If I had to choose one word to describe a cruise on Crystal Serenity, it would be “family.”
Pam and I just completed our first cruise with Crystal, the “Haute Caribbean Holidays” voyage — 16 days, round-trip Miami — and from the guests to the crew, family is fundamental to the overall experience.
First, consider how many of the nearly 1,000 guests onboard were repeat customers: Almost 70 percent. Among the senior officers and staff, many told us they’ve been with Crystal over 20 years. That combination of long-serving crew and long-term guests create the unique feeling that every cruise is a family reunion of sorts. Not to mention we met one woman who lives on the ship, and heard about another who’s taken over 400 cruises.
Of course, there are other reasons Crystal has such a loyal following. As the most honored of all cruise lines in the luxury category, the food and service is unparalleled, as well as their attention to detail. Here’s a closer look at what we found:
Starting with our first lunch after boarding in Waterside, the main dining room, we were wowed by the food. The portions were reasonable (and you can even order half-portions if you like), the presentations artful and the taste perfection. While we had the majority of our meals in Waterside and Marketplace, the buffet restaurant on Lido, cruises also include one complimentary visit to their specialty restaurants — Prego (Italian), Umi Uma (from the creator of Nobu) and the Stardust Supper Club. We also had dinner at their Asian restaurant, Silk (reservations required — lunch is open seating) and Churrascaria, the Brazilian restaurant open evenings in Marketplace.
Trident Grill is another option near the pool, serving soup, sandwiches, burgers and sides throughout the day. Adjacent to Trident is Scoops Ice Cream Bar, featuring Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. I definitely added a pound or two there.
We were frequent visitors to the Bistro, a coffee/tea/pastries and light snacks enclave that would be right at home on a street in Paris. Like your food with refined music? Go to the Afternoon Tea in the Palm Court, or even better, the Mozart Tea, with the wait staff in their 17th century finest. And complimentary room service is available 24/7 as well.
If stellar food, dining and service seem important to Crystal, that’s no accident. The cruise director told me they consider dining central to the whole cruise experience.
A few things to note:
— After a refurbishment in 2018, the ship is beautifully appointed, including the restaurants, each elegant and inviting in its own way, matching the artistry of the food.
— By the second day, we were being greeted by name when we entered. Impressive!
— They take sanitation and health very seriously. After a few cases of GI virus surfaced, hand washing stations were placed at the entrance to Marketplace.
— Waterside has open, first-come, first-served seating. We had no problem getting a table for two and didn’t have to wait more than five minutes to be seated.
— Wines are complimentary and they make recommendations that best pair with your meal.
— The Waterside menus are presented with two options — Modern and Classic. You can choose from either one if you want to mix and match.
— They can accommodate special requests if given some advance notice. On the final night, I asked for my favorite dessert — Bananas Foster — and we got to share it with some new friends.
— If your cruise offers the Stardust Supper Club dining experience, book it early. There was only one opportunity on our cruise, and it had a waiting list of 50 people. It’s an evening of dining, dancing and entertainment.
— We did miss having a late-night venue where you get pizza or other snacks without waiting for room service.
BARS AND LOUNGES
Except for a few premium exceptions, drinks are included with your cruise, providing a great reason to sample Serenity’s bars and lounges. As martini drinkers, we got hooked on the ship’s own version of the Lemon Drop — the Teeny Weeny Lemon Martini. It got to the point that the wait staff had them ready for us before we could order.
The main bar is Crystal Cove, in the atrium area on deck 5. More often than not, we found ourselves in the Avenue Saloon on deck 6 and the Palm Court on deck 12. The former is your classic dark wood, low lights, intimate seating bar you might find in an upscale, New York hotel; the latter offers great ocean views and a casual, breezy elegance. Music is a regular part of all three, ranging from a pianist and duo to the Crystal Quartet.
If cigars are your thing — it isn’t ours — The Connoisseur Club has a selection of smokes and liquors, with leather chairs and a TV. We tried not to pass by it if someone was going in or out. Keep the smoke in, please.
Along with the drinks, wait staff pass through regularly offering gourmet snacks. You could almost make a meal on those alone. There are other bars as well, so you’re never far from your favorite drink.
We knew by reputation Crystal’s food and service was rated topnotch, but we were surprised by the quality of the entertainment. The nightly shows in the Galaxy Lounge featured world-class musicians along with original productions that showcased the talents of the Crystal singers and dancers. And they do have some phenomenal talent.
While Galaxy had the glossy productions, we enjoyed the shows staged in the Stardust Supper Club, where you could get a ring-side seat and enjoy a martini. Our cruise also featured a comedian. There is a nightclub — Pulse — where they have a DJ, dancing and karaoke. We dropped by a time or two, but the teens onboard had pretty much taken it over.
There are movies screened daily in the Hollywood Theatre, with popcorn, of course. The theater also hosts, along with the Galaxy Lounge, lecturers who are part of the Crystal Visions Enrichment Program. We enjoyed learning about shipwrecks, the stars and the current state of world affairs from leaders in their fields (replays of lectures are also available on demand on your stateroom TV).
One of the main attractions, of special interest to solo women cruisers, were the Ambassadors: Dance partners for those who need one. Comprised of mostly retirees, they cha-cha, tango and rhumba day and night in Palm Court, the Supper Club, Crystal Cove — just about anywhere a band is playing. While we appreciated their talent, they not only took up a good portion of the dance floor, but also were somewhat intimidating for those of us — like me — not so skilled in the ballroom arts.
You can try your luck in the casino on deck 6. Pam got lucky on one of the slot machines and won back what she lost earlier. Check the daily planner — Reflections — for a complete list of activities that include dance lessons, bridge classes, art projects, trivia competitions are more.
Our stateroom was a deluxe veranda room on deck 9. Along with a spacious balcony with full-size furniture, there were double sinks in the bath and a tub/shower combination. We were a little concerned there would be enough storage for two weeks’ worth of clothes, but no worries — it all fit in the closet and drawers. We just had to request more hangers from our cheerful stateroom attendant, Sachina.
As noted, Crystal’s attention to detail is appreciated. Our room had a doorbell, along with touch screens for “Clean the Room” or “Do Not Disturb.” There was a wood casing around the balcony opening that helped shut out unwanted light — a great idea. It would have been nice to have a few more U.S. outlets, but we had our trusty six-power strip with us. Don’t leave home without it.
Each room has a well-stocked mini-fridge, which we utilized and appreciated, with ice delivered twice-daily. There is a small sofa with a table that can be adjusted up or down, a perfect workstation for my daily computer posts or room service deliveries. Our digital TV got a decent number of channels, even airing the college and pro football playoff games. It also featured movies and music channels on demand, as well as information about our cruise.
One of the added amenities in the Penthouse Suites are private butlers. I’m sure that’s a nice extra, but with the great service we received from Sachina and others throughout our cruise, it was more than enough for us.
A few other takeaways:
— Dress code. For most days, the dress code was casual. There were three black tie-optional nights, when Pam got to wear her snazzy evening attire while I donned my tux. While some think dressing up is a nuisance, we enjoy it. It’s great to incorporate glamour into the cruise experience.
— Shore Excursions. We did excursions in most of the ports, including volunteering to work at the Donkey Sanctuary in Antigua — a great program underwritten by Crystal to benefit different causes around the world. We liked that Crystal provided an escort to accompany each tour besides the tour guides. Some were better than others at keeping the tour organized and on track. The attendants meeting us back at the ship with cold towel service was a nice touch.
— Holiday Notes. As a holiday cruise, the ship was decked out in the spirit of the season. Santa made an appearance with toys for the young ones, and we welcomed in 2020 with 5,000 balloons, party favors and dancing in the Crystal Cove. One thing we didn’t expect: There were about 100 children of varying ages onboard with their parents. While there are areas on the ship just for young ones and teens, they were much in evidence at many late-night venues as well, which strengthened the case for some adult-only activities.
–Laundry. As you might imagine, 16 days is a long time to go without washing clothes. With that in mind, Crystal provides complimentary washers and dryers on just about all stateroom floors. It’s also a good place to meet and chat with your shipmates.
— Connectivity. The cruise includes free Wi-Fi throughout the ship, which did get an upgrade with the last drydock. It could still use more work. Connections were frequently dropped and depending on how many were on at any given time, it was very slow. The good folks at the Internet center were very helpful getting my laptop working.
— Leaving the ship. Disembarkation can be a pain, but not this time. Crystal had our luggage tags and need-to-know information delivered right to our stateroom. On the morning of departure, staff was there to escort us all the way through customs, which was the easiest and fastest getting off a ship we’ve ever experienced.
IN CLOSING … About Crystal Cruises and Crystal Serenity
While we have taken several upscale cruises, we found Crystal to be in a class by itself. The food and the service are hard to beat, and hard to leave, too. I can see why that woman we met lives on the ship fulltime.
The staff, from the captain and senior officers on down, work very hard to make sure every guest has an optimal experience. Regardless if we were in the Avenue Saloon, Waterside, Palm Court or the Bistro, we got first rate service and attention. So it was with mixed emotion that we found ourselves back in Miami, making way for new guests about to embark on the first leg of a world cruise.
One guest told us that the cruise was like living in a fantasy. Of course, that’s always the problem with fantasies — at some point, reality takes over. Like when you unpack two weeks’ worth of clothes.
Cover photo: Food Artfully Presented
Editor’s Note: For more information and to book a Crystal Cruises cruise
To see Gerry Baker’s entire Crystal Serenity diary, see his daily stories here: