Having lurked on Cruise Critic for some time I thought it best to join the community.
My first Crystal cruise was a wonderful experience, from start to finish. Voyage 6324 was an 11-night journey with embarkation in Venice on 1 October. Guest registration in Venice occurs at the Maritima, a massive new building at the edge of the piers where cruise ships dock. Our group of four found its way there via a private water taxi from our hotel (the Ca'Pisani, which I recommend highly). Registration was quick and effortless and very soon we were on board where we were greeted by a phalanx of white-suited officers and staff, one of whom, a delightful young woman who would become one of our favorites, escorted us to our cabins on Seabreeze Deck 9.
Others have written about Serenity cabins. My impression is that a great deal of useful space has been packed into 269 square feet. Favorite feature: the bath and great shower. Next favorite: comfy bed!
If you have never enjoyed a Bon Voyage from Venice on Crystal, this must be one of the line's most glamorous departures. As Louis Armstrong's voice began, the ship's claxons boomed and white-gloved waiters offered champagne. Slowly we backed out of our berth as the vessel's turning pods moved the aft portion of the ship to port; then we were ready for our grand parade down the Guidecca Canal. This was one of the most memorable experiences of our trip.
Our first night was on the Adriatic and a bit bumpy though not uncomfortably so. We had a terrific meal at Prego, enjoyed the dancers and singers first show, then headed to bed. The next morning we were gliding slowly into port at Dubrovnik albeit in a driving rain.
At sea the following day we celebrated the author's birthday complete with a cake at dinner, singing waiters and strolling violinists. While I usually disdain such overt displays this time I was all for it.
The main dining room was sometimes noisy, but the food and the service never failed to impress this travel industry veteran. Our senior waiter, Kestas, and server Gabriela were a perfect match, parrying one another's thoughts and remembering our group's favorites. Oleg, our wine steward, was a bundle of energy who confessed a love of Red Bull as his way to not only stay awake but also alert! Manager Franz and maitre'd Josef were consummate professionals.
Our next port was Corfu where we enjoyed a full tour of the island with a very chatty (and I do mean "very") guide, complete with lunch in one of the resort towns before returning to the ship. The sailaway from Corfu took us past a huge old fort and the portion of a town where the British once called the shots.
Each morning on board we enjoyed rising early. My cousin did the "walking at sea" thing on the Promenade Deck. My sister, brother-in-law and I opted for "vegetable mode", meaning we placed ourselves in the care of the absolutely superb deck stewards Raymond, Alvin, Clark and Benjamin. One of these young fellows (Clark) was nicknamed "Superman"; Alvin and Raymond were "The Chipmunks". Their infectious smiles and desire to please meant that every morning we were led to our favorite outdoor table on the Lido, our coffee was brought to us and a watchful eye kept on us in case we desired refills. We loved the breakfast buffet too. Very complete, everything hot and delicious, staff pleasant and courteous.
Cruising through the Straits of Messina was a glorious adventure. A guiding captain had been brought on board to help steer us through the narrow straits. Our Master, captain Glenn Edvardsen, had announced we would be passing through the Straits at 3:45 pm and sure enough, as the time approached, we noted the tip of Sicily to port and the south of Italy to starboard. It was a brilliantly clear afternoon with only a few high clouds. Our group had spent several hours enjoying the pool and as we glided through the Straits my brother-in-law and I busily snapped photos. That evening we enjoyed another excellent dinner in the Main Dining Room.
Naples is not one of my favorite cities though friends tell me it is improving its image. I opted to take my family on a self-escorted tour of Capri that day which turned out to be another of our favorite experiences. I'd visited this idyllic isle once before with a dear friend who has since passed away; my return, on a glorious October morning, was nostalgic, to say the least. Rather overrun by tourists (and the occasional escorted Crystal tour group!), even in October, Capri is nevertheless a "must see". We walked and walked, then cabbed it to lunch in the tiny hamlet of Marina Piccola where vistas of the Faraglioni are unobstructed. After lunch we jumped aboard a crammed orange Mercedes bus for the long ride all the way to the top of the island where the town of Anacapri awaits.
Back on board the evening's menu in the dining room was highlighted by creations from a visiting chef who had boarded in Napoli. Fun and delicioso!
After Naples, the remainder of our cruise seemed to fly by. We had a terrific day in Tuscany in the fortified city of San Gimignano and two perfect days along the French Riviera where we explored Monte Carlo, Nice and Eze.
Others have commented on the dress codes aboard Serenity. We found no one who appeared under-dressed. At night many men were either in suits or tuxes; the woman were always in gowns or other evening wear. Daytime outfits were inoffensive though frankly I wasn't focused on what people were wearing, preferring instead to spend my time enjoying other scenery.
What makes Serenity great? I'd say it is two things: a beautiful, well-designed ship where passengers always feel at home and outstanding six-star service. To a person the staff are focused on you and that is a rarity in any travel environment. The food is good while not always "over the top", except in the specialty restaurants where we were delighted with the food quality as well as the service.
Another more subjective observation perhaps is that the atmosphere aboard is that of a refined, well run, low key luxury resort. Guests are never an interruption; indeed, guests are the purpose. Having stayed in many supposed five-star properties over the years I can honestly say I have never experienced such uniformly outstanding service as witnessed on the Serenity.
We have booked 8301, Passage to Panama, a 15-night positioning voyage from Miami to Los Angeles, the port from which Serenity begins her 2008 World Voyage. I'll report on the experience when we return.