Sweet Serenade of the high seas
Catherine Ferris steps aboard a Royal Caribbean liner, travelling to chic cities and ancient ruins – and all amid the lap of luxury.
When I was asked if I wanted to go on a Mediterranean cruise, it didn't take me long to come up with an answer.
But having never experienced travel by cruise ship before, I was unsure what to expect from my time on Royal Caribbean International's Serenade of the Seas.
As my friend Lucy and I approached the docks in Barcelona, to embark on our journey, it was hard to miss the towering presence of the cruise liner which was to be our home for the next 12 nights.
At 965 ft long and 106 ft wide, with 12 passenger decks, the Serenade of the Seas is by no means the largest ship in Royal Caribbean's 22-vessel fleet.
But with 1,055 cabins, and space for up to 2,490 guests as well as nearly 900 staff it certainly does not lack space – at full capacity, it would sit comfortably among Shropshire's 20 most populated towns.
Having had a few hours to explore Barcelona between checking our bags in and weighing anchor, we strolled aboard, marvelling at the scale of the vessel as we entered its central lobby.
Glass has been incorporated into nearly all of the ship's exterior, lending guests spectacular views across the ocean wherever they are onboard.
At first the ship's size is disorientating and it took us a while to get our bearings as we explored all the Serenade has to offer. One of the first things that struck me as I walked around the ship was the age range of the travellers onboard.
I, like many others I suspect, had thought that the majority of cruise ship passengers were likely to be middle-aged.
As cruise ships offer an easy way for older travellers to see the world, I expected younger guests to be few and far between - but this was not the case.
Our fellow passengers were a mixture of all ages and nationalities - including many families.
And the ship's wide range of amenities reflects the diversity of its guests.
For sports lovers there is a miniature golf course, rock climbing wall and a basketball court, as well as a fitness centre and jogging track.
For guests partial to a bit of pampering, there is a day spa and beauty salon, as well as three swimming pools and hot tubs.
There is also a library, business centre and access to wi-fi, not to mention a wide variety of shops.
With so much to see and do onboard you could almost be forgiven for forgetting about all the sights and sounds to be enjoyed on land as the ship made its way across the Mediterranean.
Last year was the first time the Serenade of the Seas sailed around the Mediterranean during the summer months and over our 12-night trip we visited five countries: Spain, France, Italy, Turkey and Greece.
From the vibrant, modern cities of Barcelona and Cannes to the ancient ruins of Ephesus in Turkey and Pompeii, in southern Italy – the varied list of destinations catered for every taste.
Our first port of call was 'millionaire's playground' Cannes. We docked early in the morning and reached shore in a tender boat, which gave us a great view of the huge yachts in the harbour.
From Cannes we sailed to Livorno in northern Italy, where we boarded a train to Pisa to visit the famous leaning tower.
After Pisa, we travelled to the Civitavecchia – a port near Rome. On arrival in the Eternal City, we visited the Vatican museums and Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel as well as the Colosseum and Fountain of Trevi.
We also enjoyed a day of sight-seeing and shopping in Athens, as well as a visit to the beautiful Greek island of Santorini.
As well as allowing guests to explore each new place by themselves, the Royal Caribbean cruise line also offers a wide range of shore excursions.
These guided tours – which varied in price and physical exertion – offer guests the chance to immerse themselves in the culture and history of the place they are visiting.
We decided to take guided tours of the ancient Greek ruins of Ephesus in Turkey and also the ruins of the Roman city Pompeii, near Naples.
After returning from a packed day of sight-seeing there was further fun to be had back on board courtesy of the ship's entertainment team.
From Broadway musicals to shows dedicated to legends of pop music, audiences were kept entertained by the ship's troupe of singers and dancers.
We joined in the fun on disco night and ended up in a huge conga chain as hundreds of guests danced around the ship's central lobby.
During days at sea, entertainment staff also ran competitions to keep us amused as we sunbathed.
Late night revellers could also pay a visit to the ship's onboard nightclub, which was presided over by DJ Amir.
One of the ship's biggest achievements – although my waistline would disagree – was the huge range of delicious food served up every day for guests to enjoy.
There are a number of different places to eat on the ship including the buffet-style Windjammer restaurant and the Sea Food Cafe which serves up fast food until 1am.
There are also two speciality restaurants, a steak house called Chops and and Italian restaurant, Portofinos.
And gourmet three-course meals are also served up in the ship's spectacular main dining room, which has space for more than 1,000 guests. From sushi and lobster to British classics such as fish and chips and steak and ale pie, the Serenade's food definitely catered for every palate.
Special praise must go to the army of 900 staff who looked after us throughout our trip.
From our stateroom attendant Marvin to our dining room waitress Carmalita, every staff member went out of their way to help us and were polite and friendly at all times.
During our 12-night cruise on the Serenade of the Seas we saw fantastic cities, ancient ruins and beautiful coastlines, while back on board we enjoyed great food and entertainment served up by pleasant staff.
Royal Caribbean certainly know how to show guests a good time and although it was my first time on a cruise, I'm now a convert and I'm sure it won't be my last.
- Join Royal Caribbean Internationals Serenade of the Seas on a 12-night Mediterranean Greek Isles fly/cruise from £1,557 per person (based on two people sharing an interior stateroom).
- Price includes return flights from London Heathrow, transfers and a 12-night cruise departing Barcelona (Spain) and calling at Villefranche (Nice, France), Livorno (France/Pisa, Italy), Civitavecchia (Rome, Italy), Piraeus (Athens, Greece), Kusadasi (Ephesus, Turkey), Santorini (Greece) and Naples (Salerno, Italy) before returning to Barcelona for the flight home; meals and entertainment on-board and all relevant cruise taxes/fees.
- Price is based on 19 May 2013 departure.
- For more information or to book or see www.royalcaribbean.co.uk, call 0844 493 2061 or talk to your travel agent.
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