We recently sailed from Rome to Athens on board the Crystal Serenity. We had a good trip overall, and it has to be said that the Serenity is a handsome ship- if larger than our normal choice of ship.
Although we normally prefer smaller ships like Silversea, we had travelled once before on the Crystal Symphony, so we knew what to expect from Crystal, and overall our experience was consistent.
One area where Crystal excels seems to be in transfers, embarkation and ground arrangements. The embarkation process was very smooth with Crystal staff easy to identify in the baggage hall of Fiumicino airport.
Upon arrival at the ship, check in was quick and the staff were very friendly and welcoming. Having previously sailed in a penthouse, this time we had opted for a bog standard veranda cabin. It was obviously smaller than our previous Crystal "home", but you get what you pay for. It was also smaller that the Silversea equivalent, but well appointed, comfortable More
and well sound-proofed. The colour scheme was a bit mad, but everything looked new and luxurious.
The bathrooms on the Serenity are the most handsome I have seen at sea. They are simply breathtaking and very spacious. Unfortunately this seems to impinge upon closet space- there is no separate walk-in closet- but we were ok for a 12 day hop around the Med.
One nice touch in each suite is a book recalling the inaugural voyage. There is also a DVD player which I enjoyed using.
The ship has an atmosphere very akin to that of a hotel- I really like that personally- and I think that the Crystal Cove is a beautiful space. However, some guests were lamenting the lack of a "ship" feel, but that is down to a personal preference.
The ship was not full which left plenty of room for sunbathing, and the pool was simply delicious- heated to perfection. The jacuzzis were too hot to get in!
There were about 40 children on the ship, but they were mainly to be found in the excellent child facilities that Crystal offer.
In my view, the Crystal Serenity has one weakness- but it is a biggie- namely the Crystal Dining Room. The decor is gloomy and drab- dark carpet, dark blue upholstery and dark wood walls- really grim- and not conducive to a pleasant atmosphere.
Whatever claims Crystal make about "fine dining" in the brochure- don't believe it! The restaurant is simply too hectic and noisy. It reminded me of an upmarket UK motorway service station! The ship was operating on single seating as it was not full. But the noise of clattering plates and cutlery, together with the normal restaurant hubbub was intolerable. On top of this the service was frenetic, rushed and often sloppy. I am not blaming the restaurant staff, all of whom were friendly and tried hard, but something is not working in the restaurant. The food started off quite average but improved considerably during the trip, but this is not a "fine dining" experience.
The practice of serenading diners is intrusive and embarrassing, and the baked alaska parade is a throwback from the 70's and again, simply not compatible with a "fine dining" experience.
The restaurant was much better for lunch when not so frequented, and overall the food was good. I really liked the late breakfast in the Tastes cafe- great for those of us who sleep in.
I must applaud Crystal for the low carb options that they offer- this is a superb idea for people like me who are doing a low carb diet- way to go!
We tried the Silk Road a few times- it was imaginative food, well presented, but not as good as the superb "Jade Garden" aboard the Symphony. I also think that the $6 gratuity for the alternative restaurant is a bit of a cheek. But the staff were great and they deserved it.
Speaking of gratuities, as UK passengers, our gratuities are pre-paid, but I really think that on a ship of the calibre of Crystal, gratuities should be included for everyone.
The activities onboard were imaginative and well thought out. I did a watercolour class, but there were lots of other options too that seemed to be a cut above the usual cruise fare.
The itinerary was varied, but we left each port at around 6pm- far too early! This is the best time of day in the Med to go ashore and have a stroll when the heat of the day is fading- but of course we had to leave so that everyone could go and get dolled up for the Captain's cocktail party or whatever.
The ship is very smooth and stable and offers a "hotel like" experience which I enjoyed. But the restaurant is a major weakness, and I am wondering if I will repeat the Crystal experience in the future.