors is done with taste. The ship has a $5.3 million art collection on board.

In fact, given the ship's size and ambience, the Serenade and its ilk also can draw some comparisons with sister line Celebrity Cruises and its new Millennium-class ships.

The Celebrity ships carry about 400 fewer passengers, and they do more to emphasize a quieter, more genteel atmosphere onboard.

But in the decor and layout alone, the Serenade of the Seas goes a long way to compete with the premium-category Millennium ships.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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