I recently returned from a cruise on the Crystal Serenity. I have previously done 7 cruises, 5 Royal Caribbean, 1 Holland America and 1 Azamara. I couldn't believe I was actually going on a Crystal cruise and was so looking forward to it. Every time you read about Crystal, reviews are generally excellent and the line themselves often quote how many awards they have won -- would the cruise live up to my high expectations?
BOARDING -- I didn't realise it but I was joining a cruise in progress. I had booked 8 nights but the original cruise had started in Lisbon and was for 11 nights. I had previously read where you are offered Champagne on arrival and what a wonderful experience it is. I can say that the welcome onboard was lukewarm and a little half-hearted. No Champagne offered and felt like I was just being processed. A nice man led me to my stateroom and shortly afterwards the maid appeared and went through a few things. I had a veranda and was very happy with it.
FOOD - I then went for lunch and that is when I started to see the Crystal difference. The Lido buffet was superb which such a choice. I casually asked if honey mustard dressing was available and it wasn't, but to my surprise they immediately made some for me, very impressed. I went to the Lido on several occasions and only once was it packed and that was on a sea day. The other times there was no problem getting a table. One strange thing is the opening hours for lunch, 12.00 -- 13.30. Such a short time and I thought lunch would have been served until 14.30.
The food was excellent and I did enjoy the Crystal dining room, everything cooked to perfection. On one occasion the food wasn't hot but they rectified that. The menu was varied including on different nights, venison, pheasant, filet mignon etc, caviar was also available. I am not a dessert person but it all looked very good and beautifully presented. Branislav, Carmelo, Cristian and the sommelier always looked after us.
I also ate in Tastes for a late breakfast and that was good as was the Trident Grill for a burger or hot dog etc. The bistro is highly recommended for sandwiches and cakes.
I tried Silk Road and had the fortune to go with a Chinese American couple who talked me through the menu. There had been lots of hype about this restaurant and the problem is that rarely can places live up to the hype. It was very good but not what I was expecting i.e. meal of my life! I enjoyed the rock shrimp and the lobster spring roll but was a little disappointed in the Wagyu Beef -- maybe that is just my taste. Nothing was "to die for" as so many seem to say. Please don't misunderstand as I am not criticising, I really enjoyed it but it wasn't as good as I had been led to believe.
I also went to Prego. The food here was superb and beautifully presented. I wished I had gone back there again. The service in Prego was perhaps the best I have ever received with a special mention to the Maitre and head waiter, both from Portugal and Jerrit -- a wonderful waiter.
ENTERTAINMENT -- Personally I do not go on a cruise for the entertainment but I did go along to a couple of shows. On the first night the band did a Glenn Miller set which was superb and packed with people dancing and having a great time, Not sure why they didn't do it again. The dance classes were great and well attended, very entertaining teachers. There was dancing each evening and there were 4 male hosts to dance with unaccompanied ladies, brilliant. There were 2 sessions of bingo which were good fun and other activities to keep one occupied, all very well arranged.
This is where people may disagree with me. I do not think having a dance troupe is warranted on a line like Crystal. The stage is too small and although I am sure they are well trained, at times it looked like they were a group of friends having a laugh putting on a show! I think a few solo singers and some jazz would be better, however that is just my opinion. I would not want to offend anyone and I thought Rick, the cruise director was wonderful, very approachable and friendly as was his assistant Shane.
OTHER PASSENGERS -- I had been a little nervous as I thought everyone would be stuffy but that couldn't have been further from the truth. Everyone was so approachable and friendly and I met some wonderful people. This will sound snobbish but most passengers were of a certain class and you didn't have to worry about people turning up in track suits or football shirts. There was a woman on board from Glasgow who was the only one who stood out. I think she booked the wrong cruise!
DRESS CODE -- Everyone was smartly dressed but not OTT. It was lovely to have a formal night and dress in a tux, other nights were mainly smart casual.
ALL INCLUSIVE DRINKS -- This is NOT your typical all inclusive where people are queuing up to get their money's worth. All drinks were available including Hendricks Gin, Belvedere and Grey Goose Vodka etc. Champagne also freely available, not the best but we can't have everything!
BARS -- My favourites were the Crystal Cove pre dinner and sometimes after dinner for a quiet drink. Mark, Jess and company always made you feel welcome. The Avenue Bar where people could have a drink and chat, and dance if they wished, with great service provided by Ana and Nicole and the others. Pulse disco was great and I must mention Paolo who was just perfect, an excellent barman who knew exactly how to run things, ably assisted by Daniela.
CASINO -- Usual slots and games. The female cashier could be very brusque and I always felt as if she was telling me off!
SHOPS -- A small selection with very pleasant staff always willing to help. Do not expect duty free spirits and tobacco but upmarket clothes shops and some perfumes. There was also a convenience type place which was handy to have for forgotten essentials.
GYM -- Very modern and up to date and friendly staff.
LIBRARY -- Very well stocked and all in order, the best I have seen at sea.
INTERNET -- Same as all other lines but we were all given 20 minutes free use on the last day to print off boarding cards. I thought this was a nice gesture.
LAUNDRY -- There are several self service laundrettes on the Serenity. Washers, dryers, ironing board etc. Very good and more ships should have them.
SMOKING -- No problem at all. Apparently one can smoke in the cabins but you would never know it as there was no smell of smoke. Limited area in some bars which was fine.
DISEMBARKING -- Could not have been easier. Walked off the ship, and no queues at all. Not much of a farewell but business is business.
SERVICE -- EXCELLENT!!!!!!!!!!!! Staff was there whenever you needed them and most were very professional. Hotel officers could be seen walking around the ship and would always say hello.
CRITISISMS -- Not much to criticise but if Crystal are going to add on "b" cruises they must make more of an effort. There were no welcome parties, single gatherings etc. The only party I went to was the Farewell party which strangely was held on the 5th night of the cruise. It didn't make much difference to me as it was so easy to meet people anyway but may be something to think about.
Would I cruise with Crystal again -- YES! It may be expensive but you get what you pay for and I would rather have 1 cruise with Crystal than 2 with a different line.