My wife and I recently spent 120+ days on board the Crystal Serenity from January 5, 2014 thru May 7, 2014. This stay included not only the full 2014 World Cruise but also three other cruises of varying lengths, including one cruise of seven days in length.
For my wife and myself, Crystal Cruises is similar to a fine wine that keeps getting better and better with each passing year. We found that several areas were better than ever. This included the daytime enrichment program, evening entertainment, the special on board events and the food, service and ambience at each dining venue. We enjoyed the new Tastes Specialty Restaurant which began following the dry dock of Crystal Serenity late last year and we also enjoyed the remodeled Lido Café which now serves breakfast and lunch at food stations rather than at one continuous buffet type of counter.
This was our sixth full World Cruise and our seventh overall World Cruise. We thought that the 2014 World Cruise was the best ever because of the on board enrichment and entertainment programs coupled with the ports of call that we visited. The chemistry of the on board entertainment team was superb and it showed in each and every performance. This team created and performed several performances just for the 2014 World Cruise. The enrichment program was quite diverse and included the most program offerings ever. We also appreciated the diversity of the lecturers with more emphasis than ever before on international topics and perspectives, with lecturers from other countries comprising a greater percentage of the lectures than in past years. This reflects the diversity of the passengers who sail with Crystal Cruises and on the sailings we were on.
There is no question that familiarity adds to our enjoyment of these adventures and that includes knowing many of the repeat guests who return most years to take either one, multiple segments or the full World Cruise, and also our familiarity with the officers, crew and the staff who work on board the Crystal Serenity. It is true that so many of these people become what others and we refer to often as our extended Crystal family.
It has now been two plus years since inclusive has been implemented by Crystal Cruises, and it’s as if it has been in place for many years prior to that. Although this is subjective, there is a very nice selection of wine choices that are part of inclusive that is even better than the wines served last year and the Sommelier’s are keeping up with the pouring of the wines and also providing details about each wine for those who want to know. The same goes for gratuities, as gratuities are included in the cruise fare. Certainly there is the option of tipping those who one wants to recognize but there is no pressure to do so.
For us one of the keys that distinguishes Crystal from other cruise lines we have sailed with are the extraordinary crew and the outstanding level of service that is provided throughout the ship. Often, many items are anticipated before we even ask and we find the service to be very personable, professional and efficient. We found service to be even better than ever. In some cases, we noticed that selected members of the crew are being reallocated from selected areas to other areas of the ship that needed additional help, which elevated service in those areas.
Related to the service is the fine example that starts from the top on board the ship and carries to the entire crew. The Captain set the tone by being highly visible throughout the 2014 World Cruise as well as just being an outstanding communicator with guests and fellow members of the crew. Kudos to the Captain, the Hotel Director, the Cruise Director, the Dining Room and Specialty Restaurant Maître d’s and the Food & Beverage Managers, and to each member of the crew for making this an extraordinary cruise for us.
During the course of this adventure we had two stewardesses and four assistant stewardesses as two of the assistants were promoted to the position of stewardess and we were in two different rooms as our room was not available for our final voyage. We also had three different senior waiters and four different waiters and we had one butler. These represent members of the crew who took care of us day in and day out and collectively they were fabulous. We also want to commend the Crystal Dining Room wait staff for how they communicated to wait staff who would be taking care of us whether it was because they were going on vacation or when we needed to change table locations when our son and daughter in law came on board for the last voyage. They never missed a beat. We are not big drinkers but would go to one of the lounges before dinner usually just for a Perrier. The members of the bar staff knew our names and they knew how we each enjoyed our Perrier as we each ask for it a different way. And when we would have an occasional wine or a wine spritzer for Anne Marie they remembered what type of wine we enjoyed and how we liked it prepared.
The makeover of Tastes which is a causal dining venue in terms of attire, along with the rollout of an entirely new dinner menu which is based on serving tastings family style of food representative of cuisine from around the world was a hit with many people including ourselves. The quality of the food, the level of service and the overall ambience of the new Tastes has mproved significantly and we certainly consider this restaurant to be in the league with the other two specialty restaurants on board Serenity. Tastes is also now open each night except for the first night of the cruise which provides not only another alternative for dining but also allows for casual dining for those who do not want to dress up on those evenings when the attire is Black Tie Optional and/or Elegant Casual. From time to time, some items have been added to the menu to replace other items.
In mid-April a new menu was rolled out in the Crystal Dining Room. The left side of the menu now features Modern Cuisine such as items that are considered fusion. The right side of the menu features Crystal Classics. This is the first restaurant at sea on any cruise line to feature two types of cuisine in one restaurant, which is certainly no easy task for the galley. It gives what we consider to be the best of both worlds. You can order from one side or the other side or select items from both menus. We found ourselves doing the latter.
This itinerary was very special. The voyage before the start of the World Cruise was a Transit of the Panama Canal. This was followed by the World Cruise itinerary, which included visits to some islands that played key roles during World War II, stops throughout Asia and Africa before arriving to Europe. We stayed on for two additional Mediterranean Voyages.
SMOKING POLICY CHANGES
Our January 5, 2014 voyage was the start of a new smoking policy, which for us has been a major success. Effective with the start of this voyage, smoking was prohibited in all interior public room areas of the ship except for the Connoisseur Club. Smoking was also eliminated in all staterooms and all penthouses and also in the Crystal Cove Lounge. We were very pleased with this change.
CRYSTAL SERENITY MAKEOVER
As mentioned the Tastes Specialty Restaurant received a makeover late in 2013 and on top of this the Lido Café (buffet) also received a major makeover and the areas are absolutely stunning. Another area receiving a makeover included the Tender Landing area with new carpet and wall treatments as well as even new towels for those guests wanting to take towels ashore with them.
ON BOARD ENRICHMENT
Crystal Cruises is well known for its enrichment program. On sea days no less than fifty different enrichment related programs were featured including classes on computers, a college credited computer class, dancing, golf, memoir writing, iMovies, bridge, and fitness. Three lectures were featured on each sea day. There were so many activities that the biggest challenge is to prioritize what to do each and everyday.
The on board entertainment during the course of the World Cruise was the best ever. Two special performers were brought on board for the entire World Cruise and their voices were absolutely amazing. There were many special entertainment programs offered both during the day such as several mixers and so many programs offered at night. The entertainment featured a nice mix of entertainment offered from the entertainment team that is part of the cruise line along with those who are brought on board to supplement the in-house entertainment.
The ship even rocked one evening during the World Cruise, one evening on the voyage following the World Cruise and one day during the World Cruise at a late morning mixer when a band was brought on board that featured songs of The Beatles. It is not often that on a World Cruise you see so many passengers dancing to the music of The Beatles and it surely brought out the “kid” in many of the guests including my wife and myself.
A couple of other special highlights were the performance of the Crystal Serenity Pops and a one time evening performance on another night. We were fortunate to see this not only towards the end of the World Cruise but early on during the voyage, which followed the World Cruise. This performance not only featured most of the on board entertainers but some additional entertainers brought on board from land just for this performance. Another one was an evening special performance featuring the singers, dancers and musicians of the Crystal Serenity, which included clogging, which was performed on St. Patrick’s Day evening.
SHORE EXCURSIONS AND OVERLAND PROGRAMS
Several new and exciting programs were offered such as one of the excursions we took which featured a behind the scenes tour of the USS Missouri where we had the opportunity to see areas of the ship where very few people have ever seen and we even had lunch at what was the Captain’s Quarters of this Historic Vessel. We took a three-day Safari that was a major highlight of the adventure. Even on one of our two Mediterranean cruises a new program rolled out which offers running in selected ports. We also booked private cars in some selected ports with Crystal Cruises many we took by ourselves and one we took with another guest. If you book a vehicle with more guests you can usually drive down the per person cost.
The one area that was not up to the high standards was the Internet. This can be a challenging area for cruise lines because of different factors including being dependent on Satellite rather than on land where Fiber Optics carries the traffic most of the way and the location of the ship. The good news is that on our last two voyages the speed and the reliability of the Internet was significantly better and reflected the resolution of some problems and one in particular that was impacting the Internet. If the Internet performed throughout the voyage as it did those last few weeks we would not even have mentioned it as a problem. The good news is that with some additional planned enhancements in the works, we expect that the Internet will not only be at the levels we experienced our last few weeks, but possibly even better which we think is quite acceptable when one is sailing at sea.
NEWSPAPERS AND OTHER CAPABILITIES
On our sailing there was the ability to download at no charge and no Internet charge selected newspapers to read on selected devices such as iPads. There was also the ability to watch lectures and movies on demand on these devices allowing you to watch them when you wanted and also allowing you to rewind or go forward to skip through areas or to watch a particular area again. This is likely the first step in the evolution of what can be offered on these devices. If possible, we would love to see some of this (on demand capabilities for movies and lectures) added to the Television. NOTE: Pre-Recorded Lectures are already available on the Television but would love to see the ability to see them on demand. This new capability will roll out to the Crystal Symphony in July of this year.
Overall, we found this to be the best voyage we have ever taken and we look forward to sailing on the Crystal Serenity again this September as well as on the 2015 World Cruise with some additional voyages planned on top of the World Cruise.
At this stage of our lives, we find cruising to be the best form of travel for us. We have cruised on many different cruise lines and enjoyed them all, except for the experience on one cruise line but we chalk that up to possibly it just not being a good cruise and incidents that might not be typical of the cruise line.
For us, Crystal Cruises has become our favorite Cruise Line. In the end, we hope that each person figures out which cruise line(s) work best for him or her. We also hope that each cruise lines will continue to have their own identity so that unlike the domestic United States Airline Industry, that there is truly choice when it comes to cruising.