Crystal Serenity Cruise Review by Fred Groth: World Cruise: Hong Kong - Singapore Leg
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World Cruise: Hong Kong - Singapore Leg
This was our first cruise with Crystal and our fourth different cruise line. We chose this leg of their world cruise in order to visit cities where we had lived and worked during our careers. The cruise was March 15 through 27, and its route was Hong Kong - Chan May (Hue) - Saigon (overnight) - Laem Chabang (Bangkok)(overnight) - Koh Samui - Singapore (overnight). Our travel to and from the cruise was independent; we spent several days in Hong Kong before the cruise, and we travelled further in the region after disembarking.
Embarkation in Hong Kong: Boarding from the Marco Polo Hotel was painless. The bell boy just pulled our two suitcases from the hotel to the ship baggage area in Ocean Terminal. We were on board by 1230; our cabin would be available at 3. One piece of missing information for boarding for independent travellers is that you receive no instructions when and where to board. You also receive no contact instructions. My wife and I are well acquainted with Hong More Kong, so we knew the ship would be at Ocean Terminal. We did not know the ship would be in port for two days; on its first day we just went to the ship security personnel at the gangplank and asked. They said that we could board any time after 12 noon the next day. Now, this information along with a contact phone number could easily have been added to the massive packet one receives from Crystal.
Some statistics: The ship can carry 1,080 passengers; we are ca 900 on the leg Hong Kong - Singapore (remember this is a round the world cruise, Los Angeles - Southampton in 104 days). I don't know how many got off in HK, but ca 500 boarded; 380 got off in Singapore. There are only 167 Crystal first time passengers. Around 400 are doing the entire world cruise. The story is that around 125 book the world cruise every year (seems that Crystal alternates this cruise between its two ships). The staff of 650 is from 45 countries with no one nationality predominating. Our stewardess (not cabin boy) was from Croatia. Our head waiter was Austrian, senior from Turkey, and junior from India. Our cabin with verandah was smaller than Holland-America, but it still had lots of nooks and crannies for storage. Room under the bed for suitcases. Two sinks in the bathroom. The usual TV, safe, fridge, robes and slippers, and an impractical, too large, Crystal tote bag (however, useful for taking dirty clothes to the laundry).
Fellow passengers: older and moneyed, and very international, although Americans were the majority. A guest list is published for each leg listing passenger and state or province (US or Canada), or country. I would categorize most of the men as either business or lawyers, with some medical persons. There were at least two retired generals. The passengers ranged from very pleasant and interesting to the very stupid and obnoxious, eg, Where is the capital of Viet Nam? Why do I have to use Baht in Thailand? On a large ship you don't necessarily have to be around the people you don't like. When you are only 900, the chances are better that you will meet them more than once. There were a few infants and children. While jewelry was not in short supply during the day, it really came out in the evenings. Formal nights also brought out elegant dresses and quite a variety of men's formal attire.
The ship: As it's smaller, it was easier to negotiate. Decks 5 and 6 were the public areas. Decks 7 through 11 were cabins. Deck 7 was no verandahs, 8 and 9 were verandahs, and 10 and 11 were penthouses. There are no inside cabins. Deck 12 was the pool, Lido, and the like. There are only three shops - all upscale - on board: two jewelry and one clothing. The clothing shop has a couple shelves of sundries, and that is it. There is no liquor store; there are special order forms if you do want to buy liquor. Like other cruise lines, there is artwork on board for sale. No auctions; you see something you like, contact the sales person. Period. In fact, the best example of the sense of the Serenity is that there are no public announcements. No count down to bingo, no art auction, no t-shirt sale. The captain comes on once a day from the bridge, gives the ship's location, maybe a comment about the day's activity (his welcome party, for example), and a "thought for the day." And that is it. All you need to know is in the daily newsletter/activity page; if you have a question, go to the front desk or ask the concierge. Crystal Lines assumes the passenger is intelligent and literate; he does not need to be told what activities there are. The ship has a relaxed itinerary; it rarely moves at 18-20 knots. Sometimes it only does 12 knots.
Dining: On this leg, dress was three formal, two informal, and the rest casual. Crystal Lines is no better than any other cruise line when it comes to handling your dinner request for table size and time; they will screw it up. We asked for a table for two, first sitting, and got no table, second sitting. We stood in line along with everyone else to talk to the maitre d' and got first sitting and a table for 8. Fortunately, our table mates were a most genial and friendly bunch, and we had a great time for the entire trip. The other three couples had also each asked for a table for two. With overnight tours and other dining choices, we were rarely the full complement at dinner. Two nights my wife and I were the only ones; I think at least four nights we were not present. The dining room dinners are excellent; just notch up whatever meals you know from your current cruise line. Service is, of course, what one expects. When you enter the dining room, the string quartet is playing, and the waiters are lined up to escort each lady to her table. Nice touch! Trouble is, most husbands don't know what to do when the waiter comes forward and offers his arm to the lady. The wine list is excellent and pricey (hey, this is Crystal), but you will have interesting choices. You definitely have to try a dinner at the Italian Prego restaurant and one at the Silk Road Chinese restaurant. No extra charge for the meal; just tip extra. Remember to make your reservations for these two restaurants on-line; do not wait until you board to make them. We did not try the sushi bar attached to the Chinese restaurant; it looked good, but we have enough sushi places at home. The Lido buffet compares roughly to that on any other line - the food is just better quality. And the service is better; a lady will have to fight to carry her own tray. And if a male looks even a bit wobbly or old, his tray will also be carried. An interesting touch that we at our dinner table all jumped on is the "Tastes" dining area at poolside. This is full-service dining with a menu almost the same as the dining room (limited because of the small kitchen). This is elegant casual dining every night with no time limits; and yes, there is a wine list and full bar. I think this became quite popular as people "discovered" it. There is also a respectable hamburger joint and ice cream stand at poolside.
The Crystal touch: We celebrated my wife's birthday on board. I booked dinner in the Prego restaurant and requested some sort of chocolate dessert. My cruise agent said that Crystal acknowledged the request, but I should check with the Prego maitre d' after boarding. I did, and he said that they usually serve a chocolate cake for such an occasion. Fine. I also asked at the photo shop if a photographer could take some pictures. No problem. What happened at dinner was amazing: first there were a couple balloons at our table when we arrived. When it was time for dessert, the cake (with one candle) came simultaneously with the ship string quartet playing "Happy birthday." And the photographer was on hand for the whole show. Well done! Another touch was on our return to the ship from Bangkok. The timing was such that we could have missed lunch in Bangkok. We boarded the ship at 4PM. In our cabin were two large plates of sandwiches and other cold goodies with a sign, "welcome back from Bangkok."
Activities on board are varied: lectures on a variety of subjects, music lessons, dance lessons, ikibana lessons, Spanish lessons (?), computer courses for college credit, etc, etc. The fitness center seemed to be active, the library, while small, was well stocked, the casino did not appear to be busy when we dropped in (possibly busier around midnight), and there were relatively current movies on in the theater. We only attended a couple shows, and they were quite good - a Broadway singer and a ventriloquist. We did not have the impression that there was a thundering herd heading for the theater after dinner as on other lines. The internet center seemed to be quite busy, probably because in part of all the people on board for the full 104 days. There are live cameras on board that broadcast on the internet. One fellow at our table coordinated with his son by cell phone when and where in the internet center he and his wife should stand so that the children could see them. Other people were also using the center to download photos from their cameras and send them on to friends and family.
Shore excursions: We found, as with other lines, that it is better to book your shore excursions on-line long before you board. If you wait, you may not get what you want. For example, in Laem Chabang, Crystal offers an overnight in Bangkok at the famed Oriental Hotel. We booked and got the hotel. Others waited too long and while they got the trip to and from Bangkok, they had to overnight in other hotels, and not the Oriental.
News is readily available. A small news compilation is delivered daily to your cabin. The cruise line version of the NY Times is available at the front desk. CNN and ESPN are on your cabin TV. A unique offer - at $6.50 a copy - is a daily copy of your complete hometown newspaper (minus ads). The selection of newspapers is amazingly large and international. The paper size is roughly tabloid size; the NY Times version was quite a thick package.
Laundry: While there is the usual laundry service on board, there is also a free laundry room (four washers and dryers) on each deck. This facility is quite popular - at all hours - and some of the genteel civility onboard disappears once people enter the laundry room.
Disembarkation: Given the location of Singapore, many flights leave at night. Thus, some people had to leave the ship at 3AM. Independent travellers were "invited" to leave by 10AM. The ship managed to make one final mess for us. When we boarded, the staff made the usual swipe of my credit card for the payment of the ship bill. Several days into the cruise I was notified to go to the front desk to make arrangements to settle my account. Many apologies, but apparently some of the card swiping at check-in did not get into the computer. They swiped my card again, had me sign a blank AMEXCO form, and all was done. At 8AM on debarkation day in Singapore, I was called by the audit staff to settle my account at the front office. I was not a happy camper, and the girl at the desk was scrambling to find my blank form, check my account in the computer, and in general try and figure out what happened. She finally did find my form and muttered something about my name having been misspelled in some entries. The account was settled, and we were on our way. It just showed that for all their highly touted efficiency and service, Crystal can - and does - screw up like any other line.
Even with my grumbles, this was a fabulous cruise, and I would gladly sail with them again. Any questions, e-mail me at
Fred Groth Less
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