REVIEW: Crystal Serenity – She’s Back…and Better than Ever!

Crystal Serenity stands majestically at her dock at New York City’s Pier 88–the first time she’s visited the Big Apple since the pandemic brought the world to a screeching halt. But for Crystal Cruises, that halt was particularly damning, with Genting Hong Kong, the line’s parent company, filing for bankruptcy and liquidation in 2022, moves partially triggered by the cessation of cruising. Crystal Serenity (along with sister ship Crystal Symphony) found herself dead in the water–literally–until Abercrombie & Kent, in partnership with previous Silversea’s Chairman and Owner Manfredi Lefebvre, threw the ship a cash-infused lifeline.

Today, the feeling aboard the 68,870 grt Crystal Serenity is almost surreal—as though the pandemic and the liquidation never even happened. 80% of Crystal Serenity’s crew are line veterans and the hotel manager and cruise director, Scott Peterson and Rick Spath, respectively, are industry legends. So many guests are long-time devotees and it’s not unusual to speak with some whose Crystal sailings number 50 cruises or more (one woman aboard this cruise sailed a staggering 170 times).

That quirky seahorse sculpture, Crystal’s trademark, still stands like a treasured museum piece alongside Crystal Serenity’s swimming pool. Familiar public spaces like Palm Court, the Galaxy Theater and Nobuyuki Matsuhisa’s Umi Uma Japanese/Peruvian dining spot may still be found aboard, but the new Crystal is not one to rest on its laurels.

The beauty of today’s Crystal Serenity is that she combines many of the things that fans of the uber luxurious ship have always loved with some dramatic upgrades courtesy of the multi-million-dollar renovation that the ship underwent during her six-month overhaul. The result seems to be a conscious attempt by the line to satisfy its long-time fans while attracting new ones to the concept of exceptional all-inclusive luxury cruising.

And they have succeeded. Boy, have they succeeded.

The Suite Life:  Accommodations (10/10)

The reborn Crystal Serenity has a reduced capacity (740 versus her previous capacity of 1,080 guests). During the ambitious renovation of Crystal Serenity, two full decks of smaller passenger cabins were combined, resulting in an expansion of the line’s Sapphire Veranda Suite category and the creation of two new categories:  the Junior Crystal Penthouse Suite (645 square feet) and the cozy 215 square foot Single Guest Room with Ocean View.

It is to my 537 square-foot Sapphire Veranda that I head after boarding. I open the door to find a spacious living area, done in relaxing blues and grays, with a circular dining table, full-size couch beneath a stunning illuminated wall sculpture, a vanity, easy chair, flat-screen TV, high-end Julius Meinl espresso maker and pods, powerful Bushnell binoculars and a sliding glass door that leads to a spacious balcony. But that’s just half of it. Equally spacious is the bedroom with its queen-size bed dressed with Jesurum Venezia luxury linens, and more lighting options than I’ll ever need. A second flat screen TV is here as well, as is a second access to that balcony where, on this sailing, I’ll be able to view magnificent vistas as we head north to Boston, Halifax, Sydney and Quebec City.

The marble bathroom is a wonder with double sinks, lighted vanity and separate makeup mirror, ample storage shelves, Ortiglia Sicilia toiletries (generously sized 8.45 oz. bottles of them!) and a high-end Grohe shower that, okay, I’ll admit it, took me about 20 minutes to figure out. The overhead rain shower head, hand-held option and powerful body jets may be activated individually or together via wall controls, controls that are push button, not “turned” like every other shower I’ve ever used.

A walk in-closet with a unit of shelves and drawers provides storage, as well as two types of bathrobes (a substantial Etro terry variety and a lightweight cotton with a whimsical Crystal nautical print), Etro slippers and a wall safe. A mini-bar built into the vanity is stocked with beer, wine, champagne…and basically anything you request from your butler. That’s right:  Every cabin category now includes the services of a capable butler who will arrange dining reservations (both onboard and ashore), iron garments, deliver room service and canapes each evening and even pack and unpack for you upon request.

New to Crystal is the tablet that sits charging on an end table to the side of the sofa. Check out the daily program, watch Crystal or other content, view movies, TV shows or even “page” through popular magazines through this device. And, because Crystal includes free wi-fi, you can even use it to check and write your email.

The Sapphire Suite is pretty much the middle grade aboard Crystal Serenity, and accounts for a little less than half the ship’s 377 total suites, with some smaller options and some mind-blowingly large ones filling out the category line up. But I am so dazzled by my Sapphire Suite that I don’t even experience envy when I tour the ship’s enormous 1,372 square foot penthouse!

Wine & Dine:  Dining (10/10)

For a ship the modest size of Crystal Serenity, there is a dizzying array of dining options! In fact, it seems as if Crystal Serenity has put as much thought into these options as it has on the superb variety and quality of dishes!

Breakfast:  For an early riser like me, it begins at The Bistro where it takes just two mornings for the barista to know exactly how I take my coffee and he begins to prepare it as soon as he sees me stagger toward this casual coffee, pastry and snack spot at 6:00 a.m. For others—in fact, most–the day begins at Marketplace, the ship’s extensive buffet, with selections that range from fruits, both expected and unexpected (sliced peaches, anyone?) and hot dishes like eggs benedict, crispy bacon, and pancakes. The ship’s main dining room, Waterside, offers a served breakfast daily and even late risers have their own option at the Trident Grill until 11:00 a.m.

Lunch:  While a delectable lunch menu is served formally at Waterside, the trio of casual dining venues found on deck 12 are what lure me day after day. I often find the vast selections at Marketplace overwhelming with seafood-studded savory paella, saucy pastas, creative salads, carved meats, and even vegan options like a scrumptious “pea burger” vying at once for my attention. I check out Trident Grill and its burgers, sandwiches, wraps and soups and find this is no mere burger grill but a stunning lunch spot where guests savor delicious yet sensible lunches like chunky and pungent gazpacho and a Caesar chicken wrap while surrounded by live trees and lush greenery. Right next door, Tastes offers yet another lunch option with a menu that includes classic sandwiches like a towering Reuben or tuna melt dripping with gooey cheese, delectable pizza and salads like Caesar, topped with tender and succulent shrimp. And, of course, waiters offer unlimited wines, beer, spirits and cocktails to complement your selections.

Dinner:  Evenings aboard Crystal Serenity are magical with dining taking center stage. Guests tend to dress for the occasion even outside of the one formal evening of our 8-day sailing. While Trident Grill and Tastes are the more casual options, most head toward the elegance and ocean views of Waterside with its contemporary décor and a menu that combines classic favorites with more inventive dishes.

Specialty Dining:  During cruises of 11 days or less, guests may dine once at no charge at each of Crystal Serenity’s two specialty restaurants. If space permits, additional reservations may be secured at a charge of $50 per person.

-Umi Uma:  For so many of the ship’s frequent sailors, the return of Umi Uma, Nobuyuki (Nobu) Matsuhisa’s Japanese/Peruvian fusion dining spot and its original menu, was nearly as exciting as the return of the ship itself! And it’s not surprising. One of only two Nobu restaurants at sea (the other being aboard Crystal Symphony), its dining extravaganza may begin with an assortment delectable sushi and sashimi, appetizers like soft shell crab spring rolls, crispy rice with spicy tuna tartare or heady mushroom soup served in a teapot and poured into miniature sipping dishes. For most, the main course is Nobu’s moist and magnificent black cod marinated in saikyo miso with baby peach and young ginger, a celebration of sweet and savory that, alone, could–and does–lure guests back to Crystal again and again. But with its grilled Australian Wagyu beef filet steak and grilled chicken breast adorned with Balsamico-teriyaki, anticucho or wasabi pepper sauce, Umi Uma certainly hasn’t forgotten carnivores.

-Osteria D’Ovidio: Italian gets a modern twist at the sleek and spacious Osteria D’Ovidio. Unlike Umi Uma, Osteria D’Ovidio’s menu bears no resemblance to that of Prego, Crystal’s original destination for Italian fare. You won’t find chicken parmigiana or lasagna here but, instead, a refined selection of primarily Northern Italian dishes that are as striking to look at as they are delicious to consume. Think veal chop with lime mayonnaise, duck breast with red wine sauce, cashew nuts and beet root and salt baked sea bass with tarragon sauce and sea asparagus as mains and, for your pasta fix, creative dishes like the earthy-yet-sweet tortello di stracotto di manzo, pasta “cups” holding a filling of braised beef, figs vincotto and gorgonzola cheese. (Of note, and a source of considerable disappointment among Crystal veterans, is the removal from the Italian menu of the line’s classic Mushroom Soup in a Bread Bowl. Fortunately, this signature Crystal dish does make an occasional appearance on Waterside’s menu!)

Special Event Dining: 

The Supper Club:  Dinner and a show? Travel back in time to the big band era while enjoying an elegant evening that begins with a champagne greeting and continues with a superb dining experience that kicks off with a serving of white sturgeon caviar. Twice per cruise, Crystal Serenity’s Stardust Club is transformed to offer a reservations-only (no surcharge) dining experience that allows guests to enjoy a lavish broiled Chilean sea bass or Black Angus prime rib dinner amid a backdrop of live music, dance and song. The decadent “black & gold” dessert, dark chocolate mousse with salted caramel panna cotta, in itself, makes The Supper Club an outstanding dining choice!

The Vintage Room:  An Oenophile’s idea of heaven, this elegantly lit wood-paneled private room plays host to wine-themed events that range from the $300 per person seven-course dinner for 14 to the “lunch & lecture” series at $95 per person (“Taste of Italian Wine Regions” or “Explore California”) and the $145 per person “Celebrations of Champagne”. With lunch events including discussion by Crystal Serenity’s highly knowledgeable head sommelier Jiri Kapal, a delectable four-course menu and the perfect fine wines to accompany each course, it will likely be the most enjoyable lecture you’ll ever attend!

That’s Entertainment! Entertainment/Enrichment: (10/10)

It’s 11:30 a.m., and Crystal Cove is filled with the sound of tinkling piano keys. There’s a violinist providing a melodic backdrop during afternoon tea for those who didn’t choose to watch the feature film in the Hollywood Theater, attend a dance lesson, learn about gemstones or participate in an art class where they’ll attempt to capture in watercolors a sunset over the sparkling sea and Canadian coast.

Reflections, Crystal’s daily program, is filled with events, on sea days and otherwise. Daytime options might include lectures by prominent speakers on world affairs, health seminars, computer instruction or simply what to anticipate at the ports we’ll visit.

Evening entertainment often begins early aboard Crystal Serenity with a 6:00 p.m. comedy performance or, on our sailing, “Me & My Shadows,” an astonishing cabaret starring Sarah Elizabeth Combs. A talented vocalist in her own right, Ms. Combs “channels” Lucille Ball, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and more combining impersonation and song to create a nostalgic, entertaining and humorous experience for the audience.

From Broadway to Billy Joel, Sinatra to “Concert and Dance,” Crystal Serenity’s evening entertainment leans toward production shows replete with singers, dancers and creative lighting.

Not your thing? Head straight to the intimate, amber-lit ambiance of Avenue Saloon on deck 6 for popular tunes performed by singer and pianist Joel Spier or rock out in Pulse where the club’s DJ honors dancers’ requests or leads an evening of karaoke.

At Your Service:  On Board Service (11/10…can I do that??)

I suspect I’m a disappointment to my butler John. I can tell that he hates that I don’t order room service and that I rarely touch the platter of canapes he delivers each evening. He nearly died when he saw me coming out of the passenger laundry and he really, really, really wants to iron something for me.

Ask any Crystal veteran what keeps them returning to the line and, sure, you’ll hear about the luxurious ships and the superb dining, but most often you’ll hear about the staff.

Even after several devastating years for Crystal, 80% of these friendly, capable and highly professional men and women chose to return to the line and to the guests who many have known for well over a decade.

I ask John about his 15-year career with Crystal. “I was a butler before joining Crystal but worked in the ship’s main dining room because no butler positions were available,” he explains. “I was so happy when the butler program was expanded! Before then, there were only eight butlers on board and they weren’t going anywhere. Nobody ever leaves Crystal.”

And, from what I saw during my Crystal Serenity sailing, that seems to apply to guests, as well.

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Post Script:  Crystal Serenity

Going Solo?:  “I don’t think of myself as a single traveler on Crystal,” said the lovely woman I was speaking with when I asked her why Crystal is a good choice for solo travelers. Not only do staff treat this frequent guest like family, but Crystal offers accommodations with no single supplement, the daily program invites solo sailors to join dinner tables at the main or specialty restaurants, and it’s one of the only lines to offer dance hosts, men and women who are delighted to take unaccompanied guests (or accompanied ones whose partners have two left feet) for a spin around the dance floor.

A Pariah No More:  Cigarette, pipe and cigar smokers finally have a refuge at sea! The Connoisseurs Club, a plush and atmospheric old-world smoking room with excellent ventilation, restores smokers’ dignity, getting them out of the plexiglass cages they’re forced to occupy when lighting up on many cruise ships.

No Laptop? No Problem:  At a time when many ships have eliminated their computer centers, Crystal Serenity’s Computer University at Sea provides full-size computers for guests’ use, and regularly features travel photography-related and other computer classes.

Get moving:  A full fitness center is available at Crystal Serenity’s Aurora Spa & Salon and walkers can get their steps in on the uninterrupted promenade deck—3.35 laps equals a mile. Or you can get moving at the ship’s outdoor courts on deck 13. On my sailing, pro tennis player and half of Wimbledon’s 1976 men’s doubles semi-finalist Anand Amritraj was on hand to provide pointers.

You Can Hit the Jackpot…Soon!:  The renovated Crystal Serenity lacks a casino—for now! A small casino, however, will be added to the ship in the near future.

Photos on this page credit Judi Cuervo

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See cruises here:

Crystal Cruises
Crystal Serenity
Crystal Symphony

 

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