This was our second cruise with Crystal. Having ended our cruise on the Symphony last summer in Stockholm and wanting to go back to Stockholm, we decided to try the Serenity out of Stockholm this summer. We booked our own air and stayed at the Hilton.
Embarkation was extremely quick and easy and we were led directly to our rooms, by a pleasant woman who worked in the Spa, but did not really know her away around the ship too well.
Our cabins were on Deck 10 - a PH with a connecting AA for our children (ages 11 & 13), who had also sailed with us last summer. The PH was extremely comfortable for two people and very efficiently laid out - much better than the standard cabins which we had last year and found rather tight. While Crystal provides you with much larger than average bathrooms, you lose the space in the cabin and we found the placement of the closet very inconvenient and difficult to maneuver. So, it was very nice to have a PH on this trip along with a wonderful stateroom attendant and a decent butler, even though we did not really need the extra butler services.
While this cruise was okay, we found it disappointing compared to what we had experienced last year with Crystal and had been expecting based on that experience. Several times we asked ourselves if it was really the same cruise line - that's how different the two experiences were.
The Scandinavian ports were repeats for us, but pleasant to go back to.
We then went on to Edinburgh, where we did a ship sponsored excursion that was not bad, but fairly mediocre. While the Excursion staff was cordial enough, we found them sorely lacking in any real knowledge of the ports we were visiting. They rarely knew anything beyond the same printed information which we were provided with and could offer no additional insight into the ports or the excursions.
Our tour in Amsterdam was very well done and we had a nice day in Antwerp before finally ending our cruise in Dover, where disembarkation was very easy. We had a good ride/tour up to London before ending at our hotel, which we had booked independently.
We did not particularly like the decor of the Serenity. The Avenue Saloon was nice, but most of the other public rooms felt fairly cold and sterile. There was often a smell of cleaning fluids, which when combined with Serenity's heavy use of florescent lighting, many times made me feel like I was in a hospital. The Promenade deck is probably the nicest we have seen at sea - great for running and walking.
The deck stewards on the Lido Deck were exceptional and right away got to know us and were very attentive throughout the cruise. Through the rest of the ship, however, we never felt quite welcome.
One of Crystal's strong points, is definitely their food. But, we found the staff in the dining room just barely efficient. They took our orders and delivered our food and that was it. Forget if you ever needed anything once they served you. Whether on a cruise or in a restaurant, it's pretty standard that they come back in a few minutes to make sure everything is okay - that never happened.
On every cruise we have taken, one of the waiters has always pointed out if the next day's "routine" was going to be different - we were never advised of any changes, even though there were two additional open seating nights with different times. And it's a very noisy, cramped feeling dining room.
Even though the food may be good, the atmosphere just does not lend itself to a "fine dining" experience. We also missed the fact that there is no casual alternative dining option at night, other than room service. Most other lines have something you can do in the evening, if you don't feel like eating in a dining room. Especially on a long port-intensive cruise, it's nice to have the option of not having to rush to get to dinner or sit through a long drawn out dinner if you are tired.
Crystal's entertainment is pretty dated. The comedian and pianist were talented and enjoyable to watch, but the production numbers really show their age.
There was also much less of the enrichment and other types of entertainment on this cruise than last year's. The destination lecturer on this cruise was an Art History professor who spoke well on Germany and the Scandinavian ports on our first sea day, an interesting presentation on Edinburgh the second sea day, and we assumed that on the third day he would be speaking about Amsterdam and Belgium, esp. timely in this year of Rembrandt's birthday celebrations and all the art in Belgium. Well, they cut him on the third day saying there was not enough time, when they scheduled a doctor for the third time speaking about various skin conditions. He may be good and interesting for some people, but I'd like to think that on a cruise like this more people would have been interested in the ports we were visiting.
Finally, many of the passengers on this cruise were not especially nice. While I have no problems with people who like to keep to themselves, this was an older crowd who seemed to have a sense of entitlement that no one should get in their way. We were constantly cut off in lines, people refusing to move in elevators, etc. They'd even slowly walk in front of the photographer during formal pictures without a care in the world - and this happened many times by many, many people. This must be Crystal's mainstay because even in the face of this kind of rudeness, the crew and staff seemed to cater to these people which left the others of us wondering what we were doing there. Frankly, we left this cruise feeling like the company could care less if we ever returned.
Overall, we did not have a bad trip. But, having cruised several other cruise lines, after this experience, I cannot say that Crystal is worth the extra $$s it charges over the other lines. It is really not a true luxury line. I like the hotel comparisons I see on these boards so often, and we stay at many Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton's and the Crystal experience does not come anywhere near that.
It's "nice" and "pleasant enough" but if you can afford a nice cabin/suite on another mass market line, you can do much better for your money.
While the food may be better, it's not worth that much more.