Now that we have returned to the reality of winter, even in usually warm Houston, I thought I would take a few moments to reflect on Serenity transatlantic V2327, Barcelona-Miami. In the words of the attorneys, "these comments represent my thoughts and do not reflect the opinions of others, etc., etc. et.al."...
We arrived in Barcelona three days before the cruise and stayed at the Eurostars Grand Marina. We arrived at the hotel about 10:00am and were immediately shown to our rooms. We were upgraded to harborview/cityview rooms. The location was perfect; 5 minutes walk to the Columbus Monument, the Ramblas and the metro station, the hop-on/hop-off tour bus stopped directly in front of the hotel, and best of all, it was less than a 5 minute cab ride from the hotel to the Serenity's pier on Sunday morning.
We arrived at the pier about 12:15pm and were registered in the ship's lobby by 12:30pm. As we were registering, our waiter and Maitre 'D from our previous Serenity cruise in April spotted us, both came out of the dining room, and escorted us to a waiting table in the dining room. Champagne was already being poured as we were seated. How much better does that get? A leisurely lunch (and several more glasses of champagne later), we headed toward our cabins at about 1:55pm. The luggage was already placed on the bed and the room was ready. ("Officially" the rooms were to be ready at 3:00pm, but ours was ready earlier.)
Random Observations (in no particular order)
There were about 800' passengers on board, but since there were so many guest entertainers/lectures and many single passengers, there were very few empty cabins. With only 800 onboard, there was never a line, never a wait (with one exception...more later) anywhere on the ship.
The weather was spectacular! Amazing calm seas, not a cloud in sight and temperatures in the 70's. We took advantage of the great weather to use the hot tubs and the outdoor pool most every afternoon. The covered pool remained unfilled and closed for the entire crossing.
Although the Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle had over 70 guests registered, I think that only about 35 or so actually made the party. We met many old friends, made some new friends and had enjoyable conversations with several of the ship's officers that attended.
The pillow chocolates are no more. No great tragedy for us, since we usually just tossed all those chocolates in a drawer and brought them home anyway. But there was a very nice one pound box of See's chocolates from the Crystal Society in the cabin. Those came home with us, too, and will be shared with friends on New Year's Eve.
The staff on Crystal are fantastic. This was our first cruise since the all inclusive took effect. We noticed no change in service and, in fact, every staff member that we encountered seemed even more eager to please than ever. We were acknowledged by every staff and crew member that we passed onboard, whether service staff, officers, deck crew, painters, handrail polishers, laundrymen, etc.
I don't know how they do it, but this year's holiday decorations were even more spectacular than when we were onboard in December 2010. There were three massive Xmas trees in the atrium this year. Just amazing.
The self-service laundry, at least on Deck 9, is now card-key access, I assume the self-service laundries on other decks may have new locks, but we did not check the other decks.
We were on Deck 9 aft. We met our cabin stewardess about 2:30pm. We gave her our mini-fridge beverage preferences, ordered a bottle of gin and a bottle of bourbon, requested fresh sliced limes everyday, ice to be delivered at 5:00pm everyday, requested extra towels, changed our pillow preferences, and asked for more hangers. Everything was in order later that evening and remained so for the rest of the cruise. Bathroom and cabin amenities were promptly replaced, without asking, as they became depleted. Since we had a European electrical plug adapter with us for our stay in Barcelona, we were able to use both the US-style and the European-style electrical outlets above the desk to recharge phones, cameras, etc.
Due to the ship's movement, there was a slight rattle coming from one of the closet doors and one of the wall lamps. A quick comment to our stewardess and everything in the cabin was tightened, sealed and rattle-less the second evening and thereafter.
Breakfast: Our usual day began around 8:00am with a 3-4 mile circuit on Deck 7. After a quick shower, we generally had a very light snack of fresh fruit, juice and a double latte in the Bistro. We never made it to the MDR for breakfast and only made it to the Lido for breakfast on the two port days and before disembarking in Miami. We are not big breakfast-eaters, so the abundance of breakfast offerings generally did not tempt us. The Bistro still has the best coffee aboard!
Lunch: Other than the embarkation day lunch, we never made it back to the MDR for lunch. The three themed buffets (Mediterranean, Asian and American) are now presented in the Lido instead of around the pool. The staff wears the themed uniforms on those three afternoons. The selections offered during the themed buffets appeared to be identical to my recollection of the selections offered around the pool previously, but the whole operation is now much more organized, civilized and the waiters are able to properly take care of their guests without dodging the buffet obstacle course around the pool.
The Grand/Gala Buffet in the atrium was the usual visual treat, with endless cold lobster and jumbo shrimp, but no more crab claws. It is still organized chaos in the atrium for about 90 minutes during the buffet, but fortunately, there was complete calm and quiet once we were escorted to a table in the dining room.
We are addicted to the freshly made onion rings from the grille, the duck quesadillas and individual pizzas at Tastes and really enjoyed sampling the new selections of Ben & Jerry's ice creams.
Dinner: There were five of us traveling together on this crossing. I specifically requested to be seated in a section of the dining room that would be served by our sommelier from our previous cruise. The Maitre'D was most obliging and we had a table for five, second sitting, in the inner ring immediately next to the Captain's table. (The Captain, btw, dined in the dining room on at least four occasions.) We were quite pleased with the included wine offerings, and if there was ever anything that we did not like (we usually started with a white then progressed to a red then had either a dessert wine or port after dinner), we were immediately offered at least one, if not several other included selections. We did splurge on two occasions for extra-tariff Champagne and a Sauternes dessert wine, but we found the included selections quite acceptable and well paired to the menus.
From experience on previous cruises, we learned to order half-portions for all entrees, soups and salads. Our waiter jokingly asked every evening if we wanted the "children's" portion or the "adult" portion, and the smaller portions were served with the same polish and presentation as the "regular" orders.
We had dinner at Silk Road once. The blackened miso cod is my favorite. Although the sake menu is much more limited with the all inclusive, the included hot and cold sake were very nice and presented with the same flourish as always.
We had dinner at Prego once. The service was spectacular. The presentation was exemplary. Other than the mushroom soup, perhaps the chef was having an off night. Nothing really "bad", but we have had so many truly fantastic Italian meals in shore-side restaurants, perhaps our expectation level for fine Italian cuisine cannot match the limitations inherent on ship. Needless to say, not our best meal onboard and really our only dining disappointment.
We had dinner one evening in the Vintage Room. We did this on our previous crossing in 2010 and it was so remarkable, we invited two of our friends to join us on this trip. (No, we did not reserve the entire room....we shared the room with five other couples.) Champagne was served at 6:30pm and the last glass of dessert wine was finally consumed after 10:00pm. A remarkable evening, superb presentation, wine pairings and an individualized learning session with the head sommelier during the entire dinner. Each course of the multiple course tasting menu was perfectly proportioned so we could enjoy every course with its paired wine.
Every day at sea (9 sea days) there were scheduled lectures at 10:00am and 11:00am in the Galaxy and another lecture after lunch at 1:30pm in the theater. We attended almost all lectures, since they were all so interesting.
We had never heard Dr. Jay Wolff speak. He was the only lecturer to present nine times. His lectures every sea day at 11:00am in the Galaxy were SRO. It's not fair to call Dr. Wolff a "historian/storyteller", but if history was presented this way when we were all in school, we all might have paid more attention to our professors. A remarkable, knowledgeable and personable speaker, I would strongly encourage everyone to attend his lectures if you are ever onboard with Dr. Wolff. He really made history relevant and alive.
We enjoyed Dr. Carolyn Harris who spoke several times about European monarchy. Her lectures about the British royal family were especially interesting and relevant to the places we visited on this crossing. Although her presentation style was a bit more academic in tone, she was very engaging and very much enjoyed talking "shop" when seeing her out and about the ship.
Having just returned from an extended land trip to SE Asia and Vietnam, and after visiting the "Hanoi Hilton" and listening to the interpretation of the Vietnam War as presented by the Vietnamese, it was very interesting and timely to listen to Mr. Lee Ellis who spoke about his years as a POW in the "Hanoi Hilton". There are usually at least two sides to every story, and the contrast between an American POW's experience and the experience of the fighting North Vietnamese at the time was quite illuminating.
We had heard Dr. Tom Logsdon's lectures about space travel and rockets and NASA many times, so we only attended one of his three lectures, which covered a topic that we had not heard him speak about before.
The two other special lecturers, Dr. David Plourd spoke about whales, dolphins and the ocean and was a bit too much of a specialized scope to interest us after one lecture. Mr. Will Friedwald spoke about the Big Bands and the Big Band singers, but his lectures tended to heavily rely on video clips, so we bailed after listening to his first lecture only.
Crystal certainly tries to provide something for everyone. We have heard pianists Naki Ataman and Philip Wojciechowski on previous cruises and both delivered their usual world-class performances on this crossing. We totally missed the performances of comedian Steve Stevens and specialty trumpeter Gary Guthman. Their scheduled performances conflicted with our specialty dinner reservations so we had to decide between food or frivolity....the food won.
The 30 minute, Magic Castle at Sea, by reservation only (easy to obtain...just sign up in the library) in the Pulse disco was an amusing mid-afternoon diversion. Just another activity in the whole portfolio of options onboard.
The Artie Shaw Orchestra, all 18 musicians plus vocalist, played 10 of the 12 nights in the Palm Court, as well as two separate concerts played in the atrium. We thoroughly enjoyed the variety of music this Big Band played, and several evenings we closed down the Palm Court around 1:00am once the band stopped playing.
There were two professional dance teams on board. One evening was Crystal's version of Dancing With the Stars. If you have ever seen Curtis Collins lift and spin Natalie Mavor Miles above his head, on stage, at sea, it is an amazing sight to watch. How Natalie can stand up after that spin ride in the air is anyone's guess!
Joel Spire kept the Avenue Saloon SRO until after 1:00am EVERY NIGHT! It was amazing. Tables were moved out of the way and there was dancing in the Saloon until the very wee hours. This was a partying crowd! And no, it had nothing to do with all inclusive bar. By and large, it did not appear that liquor consumption was any more excessive than observed on previous cruises before all inclusive. People were just having a really good time.
Needless to say, since all the late night action was either in the Palm Court, the Avenue or the Cove, there was absolutely nobody in the Pulse disco except for a lonely bartender and waiter with nothing to do.
Okay, here's my negative comment. And others have expressed this on other threads. The Cove is very popular. VERY popular. There are not enough seats for all. Well, there are enough seats, but the current configuration with those huge sofas and huge lounge chairs grouped for 6-8 people makes it a challenge to be in the Cove as a couple especially if you really don't want to engage in conversation with others already seated. Not trying to be anti-social, but there are some times that we just wanted a table for two to listen to either the string quartet or Tom Daniels at the piano. And, it is true, just one cigarette smoker has the ability to pollute the air in the entire Cove. Not trying to provide a solution here, but this was the only lounge that we, unfortunately, usually avoided.
Million Dollar Musicals and Curtain Call are dated productions, way past their pull-dates. We appreciate the expense involved with these production extravaganzas, but there were very few people in the Galaxy during the late show. It's not fair to the performers and it's not fair to the audience.
We saw Across the Pond earlier this year. I saw it again to confirm that it was really as awful as I remembered the first time. This unimaginative, poorly executed collection of unrelated tunes needs to be retired to the scrap heap along with Crystal's previous all-time flop, Excalibur.
We thoroughly enjoyed Rocket Man, the Elton John signature show. This was the only production show that packed the Galaxy, as most passengers had not seen this new production. Crystal is trying to attract a younger demographic, and I know it is a fine balancing act. My unofficial/general consensus poll of the audience was that it was well accepted by those under 60 years. The more senior members of the audience never heard of 90% of the songs and did not appreciate the rock music arrangements. It's a very thin line the entertainment directors walk to try to please most people onboard.
Tenerife: The weather was perfect! Our travel agent arranged a private tour for eight of us and we spent a fantastic day touring the island which culminated in a fantastic 2Â½ hour lunch before returning to the ship at 4:00pm. There was a medical evacuation before we left port, so sailing was delayed by about 45 minutes to allow the affected passengers to leave by ambulance. So sad when this happens, but it was fortunate that it occurred in port and not during the actual 5-day Atlantic crossing.
St.Maarten: There were six massive cruise ships in port with the Serenity. It was a "cruise ship parking lot". Needless to say, the island was overwhelmed. We went ashore for about an hour, found a free Wi-Fi connection, checked emails, and came back onboard. Apparently, the rest of the passengers had the same idea, because everyone was back onboard and we sailed 30 minutes early!
The smoothest, most seamless disembarkation ever. We were staying in Florida for the weekend, so were assigned an independent 9:00am departure. As we entered the Galaxy at 8:50am, our color was being called. We were on the gangway at 9:00am and we were on the sidewalk in front of the pier at 9:05am with all our luggage!
My definition of a good vacation is one where no one gets hurt, no one gets sick and all the luggage makes it. By that definition, it was a very good trip. Good food, good service, good company, good memories. We met so many people that we sailed with on the 2010 transatlantic crossing. And we met an amazing number of people that have booked either individual segments or the entire 2015 World Cruise while onboard. We look forward to sailing with old and new friends again on the World Cruise in two short years!