Serenade of the Seas
May 19th to May 31st, 2013
Cruising the Mediterranean in the Revamped Serenade of the Seas!
Serenade of the Seas at Kusadasi, Turkey

We last sailed on Serenade of the Seas almost exactly two years ago to the day!  (See that review: ) In those two years, this stately dame has undergone (just a few months ago, actually) a very expensive upgrade of its public spaces.  The upgrades are beautiful.  But the main reason for revisiting this old favorite Radiance Class ship was to do our very first Mediterranean cruise  (and to take our very first trip to Europe as well)!

       This was a 12 night itinerary which offered many of the most popular sites in many countries, so it seemed like a natural choice.  The itinerary was from Barcelona, Spain to Nice (Villefranche), France to Pisa/Florence (Livorno), Italy to Rome (Civitivecchia), Italy to Athens, Greece to Kusadasi (pronounced KOOsha-dasee), Turkey to Santorini (a Greek Isle), Greece to Naples (Salerno), Italy and then back to Barcelona, Spain.  Between Rome and Athens, we had two days at sea and between Santorini and Naples we had a day at sea and between Naples and Barcelona we had a day at sea.  Our stop at Nice, France, was unfortunately canceled due to extremely rough weather.  This stop was to be tendered rather than docked, so Captain Karen (a fantastic captain, btw) decided to make this day, that would have been a day at Nice, into another "at sea" day.  She also made this a very enjoyable day by keeping us way south of the storms in Nice (pronounced like "niece" rather than "nice")!  In addition to our cruise itinerary, which will be the main thrust of this review since many of the things I said about Serenade in the previous review are still true (other than the upgrades which I will discuss here), we also enjoyed two days in magnificent Barcelona! 

     This cruise even had some unexpected perks, like the Serenade's tight daytime squeeze between Italy and Sicily and again later on in the voyage at night on the way back!  It's not often that you see land on both sides of the ship (aside from some instances when in port, of course) cruising by.  Then, too, was the amazing passage between Corsica and Sardinia... two enormous islands just west of Italy running north-south.  I wasn't aware that we'd even see these two on this trip.  We saw so much... my head is still spinning.  This was a refreshing change of pace from the same Caribbean/Bermuda ports we've done so often.  It was truly a trip to remember!

     Another reason that this cruise was so special was our group!  All family: Dad, Uncle Joe, cousins Ginny and John, and sister Patty and bro Mac and of course, Diane and I.  All eight of us had so much fun laughing and learning... and exploring... in these ports.  Cruises with family and/or friends are always more special.  It was amazing that all of us could have this experience together on the other side of the planet!  Once again, kudos to Karen (our travel agent... not to be confused with Captain Karin of the Serenade) for pulling all this together for us, too!

    The Ship: This time around, we opted for the typical "E" class balcony all the way forward on deck nine, cabin 9024.  This location is on the port side right off of the elevators.  All of our cabins were adjacent to each other and the others were in cabins 9022, 9026 and cabin 9028.  Our cabin steward was a nice woman named Marianna.  Even though she was suffering from a nasty cold (she had to miss half a day actually), she kept our room tidy the entire trip.  The "E" class cabins are smaller balcony cabins with space for a two seater couch and closet, bathroom (the typical Royal Caribbean ship layout of tube shower, toilet, sink, mirror and some storage) and that silly little table that you pile junk on through out the cruise that eventually merges onto the couch.  The cabin appointments are simple and comfortable.  The sheets are magnificent on the beds!  There are heavy sliding glass doors leading out to the balcony. The balconies are large for such a small room, but the glass walls and railing were often dirty.  The balcony itself was also showing signs of neglect from years of use.  We had seats so badly beat up that we asked Marianna to replace them on the first day (which she promptly did).  This was one of the things that didn't get addressed during Serenade's multi-million dollar makeover.

Lovely Little Cabin 9024 (Before we junked it up)

     As I stated above, Serenade had recently undergone a massive upgrade of its public spaces.  The Centrum changed from a sleepy lobby area with the occasional party to a full-on show lounge complete with flying acts and dance numbers and all sorts of other activities.  The surfaces have all been changed and new lighting installed on all the over-hanging Centrum balconies as well.  The ship also has several new restaurants brought over from the Oasis-class ships and other Oasis-class features as well:  Izumi (a sushi restaurant), Rita's Cantina (a Mexican restaurant), Giovanni's Table (a Family Style Italian restaurant) and Park Cafe (an open air restaurant in the Solarium).  All but Park Cafe are surcharge places.  There's now a small cinema aboard (we watched "Skyfall" and "Men in Black 3" there) with stadium seating, and a poolside movie screen as well.  There's also a much bigger Concierge Club for us Diamond Plus members and a brand new Diamond Club, both on deck 13.  (The new Diamond club has absorbed about a third of the Vortex night club and the new Concierge Club is now located where the cigar room was.  The new Concierge Club has indoor and outdoor seating.)


The new Centrum at night!

     Overall, we were greatly impressed with the Serenade "face-lift" (as Captain Karin called it when I told her how much we liked the new stuff).  But there were some things that disappointed.  For instance, the Solarium looks like its in even worse shape than it looked back in 2011.  The Thai inspired building on the wall looks like its crumbling at the top, and the background wall is streaked with unsightly stains.  The large gold elephant heads have large chips in them with white showing through (as they did in '11).  There was also signs of rust and dirt and badly chipped tiles in the Solarium.  Why spend so much money elsewhere and not fix up the Solarium as well?  Also, many of the newly installed Info Screens (which I talked about on my Oasis review (see: didn't seem very responsive sometimes.  This was never a problem on Oasis.  The rotating bar is still broken up at the Vortex.  I was assured by the staff there that this is something that happened recently, but I assured them that it didn't work in 2011, either.  Finally, wifi is absolutely abysmal, still (!), aboard the Serenade.  We were given 90 minutes of "free" internet time aboard.  Ninety percent of that time was spent just trying to log on and maintain a connection; when you did get a good connection, the download time was so slow that their own service would time-out and log you off making you go through the whole process again.  This level of lousy internet is unacceptable aboard a modern cruise ship.  It's a crime that there is a fee to use this.

Serenade's Dining Experiences:

Windjammer (Deck 11, aft): (complimentary) the usually outstanding buffet aboard all Royal Caribbean ships.  This one still had very good food for those on the go, but there seemed to me to be a cut back from the variety I've come to expect at this location on past cruises.  One bright spot: Rita's Cantina being on port side slightly aft of the Windjammer seems to make people forget that there's plenty of outside seating still for the Windjammer all the way aft.  This really helped our enlightened group find a table almost all the time when we dined there.

Rita's Cantina (Deck 11, port side, aft): (Fee based) This is a transplant from the Allure of the Seas (Oasis class) and it features Mexican food.  Of our group, Diane and I did not eat here, but the reviews from our group (many of which love Mexican food, as we do) were not good at all.  I generally won't comment on something I haven't experienced directly, but they were all so adamant about the low quality of the food that I guess I feel it necessary to advise giving this one a miss.

Rita's Cantina for Mexican Food

Main Dining Room (Deck 4 and 5, aft): (complimentary) We had a table on deck 4, number 442, late seating.  Our waiter was Francesco and his assistant, Nina.  Both were excellent, and we advised that they accelerate Nina to full waitress status ASAP.  The head waiter said they were working on that!  Food here was very good and consistently so.  I was pleased to see that escargot was always on the menu, and I liked the new menu boards, too.  I am still dismayed that there isn't just an everyday plain chocolate or vanilla cake with icing.  Yes, fancy desserts are wonderful, but it would be nice to have the option of a standard dessert from time to time.  We ate lunch in the Main Dining Room twice taking advantage of the Bistro 30 option where you can have your entire lunch served in style in 30 minutes.  Excellent lunch here, and they have a salad bar where a chef will combine your ingredients for you.  (Note: Ginny and John opted for My Time Dining)

Main Dining Room (Our table in '11 was only a few feet away from this one)

Chops Grille (Deck 6, starboard aft): (fee based) Always a favorite, the entire group did this for our Sail Away dinner on the first night out.  The service and food was impeccable here.  Still the best steaks at sea!  This was an awesome place for our first dinner aboard... an excellent way to kick off the cruise! (Hint: on this cruise, the specialty restaurant surcharge was lower on the first night out; check for this on your cruise, too!)

Chops Grille... Best Filet Mignon aboard!

Giovanni's Table (Deck 6, starboard aft): (fee based) A transplant from the Oasis class ships, it replaced our old favorite, Portofino's (which was going downhill in quality, unfortunately).  Giovanni's has very good food, but I did have better memories eating at the Giovanni's on Oasis.  Perhaps it was the lunch-time menu on Oasis that was more appealing.  Still, we enjoyed our date night dinner (just Diane and I) here just the same.  We also had dinner here as part of our Mystery Dinner Theater (A GREAT time!) later in the week.  Mac and Patty ate here as well, but their first course did not arrive for 90 minutes!  Their meal was given to them for free due to the ridiculous delay.  So, while we had no problems like this, your mileage may vary.  It did seem like our waiter was often pre-occupied over what was going on elsewhere in a mostly empty restaurant.

Giovanni's Table... bring a big appetite to this Italian restaurant!

Izumi (upper deck, starboard aft): (fee based) Another Oasis transplant, located where the old Seaview Cafe used to be.  We actually loved the Seaview Cafe, but I was very excited to try Izumi, a sushi Asian-fusion place we missed on Oasis.  We had lunch here, and the sushi was good, but not great.  The service was very good though.  The waiter recommended a huge sushi special which I couldn't eat as it was incredibly spicy.  He didn't charge me for it.  I was disappointed that they make Philadelphia Rolls at dinner but not at lunch.  The whole idea of sushi is that it can be made fresh (which they do) anytime.  They made me something similar to a Philly roll, but I would have liked to just had the one they had on their dinner menu at lunch instead.

Izumi... your sushi stop aboard Serenade

Park Cafe (Deck 11, Solarium): (Complimentary) This is also sort of an Oasis transplant.  It was also an incredibly wonderful little eatery making delicious paninis, cuban sandwiches, quesadillas, and salads.  There was an excellent selection of cookies, and desserts here, as well.  Being inside the Solarium meant being able to have a wonderful lunch and keep your lounge chair by the pool at the same time!  A very popular spot!

    Our Itinerary in Photos and Words, Day by Day:

    May 17th, Arrival at Barcelona, Spain: We always arrive at a cruise port a day early, but with all the flying time required from Philly to Barcelona (ours was a direct flight) and the expected jet lag, we opted for two days in Barcelona.  I am so happy that we did!  We stayed at the magnificent Hotel Espana ( which is beautiful... and right in the heart of the action, just off the exciting La Rambla!  This hotel is very old and has incredible artwork; conversely, its rooms are ultra modern!  There is free wifi, room safes, and flat screen TV (with international channels, some in english) The bathrooms are large and some (like ours) have tubs.  Note, the high walls of the tubs may be troublesome for older people or people with difficulty with their legs.  If this describes you, ask for a shower only room.  There are restaurants within the hotel and tons of restaurants within walking distance (some very good, some bad).  There's also an extensive market place on La Rambla that has to be seen to be believed.  You are in easy walking distance to the Hop On Hop Off busses at Placa Catalunya... we used these to visit some of Barcelona's great landmarks. 


My personal data screen told me all I wanted to know: half way there,
altitude 36,976', speed 650 mph, outside temp -69 F! (yes, negative 69!)

     The flight to Barcelona was on USAir #742 from PHL to BCN airport.  It left Philly on May 16th at 7:00pm (40 minutes late due to storms over NJ and rerouting) and arrived on time in Barcelona on May 17th at 8:30am.  The flight was very smooth, and actually it didn't seem that long.  We were in row 8 seats A and B.  There were no seats in front of us so we had plenty of leg room.  Dinner was served and we had small flat screen TVs that folded out of the seat arm rests (others had these in the back of the seats in front of them).  You could watch shows, rent movies or listen to music.  Headphones were provided free of charge.  Upon arrival at Barcelona we waited for about 45 minutes for Pat and Mac and Dad's flight coming from Florida.  In hindsight, we shouldn't have waited, as our suitcases were taken off the conveyor belt and we got lucky and intercepted the men flatbedding them to unclaimed luggage!  After all that confusion, Diane and I (we couldn't find a taxi van to get all of us over to the hotel together) got a cab to the Hotel Espana.  Our cab driver spoke no English ("Yeah, Paul, everyone is Europe speaks English... don't worry!"), nor did he speak Spanish (we had directions to the hotel printed in Spanish that he could not read) nor did he speak Catalan (the main language in Barcelona)... he only spoke Italian.  After a few minutes of fumbling, he figured out where our hotel was and took us on a long expensive ride.  He was a nice driver, but he punctuated the fact that he didn't speak english by slapping me on the shoulder to get my attention to something he was pointing out on the way (which didn't matter as I had no idea what he was talking about.)

The Hotel Espana, Barcelona... gorgeous old world architecture and ultra modern rooms!


The Hotel Espana's Lobby light fixtures... beautiful!


Hotel Espana's central foyer at night!

     Once we got to the hotel, around 11 am, we found out (Pat and Mac and Dad had rooms here, too) our rooms wouldn't be ready till 2pm, so we decided to relax a little in the lobby (we were all bushed after our long flights) then we explored the hotel's roof top exotic pool and bar.  It was too cold in Barcelona (mid 60s) to go for a swim.  We then decided to go grab a local lunch on La Rambla.  When we went downstairs we found out that two of the rooms we booked were now opened up.  So we had our luggage delivered to them and checked them out.  The rooms, as I said, were super cool.  The square toilet took some getting used to... and finding the flush lever (or button) in each country we visited was always a challenge!  In our hotel room, there are two buttons built into the wall side by side... one large, and one small.  The small one is for liquid waste and the large one for solid.  With my American "sensibilities", I always hit the large button.  What do I know about conservation?!?  :)  We had a fair but expensive lunch at a restaurant on the corner of La Rambla called American Soda.  I wouldn't eat there again.  After lunch, we went back to our rooms for naps as we were still on east coast USA time (all the rooms were ready now) and then later we hooked up with cousins Ginny and John and Uncle Joe who rented an exotic apartment adjacent to Placa Rieal which was a gorgeous location.  We all had dinner outside at a restaurant on La Rambla that had pretty good tapas and sangria.  (Eating outside leaves you open to the occasional drunk walking by... one of which seemed threatening and had to be chased off by our very helpful waiter, but this was an otherwise nice place to eat.)  Later we checked out the apartment that Ginny and John had... then we retired for the night back at Hotel Espana.

Hotel Espana... our room!  Cool backlit wall...


View of our room at the Hotel Espana from another angle...
the room also had a large closet and bathroom (not pictured)


My camera's autotimer allowed for this photo at the pool deck of the Hotel Espana!
(l to r: Diane, Paul, Dad, Patty, Mac)


Whimsical face chairs at the Hotel Espana's Pool Deck!  Very cool place to be at night!

     May 18th, Exploring Barcelona, Spain: We did this on the Hop On Hop Off bus system and loved it.  We hopped on (after buying tickets) at Placa Catalunya which is an enormous square.  For one set price, you can get off and on the buses (which visit each station about every 15 or 20 minutes) at various locations all about Barcelona and visit the numerous important spots.  I had La Sagreda de Familia (centuries old church that's still under construction) and Park Guel on my hit list.  We could only do the latter as the church was over-run with 1000s of tourists on this Saturday morning.  The weather was cool with occasional bursts of rain and then some sun and then some rain all day.  We did get off and climb the long hill up to the Park Guell site.  It was fantastic up there.  After touring the park (free), we headed back down hill and stopped at nice deli-like restaurant for a late lunch of sandwiches. 

The beautiful, and fun La Rambla!  Just be aware of those around you... there are always reports of pickpockets!


Just some of the offerings at the outside market, La Boqueria, right on La Rambla!


Views up and down the avenues from La Rambla!


The view from a Hop-on Bus; some of Barcelona's unique architecture!


Long climb up to the top of Park Guel!


Beautiful views from Park Guel... that's the Mediterranean Sea in the distance!


Living statue... these are very popular in Barcelona!

     After taking the rest of the tour cycle and coming back to Placa Catalunya, our group proceeded in different directions and Diane and I decided to do the long trek from Placa Catalunya along La Rambla to the harbor. (we saw someone's video doing this exact walk on Youtube before the trip and decided this would be a fun walk)  With the street vendors and street performances and little street cafes, this is an exciting place!  We'd heard to be wary of pick pockets, and while there were one or two suspicious looking individuals, we were never bothered.  (Note: men: keep your wallets in front pockets... women: keep your purses over your neck and shoulders... never put anything like a purse or wallet or cell phone or computer down on a surface where they can be snatched by someone passing by)  I felt safer here than in most American inner cities, but again, crime definitely happens in Barcelona.  (We actually saw two cab drivers get into a near brawl in the middle of a circle!)  We walked down to the harbor and visited a large shopping mall there, then we came back up La Rambla and stopped along the way for some Sangria.  Tipsy, we walked back to the Hotel Espana.  For our last dinner in Barcelona, I found a Tripadvisor place just a few steps from our hotel called Restaurante Romesco.  This place looks like a dive from the outside, but it offers delicious meals at rock bottom prices.  We all thought it was the best meal we had in Barcelona, even if it was a bit cramped (hey, a crowded restaurant is usually a good one).  We retired for the night after dinner and our big day the next day: embarking on our 12 night Mediterranean tour on the Serenade of the Seas!   

    May 19th, The Embarkation:  Our cab ride over to the port from the Hotel Espana was about 20 minutes, and fairly quickly, we were at the check in desk at the pier.  Once there, we found out that we had to surrender our passports due to our stop in Turkey, which is not a member of the European Union (all our other port of calls were in EU places).  These were returned to us near the end of the cruise.  No big deal; they were all kept locked away and everyone had to do this... it was just a surprise.  We got our group of eight together for a group picture and then we proceeded to the ship via it's gently rising gangways.  Once aboard, we headed on up (as is customary) to the Windjammer Buffet and our nice lunch together.  I purchased my soda package, which is always worth the price for me as I practically bathe in diet Coke. (yeah, I know it's bad for me, blah, blah, blah).  After lunch, we went to our cabins but on the way, Diane and I were already marveling at the major changes made to the Centrum.  Once in our cabins, we dropped off our carry-on luggage and I ran down to the Chops Grille to re-confirm the Sail-Away dinner reservation for 8 we set online, and I found them already setting up our table! (gotta LOVE efficiency!)  When we got back, our luggage had arrived so we started unpacking.  Around 4, we attended the mandatory muster drill and said "Hello" to our lifeboat.  Then it was back to the cabin to stow our luggage under the beds (the space under the bed was a little too shallow for the thickness of a typical 29" Revo suitcase... so our beds were ever so slightly propped up by them for the next 12 nights.  Not that we noticed.)

Arriving in our Med cabin!


Looking back at Barcelona from our balcony... that's the impressive "W" Hotel on the waterfront!
(If we get back to Barcelona someday, it might be nice to give this place a try)


Dinner at Chops Grille (l to r: Patty, Me, Dad, Diane and Ginny; John and Joe not pictured but at table)

    May 20th, Nice... nope, day at Sea instead: During dinner on the previous night, Captain Karin announced that the storms at our Nice, France destination were so severe that tendering operations would be too dangerous (the Nice stop doesn't have the facilities for a ship of Serenade's size, so all those going ashore would be using water taxis).  So, after checking with other ports and seeing no vacancies, she opted for  making this an additional Day at Sea.  In so doing, she kept us far south of the storms and in the beautiful sunshine!  We loved this day at sea even though we were disappointed that we missed out on France.  Diane and I had lunch at Izumi, Serenade's new sushi restaurant... a concept transferred over from the Oasis class ships.  After lunch at Izumi, Diane and I went up to the Windjammer for dessert.  We returned to our cabin to find we now had three free bottles of wine!  One was from our travel agent, one from our travel agent's firm (!) and another from Royal Caribbean.  (RCCL loves their loyal cruise passengers- yay, Crown and Anchor!)  We spent the afternoon in the wonderful, kid-free zone, Solarium!  Dinner this night was formal attire, so we got dressed up and headed to the Diamond Club where we met up with Uncle Joe, Dad, and Pat and Mac.  On our way to dinner, we stopped by a mini show in the Centrum where the dancers were doing their version of Madonna's Vogue (very cool) and then Captain Karin made a speech welcoming us all aboard.  (So proud of Royal Caribbean having the first female Captain)  After dinner, there was an impressive Flamenco dancer show.  We turned in early as the next day was going to be a lot of walking and touring in Florence and Pisa, Italy!


Serenade's Main Pool and new movie screen!


Having a sushi lunch at Serenade's new Izumi restaurant!


Sushi creation at Izumi; my order was lower left... the waiter insisted I try the bigger creation!
 (It was good but very spicy...)


Drinks and hors devours before dinner in the Diamond Club! (l to r: Patty, Mac and Diane)


Hors devours bar at the Serenade Diamond Club...


View down the elevator glass wall with views out to the sea!


Serenade's master, Captain Karin!


Serenade's dancers perform before dinner in the new Centrum!


    May 21st, Arrival at Livorno, Italy for Florence and Pisa:  We originally intended to just visit Pisa for the Field of Miracles and the Leaning Tower and skip Florence.  But on the advice of our travel agent, we changed our originally scheduled side excursion and did one that included both Pisa and Florence.  We were so happy we did (Thank you, Karen!) as Florence was one of the most incredible tours of the entire trip.  This trip was partly in a comfortable bus and then extensive walking.  Our first stop was Florence.  The major church, The Duomo, was so incredibly ornate and complex.  It mesmerized everyone present.  The walking tour took us past the museum housing the Statue of David.  We didn't have time to go in and see the actual one, but we did see a copy outside of the museum, along with some other amazing statues.  We then walked down to the waterway that the shopping bridge crossed over.  We had lunch in Napoleon's sister's palace.  Lunch was part of the tour and included vegetable lasagna, wine, bread, beef, potatoes and spinach.  Dessert was tiramisu and there was also bottled water.  Afternoon in Pisa... we originally thought that Pisa was going to be all about the famous Leaning Tower... but the entire Field of Miracles complex (of which the Tower is a part) is just breath taking.  In fact, if the Tower wasn't leaning or if it didn't exist at all, this would still be a popular stop on any tour... the Church and the Baptistry are beautiful to behold.  The entire Field of Miracles complex is walled in but surrounded by neighborhoods.  The Leaning Tower (the Bell Tower) is definitely the focal point.  Aside from it's incredible tilt, it's a gorgeous work of art... the tilt just gives it a surreal feel.  Uncle Joe and I had hoped to climb to the top, but alas, our tour did not give us the time needed.  (If we had just another 30 minutes...)  When we got back to the ship, we were all too tired to do dinner.  Diane and I opted to eat in the Windjammer while the rest of the crew went to their one (and only) dinner at Rita's Cantina.  As I said above, they gave it a thumbs down.  (Too bad as this is a surcharge restaurant; my notes did remind me that nothing on the Rita's menu appealed to us... and we both love Mexican.  This is why we opted for the Windjammer buffet)  I think Diane and I ran into John at the Windjammer who had also decided to avoid Rita's.  Another night where we went to bed early as Rome, tomorrow, was going to be a second day of extensive touring!


Walking down the narrow streets of Florence to the amazing Il Duomo! (a small part of which peaks thru at the end of this road)


First glimpse of the Dome!  Cathedral of Florence (Il Duomo)!


The Baptistry of the Cathedral of Florence... note it's golden doors!


Incredibly beautiful and ornate Cathedral of Florence... mesmerizing!


Close-up detail of the Cathedral!


Breathtaking detail... pink and green marble, btw!


Standing between the immense Cathedral of Florence, it's Bell Tower and the Baptistry!


The details and workmanship are just incredible!


Closer view of artwork...


Cathedral of Florence, Il Duomo, view on opposite side as we continue walking through Florence


Walking through Florence...


Mac and Pat and Dad and John, walking through Florence, Italy!


Pallazo Della Signoria, Florence, Italy


Copy of Michelangelo's David, outside of the museum housing the real statue!
Accademia Gallery, Pallazo Della Signoria, Florence, Italy


Pallazo Della Signoria, statues...


The famous Ponte Vecchio, a bridge with shops!


Florence is the birthplace of the creator of the Pinocchio story... and this is no lie!
(Looks like Pinocchio has been less than truthful today, though)


The beautiful Basilica of Santa Croce... the statue of Dante stands to the left of the church


Piazza Santa Croce, Florence, Italy...


Tour stopped for lunch in the former home of Napoleon's sister... yes, we had lunch in here!


Beautiful Tuscan countryside around Florence, Italy...


Stunning views, Florence (Firenze), Italy...


The venerable Leaning Tower of Pisa!  (The Bell tower of the Cathedral of Pisa... to the left)


At Pisa (l to r): The Baptistry, The Cathedral and the Bell Tower (the Leaning Tower)


The Baptistry at Pisa...


The Cathedral at Pisa! (Leaning tower's top deck pops up behind and to the right)


    May 22, Arrival at Civitivecchia, Italy for Rome: Day started out sunny and in the upper 60s but clouds and storms came later.  Leaving the ship, we boarded our tour bus for a very comfortable 90 minute ride to Rome.  Our tour guide, Monica gave us a running commentary along the way.  There was a stop mid-way for those needing a bathroom break.  This tour promised everything: Ancient Rome and the Coliseum, Titian's Arch, The Trevy Fountain, The Vatican, The Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's Basillica... all in a ten hour trip!  It was expensive as the group was limited in size and we were given accelerated entry to all the stops... but it was absolutely worth every penny.  The Coliseum is a place I've always wanted to visit... I've been fascinated by Ancient Rome ever since the PBS Masterpiece Theater show, "I, Claudius" ran when I was in highschool back in the 70s.  So, I was extremely excited when this opportunity came our way.  Our bus let us off about a block away from the Coliseum and it was really freaky approaching this ancient stadium by crossing the street as if you were about to enter any modern stadium!  Even with sections that have collapsed from weathering, quakes, and just the march of history, this grand structure commands your attention.  It's breath-taking.  The surroundings are surreal as well, for you are inside the walls of Ancient Rome here... modern buildings and cars aside, you can look off to the hills with their ancient architecture and statues and arches and you are transported back in time 2000 years to the time of Augustus!  Even little details like the "umbrella pine trees", that I've only ever seen in paintings, are there reminding you that this is the real ancient Rome!  After touring Ancient Rome, we headed over to the Trevi fountain and threw our coins in there to guarantee our return to the Eternal City.  From here we went into downtown Rome for lunch at the Bennoton Hotel.  Lunch here was included in the tour price and consisted of chicken, pasta, wine, bottled water and cake.  I was able to score a diet coke (actually, I got diet coke in every port we visited... it's often called Coke Lite in Europe.  A european peculiarity is that you must ask for ice in your soda... apparently they prefer soda warm.  Ew.) After lunch, we entered Vatican City (essentially, another country... think Washington, DC inside of Maryland) and began our incredible tour here.  This being a Wednesday, it was the Pope's day for addressing the people... and this Pope is very popular.  I even admire him and I'm not Catholic!  The Pope was done speaking by the time we arrived but the crowds remained to do the tours, so everywhere we went inside Vatican City was wall to wall people.  Still the Vatican museum and the Sistine Chapel and the enormous and gorgeous St. Peter's Basilica were extremely impressive.  St. Peter's felt like God's own church... massive and cavernous and artistic.  It was very moving!  If I ever do get lucky enough to go to Vatican City again, I'd love to spend much more time in the Vatican museum.  While we were touring inside, there was a major thunderstorm passing over... but when we got out, the rain stopped.  Perfect timing!  I don't have any notes about what we did back aboard, but my guess is that it was a nice dinner in the main dining room and probably an early night hitting the sheets.  It had been a long and fantastic day!

From the tour bus... first view of the walls of ancient Rome!


After our tour bus let us off on a side street, we walk over to the Coliseum!


Approaching the Coliseum!


The Coliseum's outer wall looms over us!


Once inside, you move through this circular corridor and then up steps to the stadium...


Inside the Coliseum!


The view from the opposite side...


More Roman ruins...


The Arch of Constantine...


The Arch of Constantine and the Coliseum...


Church at the top of the Palatine Hill (this was the location of many emperor's homes)


Yes, there are pizzerias in modern Rome... but modern day pizza is an import mostly for tourists
(and it didn't look that good at any of the places I checked out...)


The world-famous Trevi Fountain!  Both Diane and I threw in our coins... hopefully it works!


Inside the Vatican Museum looking out on a rainy square...


Inside the Vatican museum... an enormous collection of art through the ages!


Art everywhere in the Vatican Museum!


Rich tapestry on the walls in the Vatican Museum...


Mindblowing detail in this hallway's ceiling alone... and it stretches off... seemingly to infinity.


More artwork in the Vatican Museum...


Papal apartments at the Vatican...


Entering St. Peter's Basilica... the ultimate church!


Michelangelo's "The Pieta"... one of the most moving sculptures I've ever seen...
(Inside St. Peter's Basilica)


Main altar, St. Peter's Basilica...


Statue in St. Peter's Basilica


The enormity of St. Peter's Basilica is breath-taking!


Artwork inside St. Peter's Basilica!


Beautiful marble columns... St. Peter's Basilica


More artwork in the dome!  St. Peter's Basilica...


Back outside... looking back at St. Peter's Basilica
(Obelisk in foreground was brought to ancient Rome from Egypt by the mad emperor, Caligula)


Getting ready to leave Civitavecchia, Italy after our full day in Rome!  Diane, Mac and Dad!


     May 23th, Day at Sea:  We spent the morning in the Solarium with Pat n Mac, then we headed to the main dining room for the 30 minute, outstanding lunch they serve there these days (great salad bar where they build salads to your specifications... sort of like Saladworks back home).  After lunch we took in a movie, Skyfall (a James Bond flick), but after this at 3:30pm we were up on top deck forward to see the highlight of this day: the trip through the extremely narrow straights between Italy and Sicily!  A tiny boat guided us through the very narrow path: Italy to port, all steep mountains and Sicily to starboard which was all beautiful homes and apartments.  We were so close to both land masses.  The wind was extremely powerful here... I'm not sure if it's always windy due to the tight fit of sea between the two land masses or if this was just some strange windy weather.  You could actually lean into the wind coming at you and not fall over.  Skies were mostly clear during this pass.  After this we had a mini snack in the Windjammer ( then I went off to the gym while Diane went back to enjoy our cabin balcony.  That night, Diane and I had our date night dinner at Giovanni's Table... another new specialty restaurant imported from the Oasis sisters.

Passing through the straights between Italy and Sicily: Italy to port... 

...and Sicily to starboard!  Look how close!

Beautiful mountains on the Italian side! 

View forward, over the bow... Italy to port (left) and Sicily to starboard (right) 


    May 24th, Day at Sea: Day in Solarium with Pat n Mac; as we were moving east towards Athens, we lost an hour on this day when we changed time zones.  We spent the bulk of the day here, eating lunch in the Solarium's Park Cafe.  At dinner time, it was Uncle Joe, Dad, Ginny and John and Diane and I.  Patty and Mac decided to have a date night at Giovannis Table.  (This was the night of their 90 minute wait for dinner... that was free due to the wait)

Ginny and Uncle Joe in the Main Dining Room! 

    May 25th, Arrival at Athens, Greece: Before going on this cruise, I kept hearing stories that Athens was an absolutely decrepit place.  I was surprised to see that while there was a lot of graffiti (in some locations) the city itself wasn't all that bad.  In fact, for a country in such economic turmoil, it looked much nicer than some American cities I can think of.  People there were very courteous.  We took a tour here that traveled from the port through Athens and to the Acropolis, home of the Parthenon.  As with all our tours in Europe, our guide spoke english and we each wore radio headphones so we could hear her discussions of the sights.  There was also a brief stop at the Olympics stadium on the way back to the Serenade.

Looking down one of the narrow streets of Athens!

Our first view of the Acropolis was that it's way up on a peak of natural marble.  A pleasant and shade filled walk suddenly becomes a steep incline, but easy for a healthy traveler.  The toughest part of this trek up is the very slippery naked marble; I can't imagine doing this on a wet or rainy day... and it's a long ways down!

The Parthenon at the Acropolis!  It's a long climb up, but an amazing view of history!
Climbing up... and up... and up! 


On the way up, looking back down at modern Athens and Ancient Athens!


The magnificent Parthenon... so glad to see that Greece is preserving history!


Standing in the shadow of a nearly 2,500 year-old temple!  Note the art engravings inside...


A close-up of the artwork mentioned above...


Looking down from the top of the Acropolis and towards the Mediterranean Sea!
(The green hill in the middle is the Phillopappou Hill along with it's monument)


Looking down on the Theater of Dionysus


Other side of the Parthenon...


Temple of Erechtheum


The Theater of Herod Atticus


Gorgeous views of Greece from the Acropolis!


Climbing back down after this magnificent tour!


Serenade departs Athens!  View from the bow...


Beautiful sunset over the Mediterranean and Greece!


After dinner as we sailed to Turkey, the Serenade threw (what else while sailing Greek waters?) a Toga Party for the guests in the Solarium!  The dancers posed as living statues while the rest of us danced and drank and frolicked in sheets!  Diane and I made our way post-party to see Dad and Uncle Joe at their nightly watering hole, the Schooner Bar.  They were suitably "embarrassed" by our attire!  (They loved it)

Toga Party and living statues (Serenade dancers)


Diane and I, properly Toga-ed up, at the Schooner Bar, post party!


May 26th, Arrival at Kusadasi, Turkey for Ephesus: Before our trip, I guessed that Turkey was going to be hot and arid... basically a desert with camels and somewhat dusty and dirty.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  What a gorgeous and clean country Turkey is... at least what we saw in Kusadasi and the surrounding areas!  Everywhere there were beautiful gardens... even at intersections there was irrigation for plants.  We took a simple bus tour here to take in some of the sights (after all the major exploring in Florence, Pisa, Rome and Athens, this was a welcome respite) and sounds.  My favorite was a tour of a beautiful mosque and it's gardens.  Our tour ended with a carpet making demonstration.  (I don't remember much of that as I drank some strong alcohol here!  I thought Islamic countries were dry... not Turkey!)  After, Diane and Patty and Mac and I had lunch at an open air restaurant looking out to the dock where Serenade was berthed.  After lunch the four of us toured the adjacent bizarre. (We purchased a "Turkisk Wedding" mirror for Jenna and Will here for their wedding present!)  The vendors are polite but aggressive. We learned that shaking your head "No" doesn't mean the same thing that it does in the west.  Just say "No, thank you" and keep moving.  The bizarre isn't exactly what I pictured (just like everything else, my pre-trip notion of this aspect of Turkey was wrong, as well)... it was clean and more like a strip mall back in the states albeit covered... not at all a dusty dirty place with camels.  (Never saw a single desert like area or a single camel in Kusadasi!!!  lol)  The people there were very friendly and polite towards westerners.  Turkey is apparently far more secular than the other nations surrounding it.  Diane and I really had a great time there, and I would LOVE to visit Turkey again!  (Note, just a few weeks after our visit, strife did occur up north in Ankara, the Turkish capital, but I read that Kusadasi was not effected by any of this.)

Arrival at Kusadasi, Turkey!

Serenade of the Seas in port, Kusadasi, Turkey!

Ampitheater ruins in the Turkish countryside...

Beautiful Turkish countryside...

Inside a Turkish Mosque of great antiquity!

Ruins outside and adjacent of Mosque...

How to make a Turkish carpet...

Bazaar at Kusadasi, Turkey...

Departing beautiful Kusadasi, Turkey!

A gorgeous sunset as we sail back west!

 May 27th, Arrival at Santorini, Greece: Easy tour by bus of island; trip to Oia (pronounce Ee-ah) and lunch at Fria. (sp)  Mystery dinner at Giovanni's later that night!  What a fantastic island.  Almost everyone lives on the cliffs of a volcanic caldera here.  Our tour took us by water taxi from the ship to the island... the water was choppy and there was a chill in the air.  Once on land, we took a bus (there were multitudes of them) up the winding path to the top and then we were on our way to Oia.  The views are spectacular!  We stopped for a bit at the shops and walked along the paths.  Next we were taken to an excellent winery where we bought one of our favorite wines that we tried (it's not like we're in Santorini every other week!)  Then it was off to Fria for more incredible views, especially of Serenade out in the bay right below.  We all decided to have a Greek lunch at a restaurant overlooking the bay (there are many of these along the winding narrow path of shops and restaurants here.)  After lunch, Diane and I explored on our own capturing some amazing shots.  We then bought tickets to take a ride (sorta like a sky-ride but going down the side of the cliff) back down to the small port where the water taxis were waiting to shuttle people back over to the Serenade.  Amazing day, amazing island and amazing people.  One of the things we heard we must not miss was the departure from Santorini and cruising by the magnificent cliffs!  So, we brought our ample supplies of champagne forward to the bow, which was very empty and gave ourselves a champagne toast send off!  It was remarkably empty up there save for a few other travelers... what a great way to depart Santorini!  (Note: this might not be allowed according to Royal Caribbean rules, but no one seemed to mind, and we drank our toast, took some pictures then moved on.  So, if you are stopped in your attempt to do this, sorry!)
Taking the water taxi over to the landing...
Serenade anchored at the center of the ring that is Santorini, Greece... an amazing island!


Docking at Santorini! We are in a bus for the long winding trip up the steep cliffs!


Nearing the top of the cliffs, looking back at Serenade!


Opposite side of cliff, a gentler slope down to the sea!


A Greek Orthodox Church, Santorini, Greece


Walking down the narrow lanes between shops!


Breathtaking look at the homes hugging the cliffs!


Santorini cliffs and homes!  Gorgeous!


A stop at a vineyard on the way to Oia, Santorini, Greece!  That's Serenade in the distance!


Serenade from above at Oia! (Camera zoomed in) This was our view at lunchtime...


View from our lunchtime restaurant, Oia, Santorini, Greece


A Santorini Luncheon!  Cliffs down to see to the right...
(L to R: Diane, Paul, Ginny, Mac and Joe)


Our direct view down from the lunch table!


Gotta love Santorini!


My Greek lunch at Oia, Santorini, Greece...
can't remember what it was called but it was delicious!


More stunning views from Santorini!


View from inside the cable car riding down to the landing
 and our sea taxi over to Serenade (at the top of the picture)


Landing at base of cliffs...


Docks where the shuttles come to take you back to your ship.


Looking back up at the top of the cliffs where we were!


Back aboard Serenade and views of the cliff tops... where we had lunch!


More views of Santorini from the Serenade!


Dad and some champagne, waiting for departure from Santorini all the way fwd on the bow!


Another gorgeous shot of Santorini as we depart!

All of us enjoying a champagne toast on departure from Santorini!

    May 28th, Day at Sea:  We took these "at Sea" days as much needed time to recharge after the port intensive days.  The highlights of this day were time spent around the Serenade, Ginny and John in the Marriage Game, and the night trip through the straights between Sicily and Italy once more, during dinner!

Serenade's mascot?


All of us enjoying lunch together in the Main Dining Room...


Ginny and John playing the Love & Marriage game!


Looks like Ginny is saying, "You better get this right!" (lol)


Looks like everybody wins!
  (but I think it was the elderly couple at right... the senior couple always wins)


Passing between Italy and Sicily again, at night!


Pilot boat helping Serenade navigate through the straights!
(Note to Patty: the pilot boat's number 2826?  Get us to a roulette wheel!)


Francesco and Nina, our brilliant waiter and assistant waiter team! (Main Dining Room)

    May 29th, Arrival at Salerno, Italy for Amalfi coast and Pompeii: We began our day here with an amazing tour-cruise along the Amalfi coast... absolutely gorgeous views here from the sea.  Our trip took us into dock at the tiny port of Amalfi where we had time to shop the tight streets and we all sampled the baked goods for breakfast.  I remember a wonderful sponge cake dripping in rum (way to start the day!)  Afterwards, the boat took us back to the port where we boarded busses for the trip to Pompeii.  Right outside the ancient walls of Pompeii we had lunch in a nice restaurant (this was included in the tour).  If memory serves, it was lasagna and salad and chicken and some sort of desert with wine and soft drinks and bottled water.  Next you passed through a section of store where they make cameos (women generally enjoy these- having no interest, Diane and I breezed through and awaited our call to enter ancient Pompeii.
    Of all the incredible places we would visit, Pompeii was the one place I kept thinking I couldn't wait to see... and it didn't disappoint!  It's really amazing that the eruption of Vesuvius both buried that city and froze it in history so that you can tour it today and see things as those Romans would have seen them.  They would still know the streets and avenues, the restaurants, the baths... all of it is still there.  Most shocking are the plaster casts of those who were entombed in ash.  We don't know their names, but we can see their final moments.  Pompeii is a place I definitely want to revisit... it's sobering... and another example of just how quickly your world can be turned upside down. 

Serenade docked in Salerno, Italy!  We are on a boat to cruise along the Amalfi Coast!

Breath-taking views along the Amalfi Coast, Italy!


Just another gorgeous little hamlet along the Amalfi Coast, Italy!


Diane and I cruising the Amalfi Coast, Italy!


Natural beauty of the Amalfi Coast... best seen from the sea!


Approaching Amalfi, Italy!


Coming in to dock!


Check out the homes!


Yes, later, I climbed all those steps up to the gorgeous church!


Making the obligatory stop at an Amalfi Bakery!  Rum cake... ah...


These are the lemons used to make Limoncello!  HUGE!  Don't make your own unless you can get these!
(They are actually much larger than this picture shows... think "football" shaped grapefruit!)


This is the view from the top of the steps to the church!


I got this shot from the pier at Amalfi, Italy... Wow!


On the road to Pompeii via motorcoach!


The outer walls of Pompeii...


A field inside the gates of Pompeii... like stepping back in time... 2000 years.


One of Pompeii's ampitheaters...


An avenue through ancient Pompeii... look closely,
 and you can see grooves worn into the street from chariots!  Pompeii was already old
when Vesuvius exploded!


The ancient Roman masonry is amazing...


Nope, not toilets... this was an ancient restaurant stove!  Pots were placed in these for cooking. 
Pompeii had many restaurants, being a resort town back in the 70's AD!


A family name painted on a house still remains!


Artwork was not framed as it is today... it was literally painted on the walls of your villa!
  No moving old art to the attic!


Villa's inner courtyard...


Interesting columns... 


This is a real person... surrounded by ash, the body within superheated away...
it made a natural mold to bring this person's last moments back to life.


More Roman art?  Nope... this is part of a "menu" of available services in Pompeii's brothel!
  You didn't have to speak latin to let them know what you wanted to do... just point at the pictures!
(There were many many pictures...)


Pompeii's main square... that mountain with the gash peaking through the clouds is all that's left of Vesuvius...
 Imagine the view standing in this square the day the volcano literally blew it's top!


Another view of Vesuvius from the town square... clouds block the top in this picture...


Another intriguing view of a road thru Pompeii...


Yet another real person immortalized in volcanic ash... tons of pottery and other artifacts here, too.


Departing Ancient Pompeii and heading back into the present.

    May 30th, Day at Sea: Amazing daytime passage between Corsica and Sardinia!  It was too windy to be out on deck, per Captain Karin, (outer decks closed) so the only great pictures I could get were all of the rugged coast of Sardinia from our balcony.  I did go up a few decks and take a few shots of Corsica to starboard through a window.  Both islands looked amazing!  Would love to go to either place on some future voyage!

Northern Sadinia from our balcony...

Looking at Sardinia from our balcony...

Sardinia from our balcony...


Shot this image thru a window topside- that's Corsica!

    May 31st: Arrival at Barcelona and Disembark: Transfers purchased through Royal Caribbean got us off ship and over to the airport in plenty of time.  This was a far better idea than risking a non-english speaking cab driver getting us to the airport!   We arrived curbside... our luggage (having gone ahead of us) was waiting there at the airport.  We breezed through customs/security and then waited about an hour or two for our flight home.  Flying west was fun, and a bit disorienting... we left Barcelona at 10:30 am and arrived in Philly in the afternoon!  (Yes, it was still an eight hour flight)  It's better when you are chasing the Sun home!

    The Serenade Pools and Solarium: Very little was changed here since the last time we cruised on Serenade other than the addition of the Park Cafe in the Solarium.  This was an excellent place to grab a breakfast or lunch bite while keeping your lounger by the pool.  On the other hand, there was (as I mentioned above) a lot of work needed here.  The main pool now has a movie screen.  I'm not really into a movie screen at the pool, but if that's something you like, it's there!

    Unique to Serenade of the Seas:  Well, unique at least, to all Radiance class ships: the self leveling pool tables.  I did not play on these, but I did on Jewel, and it's amazing that these actually work.  While the ship is at sea, your pool game will not be affected (although, I never checked to see what these tables could handle in really rough seas.  Of course, in really rough seas, probably no one will want to play pool.)  Alas, the self leveling tables will NOT improve your game one iota.  That's what I need... a table that tilts my ball into the pocket!

    Things Royal Caribbean should do to improve Serenade of the Seas: Really spend some time and money renovating the Solarium... it's embarrassing that such a gorgeous refit left the pool areas in need of so much work.

        Why Serenade of the Seas should be your next cruise ship:  Captain Karin and her staff are one of the best crew ever!  Serenade of the Seas is large enough to feel like a modern mega-sized ship, but small enough to retain that small ship ambience so missing in modern cruising.  We loved her both times we've cruised her... and we wouldn't hesitate to cruise on her again!


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All photography on this page done by Paul and Diane McCullough.  Pictures edited using Photoscape.