The forward end of the ship is occupied by the Teatro Giove, which is just stunning, a "real" theatre with sharply raked seating and superb sightlines. Black and brown marble, pin spots, a marble table at each seat and shiny steel railings give the theatre are really luxurious feel. The shows were a mixture of comedy, magic and dance; despite the mainly Italian audience, they seem to be aimed at all nationalities, with most of the songs in English at the production show I saw. This moved at a rather hectic pace with only a few lines of each song being sung.
Other than this, the passengers tend to make their own entertainment, dancing in all the bars until late.
At the aft end of the ship is the Salone Luna, a big entertainment lounge adorned with green moons and stars, and windows on three sides. We wanted to try this, but it tended to be used for private functions most nights.
Just outside the lounge is the Sala de Ballo Cupido, with a Cupid theme (big sofas shaped like lips) and a no-smoking policy, which meant that on this cruise it was completely empty. On the starboard side is the Piano Bar Minerva, where we had pre-dinner drinks most evenings. The ceiling is adorned with huge green tentacles, which takes a bit of getting used to, but the seating is comfortable and the ventilation such that I could sit with my smoking companion and not be bothered. There's a good atmosphere in this bar: decent martinis, generous helpings of peanuts, a classical pianist and a cornily romantic Hungarian piano/violin duo.
The casino, forward of here, spans the whole width of the ship, but is broken up by the disco in the middle, a witty design around the theme of the god Pan, with a flashing dance floor and cute stools around the bar supported by Pan's goat-legs, with red, glittery tops. The casino itself is dedicated to the two-faced god Janus and is embellished with acres of shiny red and black. Minimum bet on the tables is 5 or 10 euros.
The Bar Sport Victoria was packed on my cruise, as the European football championship was taking place. There's a small dance floor and a lot of green marble, the ceiling adorned with giant silver laurel wreaths (which I thought were crab claws at first glance). Stools shaped like black and white footballs add an amusing contrast to the lashings of gold and silver decor.
The secondary show lounge has an enormous dance floor and was always busy, with people shimmying and jiving under the pink and red lights, little flames looking like miniature stalactites.
Costa is very proud of the Formula One simulators on Serena and its sister, Concordia, which come with their own black and white chequered bar, Bar Scuderia, and a range of packages from 10 euros for a rookie drive to 30 euros for a championship experience. Strangely, the simulator was empty every time I walked past; people on this cruise seemed reluctant to part with money for anything.
Italians are fervent sunbathers and all the action in the daytime takes place around the Lido pool, which is dominated by a huge screen. There are game shows, aerobics, even yoga in front of hundreds of sunbathers. On my cruise, during the Euro 2008 football tournament, the whole area was converted into a giant sports bar at night and the atmosphere was fantastic. Evening entertainment includes a range of game shows and theme nights, from togas to flower power. The standard was pretty low-brow most days, including the popular "Superrrrr-Bingo" and "Macho Costa Serena" (a male beauty pageant).
The overall theme of Costa Serena is Greek and Roman mythology, which becomes apparent the minute you enter the nine-deck high atrium lobby, with gold moons and suns on metallic blue adorning the walls, and figures of gods, clad in outfits from the famous Verona Opera, gazing down from clouds suspended from the ceiling.
Deck 5 is the social hub of the ship, one long string of bars and lounges from forward to aft. Because each area has its own theme, it's like walking through a series of scenes in a movie, with a crooner in one bar followed by the ker-ching of the casino and then, the flashing lights and thudding music of the disco. Specifics are provided in the Entertainment section.
The shops around the atrium sell the usual fare: cigarettes, alcohol, jewellery, perfume, logo items and for once, a selection of clothing that the fashion-conscious cruiser might actually wear. Interestingly, there is also a Greek and Turkish selection of souvenirs, handy if you fail to find anything in the markets.
A lot of space around the atrium is also devoted to a huge photo gallery. Ship's photographers pop up everywhere, paparazzi-style, and are more persistent than the vendors in the Turkish bazaars.
The library is an attractive space and somewhere quiet to sit during the day, but there are very few books in English.
Internet usage is very expensive at .50 euro for one minute. There were no packages on offer and hardly anybody seems to use Deck 4's Internet room. It's better to travel with a laptop and pick up the free Wi-Fi in port, or use cyber-cafes. In Izmir, I used a cyber cafe that cost .50 euro for a whole hour.
On the top decks, there are three main pools: one forward, with a waterslide; one at the centre, surrounded by a two-deck-high gallery and flanked by weird yellow Jacuzzis (this area has a retractable roof); and a supposedly adults-only pool at the aft, which was always full of children. There's also a baby pool in the kids' club on Deck 10.
The Samsara Spa on Costa Serena is gorgeous, festooned with beautiful shimmering tiles and various influences of feng shui – splashing water, wind chimes and teak Buddhas. There's a huge variety of treatments, including proper ayurvedic therapies by a qualified practitioner and treatments tailored to men and couples. Individual rooms have private outdoor areas looking onto the solarium, where you can relax with herbal tea after your session.
Thirty five euros buys a day pass to the thermal suite. It's expensive, but something of a sanctuary, particularly the big thalassotherapy pool, with bubbly beds and jets. There are two steam rooms (one with aromatic steam) and one big relaxation room with stone heated recliners and floor-to-ceiling windows, as well as a rest area with Balinese day beds. A row of tanning beds looks out to sea, apparently popular with Italians in winter on cloudy days.
Next to the spa is a large gym and fitness area with machines, weights and fitballs. Some classes are free but yoga, Pilates and spinning carry a 9 euro charge -- pretty standard these days.
Being Italian, Costa carries huge numbers of children (800 on my cruise), who are catered for in the Squok Club on Deck 10. Being Italian, most of the passengers go nowhere near it and keep their kids with them all day, swarming over the pools and running around the ship.
Although babysitting is offered, late at night Deck 5 was packed with exhausted toddlers crashed out in buggies or slumped on tables.
In the club (Squok is its mascot, half dolphin, half shark), kids are divided into three groups: 3 - 6 year olds, 7 - 11 year olds and 12 - 16. There's always an English-speaking counsellor on hand. Activities are pretty standard: treasure hunts, games, books, movies and computers. Rather sweetly, there is a children's choir on the Christmas cruise.
Interestingly, there are two parallel policies onboard regarding alcoholic beverages. European kids can drink at age 18 while Americans have to wait till they are 21!