I accompanied my mother-in-law on Crystal Serenity's 10-day transatlantic from Miami to Lisbon. Prior to this voyage, I had been on only two other (cruise ship) cruises, both in 2005: a Mediterranean cruise on the Seabourn Spirit, which was unforgettably wonderful in every way; and a Caribbean cruise on the Caribbean Princess, which I often forget aboutnot because the experience was forgettable, but because I wish so desperately I COULD forget about it. This Crystal cruise definitely had more in common with my Seabourn experience, so I may occasionally compare it to that. (As for the Princess fiasco, I will continue to pretend that never happened...)
My MIL and I shared a verandah suite that, on Crystal Serenity, was just the regular suite with a verandah. It "lived" considerably smaller than my Seabourn suite, and I felt the missing square footage most keenly in the squishy living room/desk/bar area and the (non walk-in) closet. Other than that, no complaints. The sound-proofing was very good, the beds comfy, and I loved the wool blankets provided for use on the verandah. The chairs on the verandah tilt waaaay backvery comfy, although I have to say, I didn't use them much. On Crystal, you really never spend any time in your cabin.
The Food The food on Crystal is excellentfar, far beyond what I expected, even based on my Seabourn experience. The food in Silk Road and Prego was truly divine, as good as you'll get in (insert name of metropolis you esteem most highly) or the best resort chains (Rosewood or Orient Express, for example) and the food in the dining room sometimes met this standard, too. At it’s worst, the dining room offerings were basic but well-prepared, like your average yacht club fare. The nights I ate yacht club fare can probably be blamed on my uninspired ordering because the truly amazing thing about the Crystal Dining Room is the VAST variety of food available on the dinner menu. The lunch menu was also impressively varied. Really, there was something for everyone, always—and it was really good. The assigned seating policy at dinner could have been tedious but, thanks to the omniscient Maitre d’, my assigned table bonded more or less instantly, and other tables seemed equally happy (or at least content.) I wasn’t a fan of the giant buffet at the stern of the ship—it was fine but not special. Tastes, the outdoor café, was an unexpected delight with its small but innovative menu. Afternoon tea was always good and, on the day of the Mozart Tea, outstanding. My one experience with room service was underwhelming but not deliberately unappetizing, as is the case on certain cruise lines we won’t mention. The cocktails were expertly mixed and every day there was an exciting new Drink of the Day, but having to sign tabs for them all the time was an unwelcome reality check.
Activities and Entertainments The activities on Crystal were so varied and exciting, I was honestly exhausted trying to fit everything in until, halfway through the cruise, I finally accepted you just CAN’T fit everything in. Highlights for me included trivia, watercolors, keyboard, Portuguese, and Political Science lectures. My MIL attended morning trivia and ballroom dancing. I went to the gym. I went to the (fabulous) spa. I wanted to go to the movie theater (where I here they passed out freshly-popped popcorn) but I never made it. It was go go go all day long—and then sun set, and it was go go go until dawn. Even at night, there was much to choose from. We were a Big Band themed crossing, and the Glenn Miller band—with ballroom dancing, of course—was very well attended. The piano bar was glam and the pianist talented and good-natured. We only had about 200 passengers along, so there really weren’t enough people to fill the Starlight Lounge, though the band there was also good and the décor swanky. My crowd often hung out in Pulse, the small, night clubbish karaoke bar, which was ridiculously decorated and often abandoned, but that suited us just fine. The dancers and stage acts seemed good enough but I seldom went to see them. I spoke with the featured comedian several times in addition to attending his stage show, and he was pretty sure he wasn’t actually a racist; I was less sure, but I can tell you much of his act was stale and, according to my British dinner partner, obnoxiously reliant on knowledge of US politics. There were plenty of people aboard who’d never heard of Nancy Pelosi.
Crystal Passengers Crystal is not as comfortably clubby as Seabourn but, given the small number of passengers on our crossing, it came pretty close. My fellow passengers were, for the most part, friendly and gracious. I only once heard someone complaining in a less-than-nice tone (and, to be fair, the fresh squeezed orange juice WAS pretty awful, but everything else was so delightful it seemed churlish to complain.) Most of the passengers are 55 or older (often MUCH older) but there were one or two families with children and teenagers. Most passengers had sailed Crystal before and could often be heard warning first-timers that Crystal would “ruin them for anything else.” Certainly I would never sail transatlantic with anyone else although, for port-intensive itineraries, I still prefer Seabourn, as I think Crystal’s biggest asset is its incredible array of daytime activities, which you need a lot of sea days to appreciate.
Crystal Staff Crystal’s staff is amazing, especially if they manage to be as attentive and thoughtful on more heavily-booked sailings. Everyone was genuinely friendly—maybe even too friendly, sometimes. Once, a waiter from the Trident Grill/Tastes/Giant-buffet-at-the-stern area asked me my name and forever after he would yell “Hello, Jane!” at me whenever I wandered into his sightline. With almost no one to serve, the wait staff at Tastes fought over diners like wild dogs. As soon as you took your seat, three or four waiters would run up and tussle over who got to take your order and, even after you ordered, waiters would continue to approach and ask for your order. My fellow Late Riser’s breakfasters and I sometimes found this irritating, especially before coffee. My only other staff complaint concerns our cabin steward. She was very sweet but, upon our arrival, our cabin was still filled with things left by the last occupant (half-full shampoo in the shower, half-empty water bottle on the nightstand, etc.) she never replenished our shampoo (we had to phone for more) and she doled out one (1) bar of soap at a time, so we were constantly moving it from shower to sink and back again. Everyone else’s stewards were wonderful, though, so I think she was an anomaly. The cruise director was very friendly, charming, and generous with the free drinks. Although we didn’t meet the ten person minimum, he even threw an open-bar party for those of us from the Cruise Critic message boards.
Verdict I would definitely sail Crystal again for any sea day-intensive itinerary. The food was excellent and it was as relaxing or exciting, depending on my preference, I could have wished. Next time, though, I will try to get a little more onboard credit out of my travel agent, as the $11-13 cocktails added up fast.