This was my twenty second sailing with Crystal and my first with my partner Craig. We choose this cruise to celebrate his birthday and to visit some new ports of call; Venice and Dubrovnik. The balance of our ports were repeats of some favorites - Sicily, Sorrento, Rome, Florence and Barcelona. He had never been to Monte Carlo and the French Riviera towns of Nice and Eze. We were both pleased with our Crystal experience. Our flights from Miami on Alitalia were uneventful and our transfer to the ship was flawless, as always. We arrived in Venice midday, enjoyed lunch in the MDR and settled in to our cabin and exploring the ship, as we were docking overnight.
The next morning we took the first of many shore excursions, doing a whirlwind introduction to Venice. This included a guided tour of Doge's Palace and a walking tour of the center square. Next was an hour long gondola ride followed by a demonstration of Murano glass blowing. We were enchanted by Venice, despite being in port with many other ships. Our sail-away was enhanced by welcome party hospitality for our V.Com group while we enjoyed views of Venice from the Palm Court. Our first dinner in the MDR was up to the usual Crystal standards. All was well with Serenity, sparkling from her drydock and renovation this spring.
Our second full day was at sea with the usual abundance of choices of guest lecturers, and a cooking demonstration by Andre Soltner of the French Culinary Institute. Craig loved his demonstration of traditional french cooking and won a private lesson in the Galley with him that afternoon. That evening was our only formal night and the usual Captain's Welcome reception. This was where we first noticed a marked change in the usual demographics of the guests. This sailing was almost full with nearly 1,000 guests, but only 350 Society members. Formal attire and polite behavior was markedly absent among the many new to Crystal passengers. Matre'D Leo had his hands full attempting to enforce the dress codes in the dining room.
Our second port of call was Dubrovnik, Croatia, where we did a culinary excursion to Cavtat, a stunning seaside fishing village on the Dalmation Coast. Here, Craig and I participated in a hands-on cooking lesson where we prepared our own feast of flambed shrimp, grilled stuffed baby squid and bananas cooked in rum. Each course was accompanied by a delicious Croatian wine. This was one of the best shore excursions of the many I have taken with Crystal. Our return to the ship included a tour of the walled city of Dubrovnik. This is a wonderfully scenic, friendly and safe country; someplace I shall return to someday.
With two wonderful ports behind us, we enjoyed another sea day relaxing around the pool, which has been redecorated in the same fashion as the Symphony. All of the deluxe staterooms have been renovated with fresh, stylish soft goods, improved lighting and flat screen TV's with DVD players. The layouts of the staterooms have always worked well, seeming more spacious than their dimensions would predict. I had always sailed solo on Crystal before, but had no problem sharing our cabin with my partner. Those who complain that Crystal's accommodations are too cramped must surely be spoiled, or bring too many clothes for a two week sailing. We were totally comfortable in our balcony stateroom on Deck 8. Our stewardess, Petty, was outstanding.
In Sicily we participated in our complimentary Vacation Vignettes tour which took us up Mt. Etna and on to a winery for a tasting and lunch. Again, the food and wines served were delicious and the bus ride was quite scenic. After our tour, we took the Crystal Shuttle into the lovely town of Tourramina, which is as scenic as anything on the Amalfi Coast. That evening, en route to Sorrento, Captain Glenn announced that our plans had changed due to anticipated strong winds and heavy seas. The next day we would be docking in Naples, rather than risk anchoring off of Sorrento. This change was met with many complaints from the guests, but I have always enjoyed Naples before.
The remaining ports were repeats for me, with our overnight in Monaco being a real treat for Craig. There is so much to see and do in the Cote D'Azure that an overnight here was a welcome change from this port intensive cruise. We spent the first day walking about Monte Carlo and the second on a tour to Nice and Eze, which I enjoyed seeing for the second time. Our weather was perfect for the entire cruise, with the exception of one rainy, windy day in Naples. This is the perfect time of year to visit the Med and the Serenity remains one of my favorite ways to travel in complete luxury. The Serenity and Crystal still shine as brightly as ever, but in keeping their ships full they have had to attract a new type of cruiser; not the same as the Crystal of the past.