This was my first cruise aboard the Serenity, my third cruise with Crystal Lines, and perhaps my 12th plus cruise experience. From beginning to end, my expectations were almost always exceeded. The arrival experience at the Venice Airport culminated in a hassle-free entry to the Monaco and Grand Canal Hotel via bus and water taxi. Despite the 10:00 AM arrival, our room was ready, and St. Mark's Plaza was about 2 blocks away. Local restaurant recommendations by the Crystal representative did not prove helpful, and a mediocre margarita pizza and overly icy gelato at a sidewalk cafe were quickly forgotten in the endless parade of interesting travelers. Boarding, the next morning, was efficient and our cabin was central to the library, the Silk Road and we scarcely missed the absence of a balcony.
My wife has limited endurance for the more vigorous activities, so we participated in the panoramic excursions. In Venice, she loved Cooking with the Contessa, and I substituted the panoramic cruise for the cancelled visit to the Lamborghini factory. We did not get off the ship in Kantakolon or Nafplion, and an untimely sever upper respiratory infection kept me cabin-bound in Nessebur, Bulgaria. Room service provided the soup and nutrition, and the movie selections, DVD's, MSNBC, BBC all passed the cabin time with little wanting.
My wife and I are sushi and sashimi fanatics, and the quality and availability, as well as the service, are simply the finest around....anywhere! We ate at the Silk Road 5 times out of 11 opportunities, in all, and found the experience to fulfill our highest expectations. Service, everywhere, from Lido Breakfasts, to sandwiches for lunch in the dining room, to our rotating table for eight, for dinner, all were enjoyable.
The Black Sea ports were particularly interesting to someone with an interest in military history. Our tour guide recited the Charge of the Light Brigade from memory and took us down to the British redoubt for a view of what they would have seen before their date with destiny. The waterfront at Yalta mixed Lenin with McDonalds' and the tiny beaches were filled with the bikini clad vacationers dotting nearly every square inch of the gravel. Odessa, with its celebrated steps, seen from below and above, and a trip inside the Opera House, sweltering though it was, and followed by Ukrainian folk dancers and a satisfying lunch, was hosted by Virtuoso, and they, too, did not disappoint.
There was not enough time in Istanbul, our departure city, and the shopping experience proved to be too energy consuming for my wife, but my experience in the streets was fascinating, and all too brief.
The departure from Istanbul was marred by airport restrooms that were worse than untidy, and with uncaring attendants! (Lady's Restroom....bring your own paper!)
Crystal arranged our air transport with Delta, Los Angeles to Atlanta to Venice (less than mediocre) and Lufthansa, Istanbul to Munich to Los Angeles, superb, even in tourist!
The speakers aboard were excellent led by Howard Fineman, on Presidents he has known, the Media, and Barack Obama, in particular, and Jay Wolff, who makes history seem like cabaret entertainment. We looked forward to the days at sea.