Transatlantic, December 2012, marketed by Crystal as Big Band and Ballroom theme. I have no interest in Big Band but chose the cruise because of the Ballroom theme.
Having done Transatlantics on Costa and Cunard a year ago, I can compare this trip with direct competitors. Although my dancing expertise is International style, I do travel with American groups and am not totally unfamiliar with American style.
Food: Food in the MDR was usually excellent, although sometimes only good. Service was professional and efficient, although only really notable for high staff ratios. The MDR operates mostly with traditional fixed seating. I used "dining by reservation", not really open seating as reservations are required. I did not use the specialty restaurants.
There is no midnight buffet, waiters bring trays of pizza and snacks to the lounges. Also no evening buffet, instead limited, fixed menu service using the patio furniture beside the pool. It operated 6:30 to 9 PM, but was closed sometimes, notably formal nights.
I estimate a premium of $50/day over Costa and $20/day over Cunard is warranted.
Cabins: All cabins are outside. AA, A, B and C categories are identical, except that C has a window. The cabins are attractive and well-furnished, but functionally similar to premium balconies on other ships. The bathroom is large enough for a second sink and a "full" (actually 48") tub. Closet space is average. The mattresses were unusually firm, more European-style.
Ambiance: Several times, the ship was so quiet, I wondered if it would be literally possible to heart a pin drop.
Dress Code: Mostly casual, tending towards "backyard scruffy" during the day. There were many tuxedos in evidence on formal evenings.
GLBT: There was only one FOD meeting that I saw, and there did not seem to be many gay couples on the ship.
Lecturers: Most interest lectures conflicted with other activities. The ones I was able to attend tended to be a summary of open-source material with little fresh insight- e.g. the Columbus lecture did not mention the controversies engendered by "1421" and "1434", and mentioned encomienda only briefly.
Public Rooms: The Serenity has two large venues and was able to cope with having both Big Band and Ballroom themes simultaneously.
Palm Court: Rectangular dance floor about 20' x 40' with four unfortunately placed pillars, about 4' in from the edge. The Big Band took about 1/3 the space, and although this was not a Christmas cruise (Hanukkah, actually) there were two trees on the dance floor taking a significant amount of space. They were not removed for several days.
Stardust Lounge: Crescent shaped dance floor, usable rectangle about 18' x 36', total area about 25% larger with furniture removed.
Avenue Saloon: No dance floor, but a pianist playing popular music; as many as 50 people as late as 1 AM.
Crystal Cove: The lobby bar, with a pianist playing mostly "music to snooze by".
Disco: Dance floor oval-shaped, about 15' x 12'. Most nights there was nobody there.
Dancing: There were perhaps 50 people who seemed to be keen dancers. I do not know how many of them chose the cruise because of the Ballroom theme.
Crystal hired a second dance couple, both couples were well-qualified (American style).
Each couple taught one American-style beginner-level class per day. I noted that the rumba class appeared to use the Side Basic from the DVIDA syllabus. They frequently mentioned concepts such as frame, connection, LOD and floorcraft. They also experimented with advanced and International style classes, which were not very successful. There were only a few couples at this level.
Although the dance floor in the Stardust lounge is an unfortunate shape, it was not bad for a cruise ship. The Palm Court is also large, but is on an upper deck. Both would be quite acceptable if properly organized.
Crystal had the professional couples perform a DWTS-type show in the theatre one night, so much time was taken by rehearsals.
The house band was a Filipino quintet. They played mostly foxtrots, rumbas (American tempo) and waltzes (mostly too fast). Not bad as an ordinary lounge band, but not a dance band. They had no knowledge of dance tempos- when I asked for a waltz at 90 beats per minute, I was told "we don't know what you're talking about". I am told Filipino bands often learn to play by rote and don't really understand tempo.
Crystal booked a 17-piece Big Band orchestra; I have no interest in Big Band. I noticed that the band was only popular for a couple of nights. The Stardust lounge was used as the dancing venue and attracted a steady crowd throughout the cruise.
Students in the classes were expected to rotate partners, but did not segregate the women who were serious about learning and actually showed up wearing proper shoes (there were several), from the gawdawful creatures who just wanted to waddle around wiggling their fat butts. Hosts have to put up with that- I don't.
I asked about recorded strict tempo music during band breaks, and was flat-out refused; "the Hosts have to take a break and the women will complain if they are not dancing". I was left with the impression there had been no thought of providing strict tempo music and the idea was an annoying imposition.
Six allegedly "accomplished ballroom dancers". Based on what I have seen with other groups, I was not impressed. Only one of them could even stand up straight ("frame" in American terminology). One was so bad as to be a horrible example- any woman who would tolerate him is not someone I would want to dance with. I was told that there are normally four hosts, and they usually sit around with nothing to do.
Crystal provides a nice, but over-priced, product. The ambiance definitely tended towards "comatose" rather than "party".
There are two lounges with decent dance floors. But if this was the best they can do on a ballroom theme cruise, I would not want to go on a regular cruise without some ironclad guarantees and big penalty clauses.