ABOARD CRYSTAL SERENITY_It’s finally here: The much-anticipated holiday cruise on Crystal Serenity is under way. And are we glad.
The weather in South Florida has been abysmal for a week — gray skies and a relentless wind that just won’t stop. Pam and I were glad to be packing bags for 15 days in what we hoped would be the sunny Caribbean, with “bags” multiple being the operative word. Knowing there would be more “dress up” events on this cruise, added to the length of time we would gone, translated to four pieces of luggage — two of them just under the weight limit — a carry-on, Pam’s purse and my Man-bag.
With everything in tow, our wonderful neighbors gave us a ride to the West Palm Beach Brightline Station, our first stop. When traveling to Miami, the Brightline train, now part of Sir Richard Branson’s worldwide Virgin empire, is always our transportation of choice. Fast, efficient and friendly, sipping wine with our headphones on sure beats dodging cars on I95. Even better, sometime in 2020, Brightline will extend service all the way into the Port.
On this trip we opted to arrive a day early and stay on Miami Beach, at the COMO Metropolitan Hotel. Opened in 1939, it retains much of its original art deco charm while featuring updates like the addition of Traymore, the restaurant from famed Miami chef Michael Schwartz. General Manager Pietro Addis told us a re-designed rooftop spa and dining area would be opening any day, and we will definitely be back to check it out. With its beachfront location, I’m sure it will be instant hit.
As the gray skies persisted, we summoned a Lyft and headed for Terminal J at the Port of Miami, where Crystal Serenity was docked and ready for boarding.
As Crystal first-timers, we knew all about their reputation for stellar service and top awards for luxury cruising. Upon entering the ship off the gangway, we were greeted with a glass of champagne and escorted to the main dining room, Waterside, for lunch while they prepared the rooms. That was the moment my Man-bag shifted off my shoulder, causing me to splash my champagne. Luckily, no one was hit. Nothing like making a scene right out of the gate.
But no harm done, and having a personal escort was really nice, especially since we were new to the ship.
In Waterside we enjoyed a leisurely lunch and more champagne refills. On Crystal, alcoholic drinks, with some premium exceptions, are included with the cruise. The couple sitting at the next table offered us some of their cassis so we could make Kir Royales. It turned out they were from Boynton Beach and also first-timers, there to participate in a Bridge tournament. One thing we noted about lunch: The portions are smaller, which is much more to our liking.
After lunch we had time to do a little exploring. Since this is a holiday cruise, there are Christmas touches throughout the ship, including a wintry scene along the main stairway in the ship’s atrium. We also noted there are probably a few more kids than normal onboard as well.
Then on to our room — a deluxe verandah on deck 9. Well-appointed with a number of upscale touches, our luggage was there and waiting for us. We also met Sachina, our stateroom attendant, whose home country is Nepal. Friendly and pleasant, she went over the room’s features, including a digital, one-touch “Do Not Disturb” or “Clean My Room” option.
Love the bath, with its full-size tub and shower, along with dual sinks.
There is a well-stocked mini-fridge, all complimentary of course. There are extra USB connections and two sets of robes — one lightweight, and one regular, along with footwear. The roomy balcony has a full-size table and Pam loves the full-size toiletries as well. Did I mention we have a doorbell? So much more elegant than knocking.
But then came the fun part — unpacking. Believe it or not, we managed to find places for everything, even if some of the hangers had to do double or triple duty. Sachina is bringing us more.
Of course, one of the main activities on day one of any cruise is the dreaded but necessary muster drill. Our station was located in the Hollywood Theatre on deck 6. At least for this one we got to sit in comfortable seats.
Unlike other ships, sailaway was a low-key affair. No poolside parties or steel drum bands. We opted for a French 75 in our new favorite place, the Palm Court forward on Lido Deck 12. It featured intimate seating around a bar and dance floor, with sweeping views and subdued lighting. The Crystal Quartet set the right mood while the Ambassador Hosts were available for those that needed dance partners.
Since it had been a packed (and unpacked) day, we decided to go with room service, which is available 24/7. The windy weather conditions we left followed us at sea, and we were rocking along with the waves. Time to rest up and see what day two brings.
Cover photo: Crystal Serenity in full Christmas mode, credit Gerry Barker