Cruising on the New Costa Serena

As a first-time cruiser, I wasn't sure what to expect from the inaugural voyage of the Costa Serena from Savona, Italy to Marseilles, France. Would I fit in with the older clientele I hear is typical of cruising? Would there be enough to do onboard to keep me from jumping overboard? Would I get my sea legs?  The Costa Serena

With Dramamine in hand, I set out for New York's JohnF.KennedyInternationalAirport with my mother, my guest for the trip and herself a first-time cruiser (who's maiden name also happens to be Costa). At check in we met Wally, a Lufthansa employee who actually came through on my off-hand request that he upgrade my ticket so that I could join my mother in business class. It was a fortunate start to the trip: Our eight-hour flight literally flew by thanks to Lufthansa's lie-flat seats and personal entertainment systems.

Our arrival at the Costa Serena was overwhelming in a good way. Since neither of us had ever set foot on a cruise ship, let alone one so big (14,147 tons), first on our checklist was to explore the decks. The Serena's cachet is its classical mythology theme, cultivated by architect Joseph Farcus. Throughout the Serena's 11 decks, bright colors like orange, red and teal give the ship a lively feel. Surprisingly, these colors also are found in the Samsara Spa on Deck 11, but there the hues somehow manage to give off a relaxing vibe.

A treatment room in Costa Serena's impressive two-floor Samsara Spa

The Impressive Samsara Spa

The Samsara Spa is by far the ship's biggest selling point. Costa claims it's the largest wellness area of any cruise ship, comprising two floors and 23,000 square feet. The ship also features Samsara cabins, giving these guests direct access to the spa and even their own restaurant, which boasts a healthier menu selection than other onboard eateries.

On our second day on board, we were treated to the services of Serena's Samsara Spa. My mom received a traditional Swedish massage, while I opted for the ayurvedic massage, the spa's signature service, which uses an oil-drip to penetrate the "third-eye" in the middle of one's forehead. To some it may sound like Chinese water torture, but I promise it's actually very soothing.

Special menus were created for the Serena's inaugural, but the gala dinner, prepared by the ships' chefs, was very accommodating for guests with picky vegetarian tastes (like me). It should be a good indication of what guests can expect onboard from the Serena's usual food options, located throughout Deck 9.

The pool deck of the Costa Serena, with retractable roof.

A day into our trip, we quickly discovered that the Roman god-themed atrium is the place to be seen, especially during the evening dinner rush. Beautiful violinists entertain by day and a quirky keyboardist takes over at night. During the day, guests were most often found relaxing at one of the Serena's four swimming pools (two have retractable roofs) or enjoying concoctions at the sweets-themed food and drink bar, Chocolate, on Deck 5. For quiet, we visited the library, also on Deck 5, and the Internet point, which was surprisingly quiet for being around the corner from the casino.

The Serena also offers a racecar simulator. While we missed the opportunity to test it out in lieu of spa treatments, it seemed to be the onboard amenity that would best appeal to teens and pre-teens. Serena also hosts a teens' club and a squat club for younger guests.

We stayed in room 8407 on Deck 8. While this is the highest cabin deck on the Serena, quite possibly affording the best views, it also is directly below the pool area and buffet. We noticed footsteps throughout the day and in the early morning—not so much at night—but worth noting for guests who are light sleepers or who enjoy an afternoon nap. Too, for guests who don't enjoy long walks to the elevator, Travel Agent recommends booking staterooms toward the middle of the ship.

The Roman-god themed atrium

Accommodations have plenty of storage and balconies provide privacy, although guests cruising in a group should book cabins next to each other, as the balcony dividers can open to provide one large balcony across cabins. A bowl of fresh fruit welcomes you onboard; however, a clock, frustratingly, does not. Wake up calls are available.

So are we two first-time cruisers sold? My mom enjoyed visiting two towns with only having to unpack once. I appreciated Costa Serena's younger and largely European clientele. Whether lounging by the pool or taking a shore excursion, there was plenty to keep us entertained—no Dramamine necessary.

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