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10 Crystal Eastern Caribbean Cruise Reviews

My three sons just returned from a 7 day, pre Christmas, Caribbean cruise on Crystal Symphony. We had sailed on the same ship 18 months ago to Eastern Canada. On both voyages we have been impressed with the Crystal Experience. The line ... Read More
My three sons just returned from a 7 day, pre Christmas, Caribbean cruise on Crystal Symphony. We had sailed on the same ship 18 months ago to Eastern Canada. On both voyages we have been impressed with the Crystal Experience. The line provides a traditional luxury cruise experience, which is very hard to find nowadays. I would give top marks to the great food and service on the ship. Every single meal we had on the ship was a delight. We like having an assigned table and assigned waiters at dinner at night, that way we got to know the waiters and they got to know us. Casual dining for breakfast and lunch was greatly enjoyed at outdoor Trident Grill. Special kudos go out the the deck stewards who provided us with drinks and other deck services . I really like the large swimming pool on this ship. Excellent for actually swimming laps and almost never crowded. The large hot tub is also a delight. My three sons greatly enjoyed use of the paddle tennis court. The full wrap around outdoor promenade deck is also a great feature. Would be better if they added at least a few deck chairs on the promenade deck. Daytime lectures on history and politics were first rate. Nightime entertainment was extensive. Very nice real live band to provide music for production shows (no recorded music). Excellent smaller bands in other small lounges. In Transit Jazz trio was a standout in the Palm Court at night. First rate dancers in the shows...some of the song selections not to my taste, but overall production shows were very good. Only critical thing I noted on entertainment was the very poor choice of movies in movie theatre...they had nothing but second rate movies When we were aboard 18 months ago they had excellent choice of first run recent major movies. The crew is excellent. And really if you are sailing Crystal, you are going for the crew, the service, and the food. These are the areas in which they excel. The size of the ship, (900 passengers), would have been considered a large ship in 1975, but is now considered mid size. I like this size of ship. Big enough to provide alot of activities and space, but not too big to walk around on from place to place. It is true that Crystal does not have large rooms compared to other cruise lines in this category. However, the rooms are well laid out and have alot of storage. Rooms are very quiet. Air conditioning in rooms easy to control. I highly recommend Crystal. Except for Movies, we found standards aboard to be exactly the same as 18 months ago. Read Less
Sail Date December 2015
Embarkation was a horror. The ship was not docked where they told us- it was not at any terminal. We took about 15 or 20 minutes to locate the ship. There was no parking lot nearby. We had to drop off our luggage & park at a distant ... Read More
Embarkation was a horror. The ship was not docked where they told us- it was not at any terminal. We took about 15 or 20 minutes to locate the ship. There was no parking lot nearby. We had to drop off our luggage & park at a distant garage -hard to find. Then , there was no shuttle ( we were told there was ) so we had to take a taxi to the ship!! When we disembarked, the ship was, once again, not where they said we were docking. Another taxi ride to our car. Unacceptable service from Crystal. Our suite was nice, but you cold hear chairs scraping overhead. After 48 hours on the ship, we both developed coughs & sore throats. You could hear coughing all over the ship. Went to the ships doctor after 2 more days - big mistake. He put us on antibiotics after saying we had viral infections. WRONG. Made us much sicker, & antibiotics are NOT for viruses. We missed meals, shows, & 3 ports , due to feeling too sick to do anything. The food, when we were able to eat, was just okay , certainly not luxury cuisine. The few shows we saw were very good, as was the housekeeping staff. Crystal is quite pricey, & definitely not worth the money. Read Less
Sail Date January 2015
This was our 5th Crystal cruise. As with our previous cruises, we were pleased with the cruise. On this cruise, my wife and I were accompanied by two of our adult children and they also had a wonderful cruise experience. The ship's ... Read More
This was our 5th Crystal cruise. As with our previous cruises, we were pleased with the cruise. On this cruise, my wife and I were accompanied by two of our adult children and they also had a wonderful cruise experience. The ship's staff generally provided outstanding service, particularly our cabin attendants, bar staff and pool service staff. The ship was beautifully maintained and, though completely full, still provided that spacious feeling we've come to enjoy on the Serenity. The staff were friendly, the all inclusive fare again proved a most desirable feature and the experience was most enjoyable. That being said, there were some letdowns that we had not previously experienced on Crystal. The main dining room staff waiting our table appeared disinterested and aloof. They did the minimum. Bread was offered once. Menu recommendations were never volunteered. Our waiter disappeared for long stretches and it was not to wait other tables. He simply vanished from the dining room floor leaving his attendant to try and cope with all of his tables. Not once did our waiter inquire as to our satisfaction with what was served. The exception was our wine steward who was very attentive and informative and did a wonderful job of seeing to our every need.. We also thought the main dining room fare was pretty average. Some entrees were barely warm when served and had become dried out from apparently sitting under warming lamps.New cuisine choices on left side of menu were very limited and not all that creative. Traditional menu was just that....seemed to be same choices as previous cruises, and while OK, was largely unimaginative, bland and no ethnic or fusion cuisine food options or variations. Overall, main dining room fare was very average.We opted for the specialty restaurants and paid the extra fee for dining in these more than once. These were wonderful. Both Nobu and Prego were superb...great choices, tasty food and magnificent ambiance. Tastes Restaurant was very good also for both lunch and dinner and many creative and ethnic choices were available. Also, for first time, we noticed Crystal staff are allowing passengers to monopolize on shaded poolside furniture. Every day, passengers would invariably (and rudely) place personal effects on limited shaded area furniture early each morning then leave. Most of these would remain unoccupied until mid-afternoon while those who came to pool in the interim had no shaded place to sit. Sadly, there was no enforcement by staff to prohibit this practice. All that being said, these exceptions were just that. They were annoyances we worked around and we did not allow these to spoil our enjoyment of the cruise. From our view, Crystal remains the best of the luxury cruise options that we have experienced and we will be back. Read Less
Sail Date January 2015
Having done in excess of 70 cruises over the years this was our first Crystal cruise. The crowd was very old - mainly 70s and 80s and 90s. The entertainment was excellent - always something to do, watch or listen to. The ship was good ... Read More
Having done in excess of 70 cruises over the years this was our first Crystal cruise. The crowd was very old - mainly 70s and 80s and 90s. The entertainment was excellent - always something to do, watch or listen to. The ship was good and clean. The staff was excellent - always helpful. The cabin outside was just about OK - not big but comfortable with a bath. The trips were expensive and not very special. The biggest let down was the food. It was barely mediocre. Nothing came up hot - everything was luke warm. The specialty restaurants were far from special - not even a bread basket choice in the Italian restaurant, just a choice of white or brown roll. The Asian restaurant had good food but tiny minute portions - really minute, my 15 month old baby eats more. Yes, you could ask for more but felt a bit like Oliver Twist - uncomfortable. It would have helped had we been told you need to order at least 6 dishes to get an average portion. The afternoon tea was the worst ever on any ship. As a cake and choc-o-holic l am certainly not fussy about cakes and desserts. These all looked pretty- and all tasted of the same shaving foam! For me to skip dessert and afternoon tea is unheard of but after the first few days they were so awful we never went - not a surprise the tea room was almost always empty whenever we went by. Food at Butlins was better where we took our grandchildren in the summer. A real shame as it spoilt the otherwise good cruise, Would we travel Crystal again? I am not sure. Read Less
Sail Date November 2013
We’re so glad we decided to try Crystal, after many years with Silversea. This was a classic Crystal cruise: a leisurely 14 days, nice selection of ports, plenty of days at sea and all of the special activities that are among the ... Read More
We’re so glad we decided to try Crystal, after many years with Silversea. This was a classic Crystal cruise: a leisurely 14 days, nice selection of ports, plenty of days at sea and all of the special activities that are among the line’s hallmarks. Our hopes were high. Would Crystal measure up to our best Silversea experiences? It did, indeed. And then some. The Crystal Symphony was docked at the Manhattan cruise ship terminal and boarding began at noon – lots of time to settle in. Boarding was quick, because we pre-registered with Crystal’s PCPC feature (a tip we picked up at CruiseCritic’s helpful Community/Forum). We left our carry-ons with the staff, headed to the Crystal Dining Room for a leisurely lunch, and strolled around the ship until cabins were ready at 3:00. We were very happy with our Deck 7 stateroom. We knew that the Symphony’s cabins (below the Penthouse category) are a little smaller than Silversea’s. Not a problem. Lots of well-planned storage, drawers we didn’t even use, everything fit in the closet, luggage went under the bed. An easy-to-use thermostat. The bed and pillows were quite comfortable, and having lovely Frette linens didn’t hurt. TV channels include CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, BBC, Sky, CNBC, TMC, TCM, TNT, ESPN. Plenty of room to move around comfortably and we felt quite at home by Day Two. We loved the bathroom’s generous storage: 3 shelves above either side of the double sinks, plus below-counter shelves and cabinets. The tub/shower has a nifty grab rail built into its surrounding glass panel, is easy to step into (not too high) and water pressure and temperature stay blissfully constant, even during high-use periods. Lots of thick, fluffy towels. The Symphony sailed down the Hudson at midnight. Our 4471-mile adventure began, gliding past the sparkling NYC skyline and Statue of Liberty, heading for Baltimore, Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, Grand Turk, Curacao, Aruba, Miami. This cruise sold out quite early. We had 840 passengers, a number of whom traveled solo. Most were from the U.S. (several from the U.K.), were repeat passengers, and chose this voyage for the attractive itinerary and relative ease of meeting the ship in New York. The consistently high level of service was a delight. Luxury lines shine in this area, but there really is something special about Crystal. Everyone, and I mean everyone, greets you with a smile. Waiters remembered our names and preferences after the first day. There’s no such thing as a venue being “out of” your favorite tea, jam or wine – waiters will run all over the ship to get it elsewhere. When my husband found his mattress a little too soft, our stewardess replaced it with a new one; that was a touch too hard, so she placed a thin foam topper on it. Perfect! We were very impressed with our meals in the Dining Room, both the menu choices and the quality. The focus is on good fresh food, beautifully prepared – not on fancy culinary hijinks. Dover Sole Meuniere was sublime. Ditto the filet mignon. The Walnut Shrimp Cantonese Style was so good I requested it a few nights later. How wonderful to truly look forward to dinner each and every night. We made a reservation in each specialty restaurant before the cruise and made another reservation onboard. Prego’s falling-off-the-bone osso bucco was delicious and a neighbor said her thick, pink lamb chops were the best she ever had. Our Silk Road waiter delighted in offering samples of a number of dishes. Both restaurants are small, with a quiet ambience and beautiful lighting. (As an aside, it was so nice to see waiters who tended casual breakfasts and lunches suited up to deliver extremely fine, polished service in Prego and Silk Road.) We had most breakfasts and lunches at the Lido Café buffet, with its generous variety of choices, all beautifully presented. The food stations are arranged so there are no lines. Special “theme” buffets were presented on 3 sea days: Asian, American Classic, Nuevo Latino. I guess I was looking a little lost when the chef spotted me at the Asian Buffet; I didn’t see my usual salad fixings, so he went down to the galley himself and returned with a nice big salad, just the way I liked it. On another sea day, an extensive Grand Gala luncheon buffet was laid out in the Crystal Plaza, showcasing the pride of Crystal’s various food departments, with open seating in the Dining Room. I noticed that all of Crystal’s buffets are manned by staff that provides assistance and also keeps an eye out to ensure good sanitary practices. Smart. The Trident Grill area, just aft of the pool, was really handy, whether for a quick burger, cold drink, ice cream and cookies, or as a comfy spot for reading. The Mozart Tea deserves its own plug. It was just lovely, very tastefully done. In addition to Crystal’s usual Afternoon Tea offerings of finger sandwiches and very nice scones with real clotted cream, the Mozart Tea featured an expanded selection of delicious desserts, waitstaff in attractive 18th century garb, and the gentle strains of music by you-know-who. Chalk up another special sea day memory. We enjoyed the evening entertainment. The 14 nights featured a full menu of nighttime shows in the Galaxy Lounge. We particularly liked the talented Crystal Ensemble of singers and dancers in several production shows, ballroom dancers Adam and Patricia Kent, the unusual “Imagine” show (performed in total darkness with zones of the dancers’ outfits lit via computerized programming), Donny Ray Evins’s tribute to Nat King Cole, the hilarious ventriloquist Mark Merchant and his 2 highly-opinionated dummies. There were many more performers. We missed a few shows simply to see some films in the comfortable Hollywood Theatre – such a luxury to have a small theater dedicated just for movies, day and night (with popcorn, of course). Not to be missed in the evening: Joe Fos’s cabaret tunes and classical medleys on the Crystal Cove piano and the genial Mark Farris, singing the night away at his piano and chatting with guests in the intimate Avenue Saloon. We never made it to the Palm Court or Starlight for late night dancing. Next time. We didn’t anticipate how much we’d enjoy having all of these different venues, compared to smaller ships. It was really nice to have a little more of a choice. Crystal pulls out all the stops on its sea days, which are filled with a variety of enrichment choices. World Affairs lecturer Dr. Robert Schrire gave 3 absorbing talks: democracy in Putin’s Russia, China/India relations, the future of the European Union. Destination Speaker Ken Rees discussed the histories of upcoming ports. And speaking of enrichment, Crystal has an impressive library with strong selections in a variety of areas. I’ll leave my own books at home next time. And there were complimentary classes in fitness, bridge, ballroom dancing, art, a galley tour. The art classes culminated with an exhibit in the Crystal Plaza – everyone did a splendid job and it was so nice of Crystal to showcase their work. This cruise had a special “Film & Theatre Festival” theme. Frankly, I didn’t think we’d be particularly interested in it. Was I wrong! TCM film historian Jeremy Arnold gave a fascinating talk on Marilyn Monroe and introduced many of her films, shown during the day in the Hollywood Theatre. Actor and playwright Jim Brochu performed his touching, funny, inspiring “Character Man” tribute to life on Broadway and gave superb talks on Katharine Hepburn, The Golden Age of Hollywood, and A History of Musical Theater. Actress Kate Burton shared memories of her life in the theater. Makeup artist and stylist William Squire gave 3 “insider” talks on Hollywood beauty and style. And much, much more was offered. After a few days, we realized that between port visits and the multitude of sea day activities, you could easily spend entire days going from one activity to another – and many do, they’re that enticing. But we decided to pull back a little, relax the pace, and skip some things (many talks are re-broadcast on the stateroom’s TV). We didn’t want to miss the experience of simply being at sea on a fabulous ship, with no particular schedule to follow. Charleston and Savannah were highlights of this voyage, and the trolley tour excursions were a good way for us first-timers to orient ourselves and learn about these beautiful, historic cities; the guides for both excursions were excellent and informative. We passed up the Caribbean excursions and spent those rather hot days onboard. A note on the dress code: Crystal recently adjusted it so the dressiest night is now “Black Tie (Formal) Optional” – tuxedo OR dark suit with tie OR jacket & optional tie. On our 2 Formal Optional nights, half the men wore tuxedos and half wore dark suits. Crystal sanctions all 3 choices, so just choose the option you’re most comfortable with and don’t give it another thought. Really. Little things we loved: the thoughtful built-in night light with its on/off switch on the night table. The 50-foot pool, great for laps. Easy-to-use washers and dryers in the 3 laundry rooms. The extra-long shoehorn. Cinnamon raisin French toast with a dab of raspberry jam. And, finally, we met so many really pleasant, interesting passengers and enjoyed a great many memorable conversations. It says a lot about Crystal, that they attract such companionable travelers, most of whom return again and again. Yes, there really is something special about Crystal. Everything has to be “the best,” lesser substitutes not accepted, whether it’s food, service, enrichment offerings. I think it boils down to this: the best of the best is simply the way they do business. Period. Crystal doesn’t consider that approach out of the ordinary, and that’s why it’s such a wonderful experience.   Read Less
Sail Date November 2013
For Christmas 2012, I decided to return to Crystal after a 4-year break to try other lines. I had always said that nothing else at sea compares to Crystal. But this cruise was a disappointment. Too much smoking, no one to greet us on ... Read More
For Christmas 2012, I decided to return to Crystal after a 4-year break to try other lines. I had always said that nothing else at sea compares to Crystal. But this cruise was a disappointment. Too much smoking, no one to greet us on embarkation day, unmotivated staff. It really seems as if the once-great Crystal has fallen a few notches. This wasn't a bad cruise. The food was fabulous and we had a great time enjoying the sea day activities. But for the premium fares we paid, and based on prior experience with the line, we expected more. I had read that the 10-year old Serenity had been updated. Yes, our Deck 9 Verandah Room was lovely. But everything else on the ship still seemed dated and boring, with enough wicker to fill grandma's summer home. We did love the storage space in our room and the double sinks in the bathroom. And the verandah was a good size to accommodate us, two chairs and a table. Our room stewardess was just so-so. Everything we ate on the ship was amazing. There wasn't one misstep in the 14 days we were onboard. Even the desserts, usually blah on most cruises, were fabulous. Food was always available whether through the main dining venues, the Bistro, or servers bringing around trays of hors d'oeuvres late at night. We really enjoyed both Prego and Silk Road for alternative dining and also enjoyed the big Christmas day buffet. Service was where Crystal really messed up this time. Once we embarked, there were no stewards to greet us or welcome us onboard. Even on Celebrity, which is roughly half the price, employees are swarming you on embarkation day offering mimosas and directions. When we sailed on Crystal before, the dining room servers would always remember our names, drink preferences, etc. This time, they asked us every night what we wanted to drink, eventhough we ordered the same thing everyday. Dining room service was slow. And most of the crew didn't seem particularly happy to be there. It was hard to get attention from servers in the Lido, as they were busy cuddling up to all of the guests who cruise several times a year. Those of us who cruise occasionally, were left waiting for someone to come take an order for a soda. And on the first day of the cruise, as we were taking a tour of the ship, the Maitre'D blocked us from entering Prego to have a look, saying that we didn't have an appointment to speak with someone. We explained that we didn't need to speak with anyone has we had pre-booked a dining time - we just wanted to see what the room looked like. It was the most awkward cruise we had ever been on. Also, Crystal really needs to step into the current trends, and eliminate smoking from their ships. Most of the Deck 6, the casino and the Crystal Cove were filled with smoke and we stayed away from those locations. The whole ship feels musty with old smoke. Daily entertainment was fine, filled with the usual Bingo, trivia and enrichment programs. Dr. Ruth Westheimer was the guest speaker, and I heard great things about her 2 lectures. The shows in the Galaxy Theater were fine. We had seen a few of them before - especially the "Million Dollar Musicals" production that they refuse to retire (we first saw it in 1996). There was one show which completely stood out - "Rocket Man" was an Elton John tribute show with amazing singing and a great Elton John impersonator. It's not as cheesy as it sounds. It was one of the best shows I have seen on any cruise ship ever. We sailed roundtrip out Miami to the Eastern Caribbean. The ports weren't anything remarkable, but it was nice to have a relaxing warm weather cruise. Our cruise had a maiden port call at Ponce, Puerto Rico. There was nothing there. The cruise even only offered one excursion to a museum. Based on feedback from other guests, I doubt Crystal will stop there again. I would not completely write Crystal off after this. But it would be hard to win back my loyalty unless they offer a fabulous itinerary when I need to cruise. Read Less
Sail Date December 2012
Cruise 8203 Crystal Symphony, "Golden Passage", Caldera - Miami, 31/1/08 - 11/2/08. (First ever cruise.) Background Nearly 2 years ago at a family wedding in Israel my Mum suddenly said that she'd been thinking of a way ... Read More
Cruise 8203 Crystal Symphony, "Golden Passage", Caldera - Miami, 31/1/08 - 11/2/08. (First ever cruise.) Background Nearly 2 years ago at a family wedding in Israel my Mum suddenly said that she'd been thinking of a way to celebrate her 75th birthday which would be coming up soonish, and what did we think about it, "we" being myself and my two sisters and our respective spouses. Well, we obviously said "yeh, great, wow, brilliant" etc etc, and then my Mum said what did we think of New York? (She'd been on the QE2 a number of times with my late father and had very fond memories of transatlantics.) Well, we obviously said "yeh, great, wow, brilliant" etc etc. That was the easy bit, agreeing to go!! As all you experienced cruisers well know, deciding exactly how, where, when, how much, where from, what size, which line, which ship, traditional, casual, formal, anytime dining, rock climbing wall, 15 alternative restaurants etc etc is the hardest part - especially with a group of 7. My Mum decided she'd always wanted to traverse the Panama Canal, so itinerary was settled upon, which "only" left the rest of the questions outlined above. Now, as I and Mrs nadge only eat kosher food I started to look into cruise lines that could provide this. Nearly all lines can provide airline-type sealed kosher meals which can be reheated, but who wants to eat airline meals on a cruise?? I came across an article about Crystal's kosher-style dining, and it took off from there. I made some enquiries with the On-board Guest Services at Crystal, and that was that! (I'll touch on the food later on, but I won't go into huge detail about what is and isn't kosher. For those wishing to know more about kosher food, and exactly what Crystal can do, I'd be only too happy to either open another thread, or e-mail. Just ask.) Travel to New York Since New York was on the wish list from the start, and it's sort of "on the way" to Costa Rica from Israel, we decided to take advantage of the fact by doing a 3 night pre pre-cruise in Manhattan. Now, so that Mum wouldn't have to travel all the way to NY by herself (she lives in Manchester, England whilst the 6 of us live in Israel) we decided that we'd fly to NY via London, and pick her up in Heathrow in the departure lounge. So, after a very pleasant 5 hour flight on BA to London we have to transfer to the next flight. In Heathrow this entails a further (rather pointless) security check - x-ray all hand luggage, and coats, and shoes, and belts, and phones, and wallets, then through the metal detector. Bear in mind that we have walked straight off a plane, our checked in luggage will only be collected in NY if we're lucky enough to win the BA lottery and not have to report missing bags, and gone nowhere other than walk straight to the security point. Anyway, then the fun starts. After passing our bags and belongings through the x-ray machine we were delayed in walking through the metal detector whilst the female security officer searched/checked an old lady's wheelchair which had set off an alarm when she went through in front of us. So what, I hear you ask. Well, in the absence of another female security officer we all had to wait. Eventually, we went through ourselves and collected our belongings. Well, I did, but Mrs nadge's small black leather handbag with ALL of her travel documents in it (passport, tickets etc) and money and cards, had gone. In its place was a similar bag, but not hers. We hoped that someone had made a genuine mistake. Considering the severity of the situation with our next flight due to take off in a couple of hours I was surprised at how calm Mrs nadge was. With a fair bit of persuasion we finally managed to convince the security people to look in the other black bag for some information as to its owner, and although there were no official documents in it there were some prescription tablets in a box with a lady's name on written in Hebrew! Someone had obviously just come off the same plane as us. Luckily, we can read Hebrew. The name was fed in to the system by the friendly BA staff and it turned out to be that very same lady in the wheelchair. What had obviously happened was that the attendant had been told to take a black leather bag, which he/she did, but didn't ask the lady if it was actually hers. This wheelchair lady was nowhere to be seen and an APB was put out for her. After receiving conflicting information that her connecting flight didn't leave for another 4 hours, correct info was passed on that not only was she scheduled for a plane in the next hour she was already on it. Mrs nadge started to get a tad worried. By this time the police had appeared, very interested in the possible theft of a British passport, not to mention that there was an Israeli passport as well. The police literally ran off to the other plane, boarded the aircraft and retrieved the bag which had already been put in the overhead locker and when the old lady saw it she said "but that's not my bag". Crisis over, we managed to fit in 20 minutes of retail therapy before our next flight. Joking apart, if you ever have a wheelchair or know someone who does, ALWAYS check that the bags the attendant retrieves for you are really yours. We arrived in JFK on time, all our bags had amazingly arrived as well and in one piece, and immigration couldn't have been easier. I had been a bit concerned about this because I've heard many stories about extremely unfriendly (even antagonistic) US immigration officials. I'd arranged for my Mum to have a wheelchair to save her all the walking and hand-luggage schlepping, so we all just trooped behind her straight to the front of the immigration queue. Once through we went to a desk in the arrivals hall where the assistant phoned through to Supershuttle for us through whom I'd booked transfers. Thanks again to those who answered my thread about transfer advice in New York. As there were 7 of us with tons of luggage (14 very large bags, 7 large hand-luggage wheelie thingies and another 7 small bags) normal taxis would have been very expensive, and Supershuttle was recommended. It cost $133 including the tip. The woman at the desk said that the van would arrive in 20 mins. A minute and a half later as we were settling down to wait a guy came in and called our name to say our van was here. Excellent service. He loaded everything in to the van with no fuss, and was very courteous. New York Hotel We were finally off to Manhattan. Neither I nor Mrs nadge had been to America before so we were very excited about the whole thing. There wasn't very much traffic so it only took about 25 mins to get to our hotel, Radio City Apartments on W 42nd St. I'd done quite a bit of research on Tripadvisor about NY hotels and I'd been very surprised at the price of a room. I mean, I know NY is expensive, but so is London, but I never realized how expensive hotels are in NY. Anyway this hotel is in a great location a block and a half from Times Square, right next to the theatre district. I'd booked well in advance and got a very good rate for one 1 bedroom apartment (1 bedroom with 2 double beds, and a sitting room with sofa bed, plus kitchenette with stove, fridge microwave - all spotless) and one 2 bedroom apartment (1 bedroom with 2 double beds, 1 bedroom with twin beds, and a larger sitting room with sofa bed, plus larger kitchenette.) As before, if anyone wants any more information then please ask. New York was definitely an experience. Up till then my New York had been the movies plus anything else I might have heard. There is definitely a hustle and bustle about the city; everyone seems to be walking around with great purpose. The buildings are really really tall, and the taxis really are yellow. I also saw a real life yellow old-fashioned looking school bus, just like in the movies. We only had two full days and my Mum can't walk either fast or far, but we managed a number of really touristy things. We went on a hop-on hop-off guided tour bus and we visited Ground Zero. We caught the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, but unfortunately it was quite late so we had to choose only one island to get off at. We chose Ellis Island but because of the late hour didn't really spend enough time there. We'd definitely go again. We walked around Times Square and 5th Avenue, and wandered around Macy's. Due to lack of time we had to pick between the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock. The Rock won and we weren't disappointed. The whole Rockefeller Centre is amazing, and the Rock exhibition is very good. The views from the top go without saying although it was a bit misty. We saw the famous skating rink that's always used as the closing scene in the movies. The Empire State will have to wait till next time. We discovered a breakfast place where the locals go, in the back of this jewelry shop in the diamond district. We also found time for a bit of shopping - my new camera came in very useful on the cruise. Oh yes, we managed to figure out the subway system and what a metrocard is, and apart from traffic police directing the traffic at an intersection I don't think I saw a single cop anywhere. Overall, it was quite strange being on a mini holiday in the middle of a big holiday. I'd love to go again. Contrary to popular belief, everyone we spoke to was really friendly and made our stay very pleasant. My main impression of New York is standing in the street wondering whether there are more tall buildings in Manhattan or more Starbucks. I mean, about every 100 yards there's a Starbucks. What is it with Americans and coffee? Can't anyone go for more than 2 minutes without access to a cup of coffee? A great place. Travel to Costa Rica We'd originally planned to go on this same cruise in November 2007 disembarking in Costa Rica. That would have meant an even longer journey home as it's another 5 ½ hour flight. Taking the advice of many CC members I'd arranged to arrive in Costa Rica the night before embarkation, just in case. We again Supershuttled from Manhattan to the airport, Newark this time, definitely even more of a bargain this time as the price was the same $133 including tip. No problems with the journey on Continental, arriving about 9:40pm. Costa Rica airport is very quiet and organized, immigration very quick with about 8 lines open at once to process everyone. Once outside however it's pandemonium. Lots of people scurrying around and shouting. I hadn't been worried about being met because I'd ordered two taxis through the hotel ($20 each) we were staying at (making sure that there'd be enough room) but with all the commotion outside I was glad when we saw a little fellow jumping up and down and waving a sheet of paper with my name on. In the end one van sufficed, with lots of luggage on the roof rack. We drove off into the night and after about 5 minutes turned off the main highway onto dark, twisting, narrow, bumpy roads. We hadn't a clue where we were but the driver seemed to know what he was doing, and after about 25 minutes we arrived at the Hotel Casa Alegre in Santa Ana which is a small suburb about 10 minutes from San Jose. It's a hacienda type hotel with about 7 rooms ranged around a central swimming pool, and a very cosy lounge with a super-comfy couch. It's very reasonable at about $300 for 4 very nice double rooms including breakfast. Now, I don't know about you, but I wouldn't expect ex-pat Brits living in Israel to know anybody in Costa Rica! Well, at about 12 midnight there's non-stop ringing at the gate of the hotel, and it's our cousin come to visit us. He'd just moved to Costa Rica for work about a month and a half previously from England, and his wife and kids had just come out 2 weeks ago. If we'd have known when we made the arrangements we'd have arranged for a longer stay in Costa Rica. It was surreal meeting him there like that. We chatted till about 2 in the morning. They all joined us for breakfast the next day before we left for the ship so that was a really nice way to start off embarkation day. For them it was quite sad because they don't know when they'll see anyone from the family next. Like a child who has been waiting all year round for his birthday to come round again, I've been involved in this trip - planning, organizing, logistics, but mostly waiting impatiently for over a year and a half. Cruise Critic has kept me going during that time, with everyone's advice and experience, and cruising vicariously with you all. My turn had finally arrived. Has anyone ever been Crystallized before sailing on Crystal? I expect I'm the first! Our taxi came back for us bang on the dot at 9:30 and by 10:00 we were all packed up and ready to go, our van bursting at the seams with the never-ending mound of luggage that we apparently need for 2 and a half weeks of travel. The trip is very scenic and uses the Pan American Highway which officially stretches all the way from Monterey all the way down to Buenos Aries. The road is very busy, full of cars and buses and an even larger quantity of huge trucks that haul Costa Rica's goods all over a country with no railroad. This means that we never make it over 80 kph the whole way with an average of about 60kph. (This is torture for someone who fancies himself as the new Nigel Mansell.) After what seems like an age we eventually see a sign pointing the way to Caldera. We're nearly there! Check In Suddenly we get our first glimpse of the ocean, and then the Symphony comes into view sitting proudly in port. Seeing the ship for the first time as we rounded a bend in the road was amazing. My camera is now working overtime of course. It was like when we were kids driving to Blackpool and the first to see the Tower would get sixpence (you Brits out there will understand). So much excitement after so much anticipation. 10 minutes later we're out of the van being handed yet more immigration forms to fill in by grumpy Costa Rican officials, who are flanked by helpful, smiling Crystal employees. Check in consisted of presenting your passport to another grumpy immigration man for stamping, on one side of a low hangar type building, whilst set up on the other side were stands with computers all emblazoned with the Crystal logo, staffed by smiling crew in sparkling white uniforms. Formalities took just 5 minutes, credit card details were passed over, passports were given in (quite a strange feeling but I had read that this is what happens), pictures taken for the room key, signatures signed and room key-card received, and the seven of us are having our picture taken for posterity in front of the Crystal Symphony posters. From reading these boards for so long I was expecting the warm and genuine welcome we received, help with our bags, would we like to check in hand luggage whilst luncheon is served? But to be truthful, I was also wary of expecting too much. Perhaps everyone was exaggerating as to the completeness of the Crystal experience? Thankfully no. More than once over the cruise one of our little group would suddenly murmur "how did he remember that?" when a crew member would suddenly appear with a favorite treat. We headed off to the dining room for lunch, with champagne of course. Just after we'd been seated a young lady comes up and asks which one of us is Nigel, so yours truly duly owns up. It turns out to be EitherOar who very graciously introduced herself and welcomed us on board. We got together later on in the cruise but I really appreciated that welcome. Thank you. Everyone else in our party was looking on in curious admiration - only 5 minutes on board and already being greeted!! Anyway, this conveniently brings me on to a subject very dear to my heart - food. Kosher Food and Crystal N.B. I won't go into the ins and outs and definitions of kosher food here, but if anyone is interested feel free to reply or e-mail me and I'll go into it with pleasure. A long while back, when researching this whole trip, I sent off a whole load of questions about cruises with kosher food. This is how I found out about Crystal's kosher-style dining. After a series of clarification e-mails with On Board Guest Services I was satisfied that this met with our requirements. I assumed that this definition of kosher-style was standard. When we arrived however, the ship had not been informed of the things we were expecting, but I am happy to report that after outlining our requirements they did their utmost to fulfill them. I would suggest to anyone wanting this option to be in touch with your TA to make sure that your requirements have been transmitted to the ship. We had been expecting some sort of kosher menu - obviously much more limited than the normal one, but we just basically chose something suitable off the regular menu and had it done kosher. To make things easier we were shown the next day's menus during dinner and we made our choices then. That way the chef knew what was expected and what needed to be taken out of the freezer. Once things had been clarified our head waiter Miguel and senior waiter Alan took great care of us. We could only have kosher food in the main dining room, which is a shame because the other venues looked wonderful too, especially the breakfast buffet up on the Lido deck. My sisters said that Jade Garden was very good, but Prego was probably about the best meal they'd ever had. The food itself was amazing. The presentation was wonderful with special care taken over even the most insignificant dish like a simple salad or some fruit. You don't just get some smoked salmon on a plate, you get a work of art that you don't like to spoil by eating it. I didn't realize that breakfast could also be a command performance. The choice was huge and the eggs benedict with smoked salmon wonderful. My mum spoiled herself with hot porridge and brown sugar and cream whilst Mrs nadge made large inroads into the fresh croissants every day. Lunch and dinner weren't too bad either. The meat was to die for and done to perfection - huge rib-eye steaks, beefburgers, lamb chops, enormous racks of lamb and a wonderfully thick juicy tender veal chop. I'm starting to salivate again!! They even made us chopped liver on Friday night. We were a bit limited in deserts because we cannot eat dairy dishes after meat, but the non-dairy sherbets were delicious and the hot cherries and bananas that our head waiter made for us were superb. The Ship The ship is absolutely spotless. There is always someone cleaning or painting or polishing or varnishing. One can tell that the ship isn't new. There are many signs of age, but it doesn't detract an iota from how beautiful the ship looks. I was most impressed with the public toilets. I was also very impressed with all the arrangements - a welcome envelope, TA credits in a gift envelope and an appointment with the bar manager to discuss a cocktail party I wanted to organize. Very professional. Stewardess - We did have some problems with our stewardess. She was brand new. Embarkation day was our first day on a Crystal ship, and our stewardess had been on board exactly 3 days longer. She did not have much of a clue. She was very willing and pleasant, but it is not a good idea to put a new stewardess with new cruisers. We don't know what to ask for and she doesn't know what to suggest or the right questions to ask us. It's all so new that she kept forgetting things even though we would leave notes for her. Crystal definitely needs to make sure that new staff in this department receives proper training and proper real-time instruction. We were in cabin 7046 and I can recommend it. There is a slightly limited view from the beam of a lifeboat crane but it is negligible. Plenty of room to put everything, and even our hugest suitcase managed to fit under the bed as well. The bathroom is big enough with instant hot water and good water pressure, and the twin bowls look very nice and didn't really splash. Never having experienced the loveseat we didn't miss it, and we just left the chair by the dressing table as it was. Mrs nadge just sat on the bed to watch telly. The linen laid out on the floor at turn-down service is a nice touch. Activities Plenty to do on board. In fact, there's so much to do it sometimes seems like you're going to need another holiday when you get home just to get some rest. Up for breakfast in the dining room, a leisurely stroll to collect my book, get to Spanish class for 10:15, go to a lecture, make sure to get to the dining room for 12:00 for lunch so as to finish in time for the trivia quiz at 1.00pm. Need to relax after the quiz with a book and a coffee. Afternoon tea at 3.30pm for an hour, then a stroll along the deck to the ice cream bar to sample the delights. The coffee ice-cream is out of this world (and the butter pecan isn't bad either) especially with the assorted nuts. 2nd helping of coffee ice-cream and assorted nuts. Work off the 3rd helping of coffee ice-cream with assorted nuts and butterscotch sauce with a game of paddle tennis. Mrs nadge is by the pool most days relaxing and reading, or taking time to do some needlepoint. Early evening is time for some ice-cream, and then a well-earned rest before getting ready for one of the cocktail parties that we were invited to, or cocktails in our cabin, or cheese and wine in the art room. Down to late seating dinner - the food is wonderful, the service top notch. On to the show, or one of the headline entertainers, finishing up either at karaoke or in the Avenue Saloon listening to Jeff Deutsch. Entertainment During the cruise we played the "what job would I like to have on this ship?" game. Something not too demanding that enables you to cruise for a salary!! Well, if I could sing I'd like to be part of the acapella group The Castaways. They were brilliant, but over an 11 night cruise they performed for a maximum of 2 hours (1 hour for each sitting) - hardly a strenuous position. Admittedly, they did take charge of the trivia quiz, and they ran the karaoke (3 times). It's just a shame that we couldn't enjoy them more. The shows were very very good, but repetitive. It's basically more of the same. Very professional, amazing costumes, excellent singing and dancing, but we all found ourselves nodding off at various stages of the performances. (Maybe the effect of too much booze, I hear you asking!!) My favorite was The Envelope Please which I thought was very well done, whilst the Cole Porter effort was boring - probably because I didn't know the numbers. Cole! however was my mum's favorite. The headline entertainers were good. There was a Russian lady pianist who now lives in America, and a violinist who were both okay but they're not my cup of tea. The singer Brenda Cochrane was excellent but she was only on for about 30 minutes, and I was very pleasantly surprised by the comedian Jimmy Travis. He's apparently very famous in America though I'd never heard of him. I thought he might be too American for me but I enjoyed his humor very much. The last night illusionist wasn't too bad, but the lady who was "volunteered" to help him in his first trick stole the show with her total apathy. Service Apart from our stewardess, about whom Crystal should take the blame, exemplary. Ports and Shore Excursions Apart from traversing the Panama Canal we had four port days consisting of Aruba, Antigua, St. Maarten and St. Thomas, none of which we had visited before. We didn't particularly fancy any of the excursions which were bus sightseeing tours, if only for the reason that I hate travelling in buses and tend to get travel sick. I also feel that some of the tours are very expensive and can very often be found privately much cheaper. This again brings up the eternal question of ship tours verses private tours. For example, we'd thought about getting the Crystal transfer on embarkation day which included sightseeing, from San Jose to Caldera, which cost $88 a person. Our private taxi (transfer only) for seven of us with ALL of our luggage (bearing in mind that we'd had 2 ½ shopping days in New York before the cruise!) cost $110. Even adding on maybe another $100 if we'd done some sightseeing there's still no comparison. On the other hand, you know that the ship's tours are reputable and they do what it says on the packet, and perhaps most importantly the ship will wait for you should anything untoward occur. So we looked at the tours, dismissed any plain sightseeing ones, and chose to take part in two activities that we wouldn't normally do. In Aruba we went kayaking and snorkeling (quite expensive at $75 each), and in St. Maarten we chose the beginners scuba diving lesson/dive (fairly reasonable at $66 each). The kayaking was actually very good, with a personable guide/instructor which can make all the difference to any tour. We kayaked along the coast for about half an hour to a little beach where we had a little rest and a drink, then donned some snorkel equipment and life-jackets and swam out to see the coral. The last time I snorkeled was over 25 years ago in Sharm el-Sheikh and Nuweiba and I was looking forward to trying it again. The sea was a bit choppy which made progress difficult and made me feel a bit seasick. I'd been expecting it on the ship and happily I'd been fine, but I wasn't expecting to feel sick whilst snorkeling. I managed to survive, and what was even more surprising was that we didn't capsize our double kayak, especially on the way back when the sea got rough again. We were very proud of ourselves. Scuba diving in St. Maarten was very nerve-racking. As first timers it's hard to get your head around the fact that you can breathe underwater. You have to make yourself relax. The instructors were excellent and I can heartily recommend this tour for the way it was run and led. After passing our "3 Skills Test" we actually dived to down to around 30 feet which was about three times deeper than I had originally envisaged. I don't think I'll particularly go diving again but it certainly is a great way to get an introduction to it. After our kayaking in Aruba we became quick-change artists back on board, skipped lunch, and out again exploring within 15 minutes. Our kayak guide (originally from Brazil) had told us that the Portuguese parts of the local Papiamento language was brought to Aruba from Brazil when the Jewish community there was expelled (1694) after Portugal had re-conquered Brazil from Holland. He said that the Jewish community in Aruba is now assimilated but that there is still a Jewish cemetery on the island, so we of course were determined to find it. The town was pretty empty as it was the day after carnival week so everyone was "sleeping it off", but we finally managed to make ourselves understood and we were given directions. The cemeteries are all one after the other, a great big Catholic one, a small Protestant one, and a little Jewish one. It was very interesting to see that the cemetery is still being utilized and kept in very good condition. Disembarking in Antigua we could hardly fail to notice the 3 other huge cruise ships in port with us. Only about 10,000 people unloading on to the island that morning. We hadn't booked a ship tour that day, so just took an official taxi tour from the end of the pier. My mum was with us that day whilst my sisters + spouses did their own thing. She can't walk very far so a taxi seemed like a good idea at the time. In fact it was a brilliant idea and for only $25 each we went on a 3 ½ hour tour of the island in a nice new air-conditioned van, stopping off at the local spots, with time at various look-out points and also the famous Nelson Dockyard. Well worth it. This is in comparison with the official tour which did exactly the same thing (we saw the Crystal bus at points along the way) which cost $53 a person (see earlier discussion). We left the taxi in downtown St. Johns on main street, about 15-20 minutes walk from the ship. We ambled back doing bits of shopping on the way, so in the end we spent about two hours walking around. In case you're wondering, when it comes to shopping my mum has great stamina! In St. Maarten we had our scuba diving in the afternoon so we went exploring in the morning by ourselves. We walked into town about 15 minutes away to Philipsburg, then caught a local bus to the French side to see what Marigot had to offer. Driving along the bumpy road all the signs were in English, but as soon we reached the French side the road was a lot better kept and the signs were in French. Shops don't really open till 10:00 am so we walked around, went to the sea front and then made our way to the open air market. Lots of stalls. Yes, of course we bought some bits and pieces. We're first time tourists in the Caribbean. Finally St. Thomas. To tell you the truth, this was the third port day in a row and it's exhausting. We would have preferred to have these days staggered. I don't know how people manage the port-intensive itineraries with hardly any sea days. As you all know St. Thomas is part of the United States so we had to go through the US immigration process. This was made very easy for us by Crystal as the immigration officials came on board to process us there, with separate rooms for US and non-US citizens. Two huge advantages were that firstly the whole process took about 45 seconds instead of the "hours" at a port or an airport, and it secondly it meant that we didn't have to do it in Miami which was the next stop for disembarkation. Again we explored on foot, walking about 15-20 minutes into town and seeing what was on offer. We had no specific plan other than to wander around and go and find the synagogue which is the second oldest continuously functioning synagogue in the western hemisphere, dating back to 1796. We duly found the synagogue which lives on Synagogue Hill, and spent some time in the little museum reading through the history of the place. We found Britannia House where the old British Consuls lived, with a very friendly curator who gave us background information. Afterwards we went shop crawling in what cruise director Scott Peterson called Shopper's Disneyland, but we were disappointed. They were all basically the same, over-priced jewelry and over-priced souvenirs. Back at the port there are seven "shop buildings". Each "building" is really a street of shops but the same outlets are in each street so really there's hardly any choice at all. Even the single malt whisky that I looked at wasn't particularly cheap and there was a very poor selection. A much better drinks (liquor) shop is to be found on the pier in Antigua. All in all a pretty place but not one that I'd rush back to. Disembarkation This was handled with Crystal's usual efficiency. Everyone received their color-coded luggage labels and exact departure time from the ship. Unfortunately there was a problem with US customs so everything was held up by about an hour and a quarter. Once the go-ahead was given everything proceeded according to plan. The only problem was that for some unexplained reason (though we did ask) the Bistro did not open at 9:00 like it was meant to. That meant that there was nowhere to get a decent cup of coffee and a piece of cake whilst we were waiting. Maybe they were afraid of being swamped by passengers because everyone was in the Starlight Club waiting to disembark. As soon as disembarkation started the Bistro opened. Mrs nadge likes her coffee and croissant in the morning and we'd elected not to get room service in favor of the Bistro, so we were a tad disgruntled. Our flight out of Miami was only at 17:30 so we knew we had hours to kill beforehand. Taking Judith's advice we asked the concierge about transfers, who organized us on the Crystal transfer ($33 per person) which included transfer to the Hilton airport hotel for a light lunch, keeping all the luggage under lock and key whilst we waited and relaxed by the hotel pool, then transfer to the airport and escort during check-in. It was well worth it as we would have only had to wait out those hours at the airport with all our luggage. Reasonable flight from Miami to Heathrow (about 8 hours) then another 5 hours to Tel Aviv. It was a bit foggy in London that morning so we were stuck on the plane for an extra hour and a half till we could take off. Arrived home safely about 36 hours after leaving the ship, and were met at the airport by four of our kids which was really nice. Summary As many other people have said the two main impressions that one takes away from the cruise is the quality of the service and the friendliness of both the passengers and the crew. The crew's friendliness is truly genuine and we appreciated it. Highlights My Mum's birthday - the whole reason for the holiday - was really nice. We woke up early and gathered in her cabin for present giving. Her various grandchildren had also made her cards and presents, and there were balloons and decorations in the cabin courtesy of our stewardess. We gathered again for cocktails and more present giving before dinner, during which she was serenaded by all the personnel and we had a birthday cake of course. She was also serenaded by the Castaways at karaoke that evening. All in all a great day. Mrs nadge looking beautiful all dressed up with plenty of places to go. Mozart tea and the Amadeus hot chocolate. I was going for Patty's record (Paws10) as I managed three in 35 minutes. I started feeling a bit sick so I stopped after that! I'll have to pace myself better next time. The service. Mum had a maintenance issue with the bath. It took 3 visits to sort it out. The next day she received a box of chocolates as an apology from Crystal because the service hadn't been up to scratch. She'd never even said a word to anyone about it. That's service. One day I came in to lunch late just to pick up the others before trivia, as I'd been playing in the paddle tennis competition and I didn't feel like eating. The head waiter was genuinely disappointed that I wasn't staying to eat. The best recommendation I can give is that I've been smiling as I've been writing this, remembering all the good times on board. nadge Read Less
Sail Date January 2008
To start, I may have the cabin number wrong, but, since there was so much to do onboard, and ashore, there was little to do in the cabin but sleep. Anyway, our voyage started with a great bus ride from San Jose, Costa Rica to the ... Read More
To start, I may have the cabin number wrong, but, since there was so much to do onboard, and ashore, there was little to do in the cabin but sleep. Anyway, our voyage started with a great bus ride from San Jose, Costa Rica to the embarkation port. A quick, easy pass through customs got us to the gangway where we were greeted warmly and quickly brought aboard and escorted to our room, where our luggage was waiting already. A hostess greeted us and offered a tour of the main areas of the ship, emphasizing the meeting areas, dining areas, and various entertainment venues. Around this time, my father was approached by staff to determine the extent of his special needs. (He is nearly blind, and has severe hearing loss.) The staff informed us that whatever his needs were, they would be met to his satisfaction. And they easily exceeded that promise throughout the cruise. Next, on to the food. OK, so no one from Weight Watchers was in our group. I say that because the temptations presented at tableside each meal were simply incredible. From the very start every menu listed options to meet every dietary consideration, and their presentation was superb! Others have mentioned the Lido Deck food area, and trust me (and them), it is well worth a few visits in itself. For one of the final meals, Ice Sculptures and food sculptures accompanied an extravagant spread which was set up in the main gallery to allow maximum access to all. The staff was well organized and extremely efficient when it was time for passengers to visit the various ports of call. (Antigua, St. Lucia, etc.) Many of the crew were willing to share their knowledge of local customs, history, or other sightseeing information, making shore time very enjoyable. Entertainment comes in many forms on Crystal Harmony. I enjoyed the broadway style musical revues, which were first rate. I also spent many hours in the piano lounge, hosted by Mr. Jeffrey Deutch. In addition, there was dancing each nite, first run movies, a "Casino at Sea", a library, computer lab and even a piano lab, complete with classes. There was, quite literally, "Something for Everyone". Finally, a word about the crew. There are representatives from many lands working hard each day to make every moment of a Crystal Cruise memorable. Whether from the Philippines, or Europe, Japan or the USA, they work together like a finely tuned orchestra,to create a masterpiece worth remembering. Would I go again? Well, I'll see you in Los Angeles on February 25, 2007. Mazatlan, here comes Mark! Read Less
Sail Date January 2006
EASTERN CARIBBEAN CRUISE CRYSTAL SERENITY NOVEMBER 26  DECEMBER 6 , 2005 My name is Phil Haggerty and my wife is Edith Goble. I am a retired city attorney and Edith is a homemaker and retired health services provider. We live in ... Read More
EASTERN CARIBBEAN CRUISE CRYSTAL SERENITY NOVEMBER 26  DECEMBER 6 , 2005 My name is Phil Haggerty and my wife is Edith Goble. I am a retired city attorney and Edith is a homemaker and retired health services provider. We live in Phoenix, Arizona and this would be our 17th cruise. Our first cruise in 1999 was on Carnivals Elation down the Mexican Riviera. This was followed by an 11 day Caribbean trip on the now defunct Commodore Lines Enchanted Isle. Then came our first Celebrity on Galaxy, a 7 day Caribbean jaunt followed by the marvelous cruise on Celebritys Mercury from Valparaiso to Buenos Aires. We made an Alaska cruise/tour on Sun Princess in May 2002, and our only NCL to date on Norwegian Sun to the Caribbean again. In November 2002 we did a Panama Canal transit on Celebritys Infinity, followed by a summer trip in 2003 to the Mediterranean on that lines Millennium. In August we did a another cruise/tour with Princess, spending 6 days in Europe and then sailing on Regal Princess for its Baltic tour. We returned to the Infinity in November for a Hawaiian cruise. In March 2004 we did our first HAL cruise in the Caribbean on Veendam, and later sailed on Galaxy once more, this time across the Atlantic. We then did another Caribbean on HALs Zaandam and a second Mexican Riviera on Diamond Princess. We enjoyed a unique cruise on Oceanias Insignia down the Amazon River in March 2005. In May we took a 6 day West Coast repositioning cruise on Radiance of the Seas, our first Royal Caribbean trip. WHY THIS CRUISE? This was a ten day cruise with 3 sea days and stops at Key West, Grand Turk, St. Barts, St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Nassau, Bahamas. We wanted to sail on Crystal to see if it lived up to its reputation for spoiling its passengers. We also had, despite our 5 prior Caribbean cruises, visited only one of the ports, St. Thomas, on this itinerary, and though a few of them might be interesting. We were correct in both of our estimates. PLANNING THE CRUISE - INSURANCE This cruise did not involve a huge planning effort. Crystal informs everyone fairly early on concerning its cruise dress code, so we knew there were three formal, two informal and five casual nights. We deviated from our usual habit of booking land excursions on our own through the internet in advance. The most unique excursion was the St. Maarten 12 metre Americas Cup yacht race; and we were told by the company that it only accepted bookings through cruise lines. The snorkel offering on Grand Turk by Crystal seemed better than wandering around looking for a snorkel tour on my own, and the same seemed true for our St. John Eco Hike during the St. Thomas stop. Crystals prices for all these tours was very reasonable, and their handling excellent. So the only real concern was making sure we were under the 50 pound per bag air carrier limit, and we are getting well experienced at that. While we do not always buy insurance, we did purchase a policy with fairly low limits. There was not much chance of Crystal canceling or going bankrupt (it is a small division of the largest shipping line in the world), so the main reason is to provide for emergency medical care, including airlifting if necessary. You get the same amount of medical insurance no matter what the dollar amount you list; at least with Travelguard, the company we chose. DEPARTURE We always try to fly to the East Coast the day before sailing, just in case; and this was especially true since we were leaving the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We arrived in Fort Lauderdale at about 5:00 on Friday and went to the Best Western Oceanside Inn. It probably rates two and a half stars, but was convenient, and did provide a fairly solid breakfast for its $125.00 rate. The city still shows signs of damage from Wilma. The hotel was filled with people sailing on various cruises, and we went out to dinner with a pleasant California couple sailing on Princess the next day. There were 5 other ships docked in Port Everglades the next day. They included Crystal Symphony, Zuiderdam, Enchantment of the Seas. Carnival Liberty and the Princess vessel whose name I did not see. Our shuttle arrived at the pier at about 1:00. We went quickly through security to a second floor waiting area where a Crystal worker gave us a card with a number. There were perhaps 175-200 people waiting as no one had boarded yet. We were not initially told we had to check in then, but when the first 20 staterooms were called to board we realized we had to go to the check in counter. There were a number of stations and it only took about 5 minutes. Our number was called in about another 10 minutes or so, and we were on board after a short wait in line at 1:35. Crystal did not swipe our credit card at the check-in. We were told to go to Guest Relations any time after we boarded to accomplish this. Our room cards were good for all charges immediately upon boarding. We expected to be led to our cabin, but instead were escorted to the main dining room for lunch. We like to be seated with other people so we joined a young couple from Wisconsin who told us that this was their first cruise! Talk about starting at the top! The menu was somewhat limited in options, but certainly sufficient. Since I prefer light lunches I settled for an appetizer, soup and dessert. The meal and service were excellent. OUR STATEROOM Our stateroom was 8106, a standard B class verandah cabin. The A class cabins were on Deck 9. It is 269 square feet including a verandah, so it was a decent size, although a little cramped at the closet area with its sliding doors opening out into the cabin next to the bed. The wood trim and cabinetry was medium dark stained to resemble mahogany. The walls were cream colored and with a pleasant smooth textured surface. A two seat, fully upholstered love seat faced the desk, cabinet, and television unit, which had an upholstered arm chair. The refrigerator contained complimentary bottled water and soft drinks. The TV set had a VCR unit combined. There was a mirror, almost full length, on the wall opposite the space between the bed and the closet. This mirror had a small ledge about a foot from the floor, and there was a night light shining down from beneath this ledge which was controlled by a switch on the bedside table. Edith thought this was a really nice touch. There was the usual framed print above the bed and two more on the wall opposite the bed. The door to the verandah had both a light gauzy curtain and heavy drapes. The verandah furniture consisted of two plastic, but solid, and adjustable chairs with padded seats which were removed every night by the room steward and brought inside. There was a small square white plastic table also. The deck was teak. The verandah dividers did not go up to the ceiling, but left about a two foot gap. However the verandah light was at floor level so your neighbors light did not shine into your verandah as on some other ships. In front of the couch was a small table. One of the room literature items said it was adjustable, and when I pressed a lever on the shaft, it came up about twelve inches. I never found out how to lower it (you have to lean on it heavily) until the last day, but we thought the raised height was more convenient anyway. The closet had some drawers and a shelf. It also was stocked with a long handled shoe horn, shoe bags, laundry bags and a clothes brush. It had well made, nice wooden hangers, but not quite enough of them since I hang up all my shirts, including short sleeve sport shirts. We obtained extra hangars very quickly in response to our call. The bathroom was very attractive for a standard cabin, all in marble and tile with a nice marble double sink, a small, but serviceable tub shower, and a full supply of Aveda toiletries. Both thick bath towels and long bath sheets were provided. There was a shelf above the sink which was very useful in holding things, and with side cabinets and cabinets beneath the sink, more than enough room. Both a built in bathroom hair drier and plug in hand held hair drier were supplied. All the fixtures were top notch and the toilet was the quietest we had ever experienced. There was only one electric outlet in the bathroom, and that was part of the hair drier set-up; not the most convenient arrangement. The thermostat was clear in its directions and actually changed temperature. A thermos ice bucket was provided along with minimal stationary and pen. Wine and beer glasses were also provided, and fortunately we had brought our own wine bottle opener for Ediths bottle of wine. There was no clock provided other than on the phone, and we had, for the first time, forgotten to bring our little travel clock and alarm. The bed was made up into a king size format. Two pillows each were provided, along with a note that there were five different types of pillows available. The bed covering was a very nice duvet. All in all the sleeping arrangements were fine and the room very nicely done and a pleasant place for living. As usual, the ships architects had done their excellent job of providing more than enough closet and drawer space in a limited area. Shortly after we arrived we met Milica from Slovakia, our cabin stewardess. She had just joined the ship that day on her second Crystal contract. We chatted a little about Serenitys 108 day world cruise from Los Angeles across the Pacific to Africa, the Suez and finally Rome commencing in January. She said she had been told that about 35% of the cabins had been sold for the entire trip. Three of our four pieces of luggage were in the cabin when we first arrived after lunch and the fourth showed up in a couple of hours, so unpacking and storing everything went smoothly. THE SHIP As usual, at least when time has allowed it, we went exploring as soon as possible. Serenity is a good sized vessel, 68,000 gross tons, making it only slightly smaller than Mercury & Galaxy, almost the exact size of Elation and larger than either Veendam or Zaandam. But its total capacity is only 1080 passengers, so there is a space ratio of almost 63; a huge amount of room for each passenger. Since Crystal distributes a list of passengers showing names, U.S. state, Canadian province or country; and the total I counted was 821 people, we really had a lot of room on board. Proceeding from top to bottom and fore to aft, the layout is as follows. The Sun Deck, 13, is open forward which really gives you a great view and a strong breeze. Proceeding aft along a walkway above and past the open pool area you come to the paddle tennis courts, which actually did some business. The aft section housed the well stocked gym, aerobics studio, fitness center, spa and salon. Deck 12 forward contains the Palm Court and Sunset Bar with excellent views. There is a decent size dance floor and dance stand also. This area was used daily for tea and also for the Captains Receptions as well as other activities. Ediths yoga classes were conducted on the dance floor for example. Aft of this were a couple of small rooms, Fantasia for children and Waves for teenagers with the obligatory video games. Since there were only a few children, mostly of pre-school age, and no teenagers that we saw; these rooms did not get much action. Midships held the open air pool with its deck chairs and two hot tubs. The deck chairs were plastic with rubber strapping and fairly thick and comfortable pads. There was never any crowding at any time that I saw. Aft of the pool there were two small food stands, one on each side. One was Scoops, the ice cream bar, which served all its offerings without charge. The other side was the Trident Bar and Grill, which was a hamburger/hot dog type facility. Aft of these was the Neptune Pool area which had a sliding glass roof that was never opened. This is a very small pool, and while it also had nice rattan seats and couches, I never saw anyone in the Neptune pool. Aft of this was the Lido Buffet area. At the entrance to this area on the starboard side is another grill called Tastes. The Lido buffet has two serving lines port and starboard and a further service area connecting them aft. It also has another serving station off to one side for pasta at lunch and omelets at breakfast. There is a small open deck area for eating aft of the main Lido seating area. Decks 11, 10, 9 and 8 are all passenger cabin decks; except for the bridge and officers quarters forward on Deck 11. Each of these decks has corridors which open at the aft end to small covered seating areas. These are out of the wind and have nice views and deck chairs. They can also be reached by stairs up and down from decks 12 to 6. Decks 8 and 9 also allow access to a forward viewing area. Deck 7 is the Promenade deck which has a true teak promenade around the entire vessel. It is a wide walkway with no deck chairs intruding, and it seemed to get a lot of use from dedicated deck walkers and participants in the Walk on Water WALKVEST® program. Deck 7 has cabins without verandahs of course, since they face out to the Promenade, from forward to midships. Aft of that there are two special venues, the Computer University at Sea, followed by a large bridge or card room and a small studio room on the starboard side, and the Yamaha electronic piano studio, followed by the Library and the Vintage room and Century Suite portside. The Vintage room is set up as a private dining room with wine serving facilities. If you wish, and care to spend about $1400.00, you can order a multi-course multiple vintage dinner for yourself and fourteen friends. I did not see it in use. The other rooms were small meeting rooms. Aft of these rooms were the specialty restaurants, The Japanese Silk Road with its Sushi Bar on one side and the Italian Prego Restaurant on the other. Deck 6 was the main activity area. The show venue, the Galaxy Lounge is forward. This is a one story theater seating about 500, although it was never full because each show went on twice each night, once for regular and once for late seating diners. Aft of this is Caesars Palace at Sea, the casino. This is a relatively small venue with about 100+ slot machines, one roulette table, one craps table and five blackjack, baccarat or poker tables. Proceeding towards the rear there is a small art gallery. And then one arrives at the shop next to the atrium. There is one jewelry store, Facets, one small general supply store, Captains Choice, and Apropos, a fairly good sized clothing store. Across from the clothing store is the Bistro, my favorite spot on board. Here, between 10:00 and 6:00 one can be served coffee, cappuccino, latte, tea, snacks and pastries, sitting in comfortable chairs, looking out to sea, all at no charge. Aft of this is the movie theater, holding about 250 people. It was used extensively for lectures as well as a good run of movies. Then came the photo shop and photo gallery down the starboard side, and past that is the night life area. This has four separate venues. First there is the Connoisseur Club, a small place with a tiny bar and a few sofas and deep leather chairs, all quite dark, with brass lamps and dark wood, supposedly to be used as a mens cigar hideaway. Aft of this is the Avenue Saloon, which also runs to dark wood and brass fixtures, with a larger bar and a piano. This had a pianist playing every evening, and I greatly enjoyed him the one time I attended. Opposite this is the Pulse Lounge with a small dance floor and a disco set-up, also used every night. Behind both of them are the main lounge, the Stardust Club with small tables, and a dance floor with its band stand. The dance floor area was quite small, and two of our dinner table companion couples complained that tables and ramps leading on to the floor made dancing difficult. The aft deck of Deck 6 held the golf nets (2), a small putting green and table tennis facilities. Deck 5 had cabins forward, which I found out were occupied either by officers, or entertainers/lecturers. This area also housed the Medical Center. Midships was the lower level of the Crystal Atrium, containing the Reception Desk and Excursion Desk. There also was an area for the future cruise consultant, the Crystal Society concierge and a pleasant bar, called the Crystal Cove with a piano and its own musician, Joe Fos. Aft of this area is the Crystal Dining Room, the main dining room. The gangway opened off Deck 5, but access to the tenders was on Deck 4. There are three elevator bank/ stairwell bay areas, which make getting around the ship relatively convenient. The forward and midships banks have three elevators and the aft area two. The general dEcor is minimalist and decorative rather than heavily artistic in the vein of the HAL or Celebrity ships. Everything physical about the ship is beautifully finished and very attractive however, and the art works displayed are nicely done and appropriate. The furniture is first class. The tables and chairs in the buffet area are good wood for the tables with full arms on the chairs and comfortable seats. The library was very attractive, had a good selection of books and music with disc players. It also had Jackie Sanchez, the only full time librarian other than Erin on Celebrity that we have ever seen. She was very pleasant and helpful. The Galaxy showroom had a nice mixture of armchairs and small sofas, and every seat had a good sight line. The theater seats were also comfortable. Serenity is as elegant as Insignia, but more spacious, and very easy to navigate, although it is not a small ship. In my review of Insignia I said; It is . . . as pleasant a venue for 14 days as can be imagined. This is equally true of Serenity. PASSENGER SERVICES Flatly and simply, Crystal is ahead of everyone else in this facet, and it is hard to imagine how any cruise line could surpass it. They truly put the passengers care, comfort and convenience ahead of everything. From the ease of booking excursions on line, to the confirmation of every detail, to the truly pleasant attitude of every crew member, dealing with this company is a pleasure. The only problem we ever had was occasional difficulty of reaching the wake-up call service. The excursion service was great. When, as the result of a change of anchorage for our tender service at Grand Turk, we had a minor change in the snorkel sites, the excursion desk called to apologize, and gave us a half off rebate. When the winds at St. Maartens were light for the 12 metre Americas Cup Regatta, they called prior to departure to tell us and offer a full refund it we wanted to cancel. The excursion director was always available at the disembarkation point, and every excursion was accompanied by a crew member to make sure things went right. This member filled out a report on each excursion. Typical crew members assigned were the Guest Hosts, Casino staff etc. The front desk answered all questions with a smile and greeting. The balance of the crew always was pleasant and friendly. When I went to make reservations for the specialty restaurants, the maitred could not have been nicer, even though the night I first requested was sold out. We had the New York Times newsletter, about six or eight page 8x11 document, delivered to our cabin every day. Reflections, the regular information flyer, had very complete information, and good information columns without much advertising. When we left the dining room on the last day, we were presented with a folder that contained all the dinner menus for the cruise! I mentioned the booklet that had the passengers names, but it also contained the names of the crew members who were either senior officers, entertainers, lecturers and teachers/trainers or people who had frequent passenger contact. Port information was complete and accurate. In short, Crystal does everything right, and with the right attitude. To be fair, I did not use any e-mail; and there were some remarks that it was highly priced; but by comparison, the shore excursions were reasonably priced. FOOD AND FOOD SERVICE The food and service in all areas ranged from excellent to superb. Our dining room waitress was Julia from Heidelberg, assisted by Zoltan from Hungary. He was pleased when I said I could always remember his name because of Zoltan Kodaly, a great Hungarian 20th century composer. At our initial seating on embarkation day we were joined by Jill and Tony from Nottingham, England, JoEllen and Ken from a Maryland suburb of Washington and Steve and Linda from Naples, Florida. Steve and Linda found friends from another cruise, so we were six for the rest of the cruise. The table next to us had five, so our wait staff had only eleven people to serve. Other tables seemed to be arranged so that the maximum number of people for service team was no more than 14, and usually less. This created a quiet, well paced and attentive milieu for each meal; a definite improvement over most lines. To give Celebrity credit, they also manage the number of patrons to be served by each team so that there is the same pleasant atmosphere. In addition to our two servers our assistant maitred was always around to assist when needed, and the wine steward was attentive. I like non-alcoholic wine and beer. Crystals policy is that all non-alcoholic drinks are free. So the wine steward faithfully inquired whether I wanted a glass of white or red Ariel at every meal. The standard dinner menu had four appetizers, three to five soup and salad offerings, a pasta dish, a salad entrEe, a main entrEe with four choices, including at least one fish and usually one fowl choice, the option to order a steak or salmon dish at every meal, and a range of vegetables. The dessert menu offered six choices normally, with at least one sugar free, an ice cream, frozen yogurt or sherbet selection, a cheese trolley, and coffee, latte, espresso, cappuccino and tea. A vegetarian offering was also available. The main selections had no duplication during the cruise, and a good deal of imagination. I heard no complaints from anyone, and did not expect any based on my own observation. The seafood, including oysters, lobster and crab, was very fresh; the meat moist and tender, the vegetables nicely done, and the sauces excellent without being overbearing. The portions were small, as they should be with so much food being offered. The pastries, both at dinner and everywhere else, were the best I have ever had on board ship, or indeed almost any other place except Vienna. This was not surprising since the head baker was Austrian, and no one does pastry better than the Austrians and Germans. The table settings were particularly nice, with a selection of Villeroy and Boch charger plates. Our dining table was towards the aft end of the room, thus out of the way and fairly quiet, so we had no way to judge the complaints contained in some books that the main dining room is noisy. We ate at each specialty restaurant once. Our first such experience was at the Silk Road, with the Japanese menu created by Nobu Matsuhisa. I had a single spring roll, a clear mushroom soup served in a small iron Japanese tea pot, lobster and crème brulee. The roll and soup were delicious, but hardly preparation for the fantastic lobster. I am not given to hyperbole, but this was a unique and true gourmet experience. Of equal merit were the three small crème brulees, one ginger, one mango and one passion fruit. Altogether, this was one of the finest meals I have ever had. Our experience at Prego was also of an excellent, if relatively standard, Italian meal. Both restaurants have a suggested $6.00 per person gratuity charge, and the service at both was excellent, personable and friendly. We also enjoyed the Lido Buffet for both breakfast and lunch. We were adopted by Jun Sai, a waiter for breakfasts; and he carried our trays, brought coffee, and made sure we had refills. The buffet setup was for trays with plates, and the cutlery was provided with the trays. There were no crowds except at the specialty lunches, of which there were three on the sea days. One was oriental, one Nuevo Latino Buffet which included South American as well as Mexican food; and one described as the Grand Gala buffet, which ran to a lot of good seafood. The first two were set up around the pool, but the Grand Gala Buffet was served in the Crystal Atrium on deck 5. This is a pleasant venue, but with fewer seats, requiring some people to carry their trays to the main Dining Room. The other daily lunch buffets had a very good selection, although I typically eat only a small portion of a main entrEe, always of course saving room for dessert. Edith could find good salads and vegetables all the time. We ate once at the Sushi Bar, after a show, but were not able to persuade our smiling sushi makers that we only wanted one or two pieces, not the many delicious and fresh items they gave to us. Instead of a snack, it became a late meal which sat a little heavily as we went to bed. We noticed at every buffet that the maitreds from the two specialty restaurants were supervising this operation and were very quick to step in to help and make sure everything was running smoothly. We went to the afternoon tea on many occasions with the usual problem of fending off the diligent white gloved servers who were determined to stuff us two hours before dinner. As I noted, the pastries were excellent, and we were able to get very good tea. Like the tea time on Insignia, this break in the day is very relaxing and civilized; and we quite understand the British love of tea time. On one occasion the servers were dressed in 18th century attire for a Mozart tea. We also noted that the waiters assisting at the specialty buffet lunches all had attire appropriate to that lunch. These little touches mark Crystals efforts to provide a special experience. Although Celebrity on our six cruises, and Oceania on our sole cruise to date with them, both do a very fine job with food and service, Crystal is the best in this important area of cruising that we have ever experienced. SHORE EXCURSIONS Crystal provided fairly detailed information on both its website and via a cruise specific booklet sent out after we made our final payment. I had contacted the company that runs the 12 metre Americas Cup Regatta Race on St. Maarten directly and had been advised that they book only through cruise lines. The other excursions we booked were a snorkel one in Grand Turk for me (Edith does not snorkel) and an eco hike for both of us on St. John at our St. Thomas stop. All three were reasonably priced, and as noted above, very well run by Crystal. There were four boats in the race excursion, which had two races of two boats each. Out boat had ten of us from Serenity, including the crew member who was a Casino employee. We had one ringer from a Princess. We won our race. The eco hike had about fourteen of us and our snorkel trip about the same number, so we were never crowded or rushed. I should note that at every port there was at least one other cruise ship present from the Radisson Seven Seas Voyager at Key West, to a Sea Dream Yacht at St. Barts to the 3500+ passenger Mariner of the Seas in St. Maarten. On Key West we simply strolled around town. It is a place to see once. The Truman Southern White House and Hemingway House, which is set in a small, but attractive park setting, are both worth a visit, but we will not rush to return. Edith walked around Grand Turk in the morning, and I did also in the afternoon after my snorkel tour. It is not an impressive place. Unless you are heavily into scuba or snorkel diving, there is no reason to go there. It was the butt of several well appreciated jokes by the comedian. St. Barts is definitely French. Not only is that the language, with the Euro as the currency, but most of the locals we saw were European French. We rented a car for the reasonable rate of ¬45 plus ¬5 for gas. It was a small, but nice Japanese car with an automatic transmission and air conditioning if we needed it. We obtained a good map of this small island and by the time we returned, had seen most of it. It is hilly, but attractive, with a lot of upscale housing and very little that was not at least middle range in pricing and appearance. We stopped at a small hotel called Le Toiny, which, in a typical Caribbean construction, had an open entrance with a restaurant behind it looking out over a pool to the sea beyond; in this case, down a hill. The art instructor from the ship was there also, and we joined him in the office to one side, There a very attractive young French Girl told us in response to my question of how many rooms were in the hotel that there were no rooms, only 15 suites, each with its individual pool. She handed us a brochure. This is a Relais & Chateaux establishment; which means ultra-ultra luxury, priced to match. The small Villa Suites ran from ¬775 per day in the off season from late April to October 31; ¬800 in the Inter Season; November to mid December; ¬1550 in the high season from January to April, and ¬1700 in the Festive Season, from December 20 to January 4. For the larger 2 or 3 bedroom suites, the same seasonal rates were ¬1450, ¬1450; ¬2600 and ¬3000. For those rates you also got breakfast in addition to your room, and transportation from the airport. But she was a charming young lady and it was a striking and beautiful place. She also recommended a local beach for swimming, which I took advantage of. St Barts is quite small as I noted, but very nice; a place you might want to visit for a few days  with a large suitcase filled with money. Actually, we had a lunch at a truly local restaurant which provided quite nice traditional provincial French food for a reasonable price. We had been to St. Thomas twice before, on Galaxy and Zaandam, both cruises being reviewed on this (www.cruisereviews.com) site. We opted for the St. John Eco-Tour, which consisted of a half-hour ferry ride from Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas to Cruz Bay on St. John, a hike up and over a hill down into Caneel Bay. Here we went swimming on Honeymoon Beach, which has extremely fine white sand. This is just around a bend from the hotel at Caneel Bay, and we walked out through its grounds to a taxi. The hotel occupies about 120 acres carved out by Laurance Rockefeller from his original 5000 acre gift to the National Park Service in 1956. More land was donated later so that now over 2/3 of the island is National Park land. We had a local guide who was fairly well informed about local flora (there is not much by way of fauna). We had a good deal of rain upon arrival in Cruz Bay and everyone took advantage of the visitor centers rain ponchos for sale. Despite the weather, it was a very pleasant and relatively easy hike and good swim. I even persuaded Edith to go in the water, and she liked it. Our final stop was Nassau, Bahamas. Here we went out on our own, first stopping to buy an emerald pendant and then walking about a mile and a half out of town to a combination zoo and botanical garden called Ardestra Gardens. Here the feature was a group of very pink flamingos who had been taught to march on command, turn, stop and start again. This was quite a sight. In addition to this there were about forty or fifty bird and animal exhibits, including a marvelous family of father, mother and two small serval cubs along with a jaguar and caracal. This was a nice break and a pleasant venue. Nassau itself was crowded with three other large and one small cruise ships at dock. ENTERTAINMENT The Cruise Director was Rick Spath from the United States. I told him I appreciated the fact that he did not attempt to be a comedian or entertainer, and he said he was pleased to hear my reaction. He was present at all of the main shows of course, but also at many of the other events during the day. He made a point of saying that he could be contacted after each show for suggestions on how to improve things, and some people took him up on it, with varying degrees of success of course. He was generally quite visible around the ship, and in short, was the best, hardest working and most effective cruise director we have seen. The formal evening entertainment laid huge emphasis on the singer/dancer shows. There were five of these on a ten night cruise; not counting the sailing night abbreviated show but including the final night variety show which was a combination including some of the earlier acts. Apart from these shows there was one night with a singer, one with the comedian and one with a harpist. This meant that there was a lot of singing and dancing. As in many of these cruise shows, the ensemble consists of four men and four women who are primarily dancers, and a lead male and lead female vocalist who do some simple dance routines. This group was among the more highly talented we have seen, and the costumes were amazing. The Galaxy Lounge is nowhere nearly as high tech or versatile as the theaters on larger ships, but this does not detract from the enjoyment of talented young people. Edith actually enjoyed the comedian; Mike Goddard. His humor depends on his acting as much as the actual verbal content, and he is a talented actor. In the final show he played a maid with a strong Norwegian accent  obviously a take off of our Captain Edvardsen with his strong accent, and this really had everyone rolling in the aisles. The singer was British, with a stage background, but we did not enjoy her as much as we had appreciated Lindsey Hamilton, also a British stage performer, on Mercury. We felt that this lady, Petrina Johnson, was a little too loud and strident for our best enjoyment. Edith loves harp music, but the harpist played with an electronically amplified instrument that sounded far too metallic and harsh for our taste. There also was a dance duo that was quite good. A classical pianist performed once, but it was between our dinner and our normal show, so we never did get to hear him. I believe he should have been presented at a time (or at times) when everyone would have had a chance to enjoy this music. The entertainment also included the ships orchestra, which backed up all the Galaxy Lounge performers, providing live music instead of the prerecorded variety now common for some of the stage presentations in larger showrooms on board the mega-ships. The crystal sextet played mostly dance music, either in the Stardust Lounge on Deck 6 or the Palm Court on Deck 12. The Wind and Strings trio, which was composed of violin, guitar and flute, played mostly in the Crystal Cove and also wandered around playing requests at dinner in the main dining room. A pianist named Joe Fos played mostly in the Crystal Cove while Daniel Davies did the same in the Avenue Saloon. Both were excellent and very knowledgeable. However, on one occasion when we wanted to sit and listen to Joe Fos after a show, he was interrupted by a passenger who proceeded to have a lengthy private conversation with him, stopping him from playing, and depriving us of our entertainment. A better plan would have been for Joe to gently remind this person that he was there to play for all passengers. Movies were shown in the theater every day, and the movies available on closed circuit TV were both very extensive and varied. A TV program for each day was provided. On a typical day there were four movie channels with four movies each. The channels were: Movie Laughs & Romance; Action Drama and Suspense; Silver Screen Classics and The Destination Channel. For example, one days offering on the Silver Screen channel gave you: A Man For All Seasons; Singin in the Rain; Gone With The Wind and Sunset Boulevard. On the same day the Destination Channel showed Captain Corellis Mandolin; The Italian Job; Man of La Mancha and Notting Hill. This is quite a line-up as anyone would agree. In addition we could see the Discovery Channel, and depending on the ships location, up to 4 news channels. The usual, but more than ordinarily thorough port and ship information channels also were available. GUEST EDUCATION AND RECREATION EVENTS I have made this a separate section because the offerings in this area were so extensive, particularly on the 3 sea days. This was labeled as a Fitness cruise. Every day there was at least one fitness walk in a Walk on Water WALKVESt® program with an instructor trained in that program; one or two fitness classes and perhaps a yoga class. Edith attended each yoga session, which was run by a husband and wife team who own a yoga studio, and do this for a living. This was obviously much better that the typical cruise yoga session run by one of the gym instructors. The Computer University at Sea had three separate sessions, repeated during the cruise. I took the one on getting your digital photos edited and transmitted. I discussed the Yamaha electronic keyboard studio in my description of the ship. Edith attended one or two of the classes offered and had a fine time. She also attended an art class with prizes. There was an arts and crafts class and I attended three golf instruction sessions offered by Bruce Murray, a Canadian Golf Professional with a Masters Professional status awarded by the PGA in 1981. This was typical of the caliber of people hired by Crystal. Spanish lessons were also offered, along with bridge instruction by a couple, both of whom are Silver Life Masters with the American Contract Bridge League. The credentials of the other instructors are equally impressive. There was no charge for any of these activities. Crystal also has a Cleveland Clinic Health Talk program as part of its overall Life Style offerings, and on this cruise it featured a MD Dermatologist. The Enrichment series of educational talks was so extensive and varied that I can only give a short overview. The cruise had members of PBS people known as the PTV at Sea group, including many business analyst types such as the Chief Investment Strategist at Standard and Poor; the founder and CEO of Riley Asset Management and Paul Kangas, co-anchor of the PBS Nightly Business Report. There were many other presenters, and one could not possibly attend them all. Edith enjoyed a doctor speaking mainly on nutrition and diet, and I enjoyed a talk given by Aimee Mullins. This very beautiful young lady lost both her legs to amputation below the knee at 8 months of age. Despite this, while attending Georgetown University (my alma mater also) she competed in and won several NCAA Division 1 track events, including world records in the long jump, 100 and 200 meter dashes. She since has gone on to a modeling career. Perhaps typical of her marvelous attitude was her closing remark after mentioning that she has several different prosthetic legs for different purposes. I can be any height I want to. I also greatly enjoyed a joint presentation on politics for the 2006 and 2008 given by Charlie Cook, a widely known political writer and TV analyst, and Gwen Ifill, moderator and managing editor of Washington Week on PBS, and a regular senior correspondent and moderation on The NewsHour with Jim Leher. We had enjoyed the Enrichment offerings on Celebrity on sea days and the lectures on Oceania; but the Crystal programs go way beyond those. There was no excuse for anyone to have had a moments boredom on this cruise. THE CRYSTAL CREW AND OUR FELLOW PASSENGERS The sailors, meaning the Bridge and Engine Room officers were mostly Norwegian with a sprinkling of Japanese. The hotel and food service managers were either German or Austrian, with a supporting cast from other European countries as well. The staff in the main dining room was European, and they also served tea each day in the Palm Court. The buffet staff was largely Filipino. The room stewards seemed to mostly female and from Europe. Their hallmark and motto was Service  service and better service. While most cruise lines make extended efforts in providing good service, and many succeed at a fairly high level; we have experienced nothing as good as Crystal. We do not make special requests of the dining room staff, but some did at an adjoining table, and their requests were apparently cheerfully supplied. The front desk was always a pleasure to deal with on the few occasions I went there. I have mentioned the excursion staffs dedication. The Captain and senior officers were often seen around the boat. The entertainers and lecturers were also visible and willing to chat with passengers. Every request of our room stewardess was promptly met if we dialed her number, she was paged, and replied in every case in a minute or two. In short, we were thoroughly spoiled. Our fellow passengers were also a pleasure. Our dinner companions were extremely nice, and we had a very pleasant and at times hilarious level of conversation. Most on board were American, with 27 British couples according to Tony and Jill, the usual sprinkling of Canadians, a group of 30 from Bermuda, a few Europeans and a number of Japanese from Japan, Hawaii and California. CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS Just in case you missed the message; we loved this ship, its on board offerings and the cruise company. We enjoyed the places we visited, but after all, the Caribbean is still the Caribbean with a lovely climate, good swimming, shopping if you want it, but not the most exotic or exiting spot in the world the sixth or seventh time around. On the level of professionalism, customer attention, service, attitude and the overall product supplied to its passengers including the ships appearance, ambience and convenience, Crystal Serenity was the finest we have ever experienced. There have been some entertainment on Celebrity we thought was better, and some cozy aspects of Insignia that delighted us just as much in a slightly different way; but the total value of what Serenity provided was the highest. Of course you pay for this, even though this was a Value cruise at a rate approximately 55% of the normal fare. This was still almost twice the cost of a comparable Celebrity cruise. Whether or not this high level of service is worth either the discounted or the full price, I leave to each individual, but we certainly felt we got our moneys worth. Would we sail again on Serenity? In a heartbeat  if the price was right and the itinerary appealing. Unfortunately it is not possible to get discount prices on Crystals more exotic itineraries, as I expect that they will book them fully. But if Serenity sails again at a time and place convenient and desirable, we would sure love to be her pampered guests again. Bon Voyage! Read Less
Sail Date November 2005
Crystal Cruises Crystal Serenity Cruise Review Eastern Caribbean Phil Haggerty Age: 73 Occupation: Retired Number of Cruises: 17 Sailing Date: November 26th, 2005 My name is Phil Haggerty and my wife is Edith Goble. I am a retired city ... Read More
Crystal Cruises Crystal Serenity Cruise Review Eastern Caribbean Phil Haggerty Age: 73 Occupation: Retired Number of Cruises: 17 Sailing Date: November 26th, 2005 My name is Phil Haggerty and my wife is Edith Goble. I am a retired city attorney and Edith is a homemaker and retired health services provider. We live in Phoenix, Arizona and this would be our 17th cruise. Our first cruise in 1999 was on Carnivals Elation down the Mexican Riviera. This was followed by an 11-day Caribbean trip on the now defunct Commodore Lines Enchanted Isle. Then came our first Celebrity on Galaxy, a 7 day Caribbean jaunt followed by the marvelous cruise on Celebritys Mercury from Valparaiso to Buenos Aires. We made an Alaska cruise/tour on Sun Princess in May 2002, and our only NCL to date on Norwegian Sun to the Caribbean again. In November 2002 we did a Panama Canal transit on Celebritys Infinity, followed by a summer trip in 2003 to the Mediterranean on that lines Millennium. In August we did a another cruise/tour with Princess, spending 6 days in Europe and then sailing on Regal Princess for its Baltic tour. We returned to the Infinity in November for a Hawaiian cruise. In March 2004 we did our first HAL cruise in the Caribbean on Veendam, and later sailed on Galaxy once more, this time across the Atlantic. We then did another Caribbean on HALs Zaandam and a second Mexican Riviera on Diamond Princess. We enjoyed a unique cruise on Oceanias Insignia down the Amazon River in March 2005. In May we took a 6 day West Coast repositioning cruise on Radiance of the Seas, our first Royal Caribbean trip. WHY THIS CRUISE? This was a ten day cruise with 3 sea days and stops at Key West, Grand Turk, St. Barts, St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Nassau, Bahamas. We wanted to sail on Crystal to see if it lived up to its reputation for spoiling its passengers. We also had, despite our 5 prior Caribbean cruises, visited only one of the ports, St. Thomas, on this itinerary, and though a few of them might be interesting. We were correct in both of our estimates. PLANNING THE CRUISE - INSURANCE This cruise did not involve a huge planning effort. Crystal informs everyone fairly early on concerning its cruise dress code, so we knew there were three formal, two informal and five casual nights. We deviated from our usual habit of booking land excursions on our own through the internet in advance. The most unique excursion was the St. Maarten 12 metre Americas Cup yacht race; and we were told by the company that it only accepted bookings through cruise lines. The snorkel offering on Grand Turk by Crystal seemed better than wandering around looking for a snorkel tour on my own, and the same seemed true for our St. John Eco Hike during the St. Thomas stop. Crystals prices for all these tours was very reasonable, and their handling excellent. So the only real concern was making sure we were under the 50 pound per bag air carrier limit, and we are getting well experienced at that. While we do not always buy insurance, we did purchase a policy with fairly low limits. There was not much chance of Crystal canceling or going bankrupt (it is a small division of the largest shipping line in the world), so the main reason is to provide for emergency medical care, including airlifting if necessary. You get the same amount of medical insurance no matter what the dollar amount you list; at least with Travelguard, the company we chose. DEPARTURE We always try to fly to the East Coast the day before sailing, just in case; and this was especially true since we were leaving the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We arrived in Fort Lauderdale at about 5:00 on Friday and went to the Best Western Oceanside Inn. It probably rates two and a half stars, but was convenient, and did provide a fairly solid breakfast for its $125.00 rate. The city still shows signs of damage from Wilma. The hotel was filled with people sailing on various cruises, and we went out to dinner with a pleasant California couple sailing on Princess the next day. There were 5 other ships docked in Port Everglades the next day. They included Crystal Symphony, Zuiderdam, Enchantment of the Seas. Carnival Liberty and the Princess vessel whose name I did not see. Our shuttle arrived at the pier at about 1:00. We went quickly through security to a second floor waiting area where a Crystal worker gave us a card with a number. There were perhaps 175-200 people waiting as no one had boarded yet. We were not initially told we had to check in then, but when the first 20 staterooms were called to board we realized we had to go to the check in counter. There were a number of stations and it only took about 5 minutes. Our number was called in about another 10 minutes or so, and we were on board after a short wait in line at 1:35. Crystal did not swipe our credit card at the check-in. We were told to go to Guest Relations any time after we boarded to accomplish this. Our room cards were good for all charges immediately upon boarding. We expected to be led to our cabin, but instead were escorted to the main dining room for lunch. We like to be seated with other people so we joined a young couple from Wisconsin who told us that this was their first cruise! Talk about starting at the top! The menu was somewhat limited in options, but certainly sufficient. Since I prefer light lunches I settled for an appetizer, soup and dessert. The meal and service were excellent. OUR STATEROOM Our stateroom was 8106, a standard B class verandah cabin. The A class cabins were on Deck 9. It is 269 square feet including a verandah, so it was a decent size, although a little cramped at the closet area with its sliding doors opening out into the cabin next to the bed. The wood trim and cabinetry was medium dark stained to resemble mahogany. The walls were cream colored and with a pleasant smooth textured surface. A two seat, fully upholstered love seat faced the desk, cabinet, and television unit, which had an upholstered arm chair. The refrigerator contained complimentary bottled water and soft drinks. The TV set had a VCR unit combined. There was a mirror, almost full length, on the wall opposite the space between the bed and the closet. This mirror had a small ledge about a foot from the floor, and there was a night light shining down from beneath this ledge which was controlled by a switch on the bedside table. Edith though this was a really nice touch. There was the usual framed print above the bed and two more on the wall opposite the bed. The door to the verandah had both a light gauzy curtain and heavy drapes. The verandah furniture consisted of two plastic, but solid, and adjustable chairs with padded seats which were removed every night by the room steward and brought inside. There was a small square white plastic table also. The deck was teak. The verandah dividers did not go up to the ceiling, but left about a two foot gap. However the verandah light was at floor level so your neighbors light did not shine into your verandah as on some other ships. In front of the couch was a small table. One of the room literature items said it was adjustable, and when I pressed a lever on the shaft, it came up about twelve inches. I never found out how to lower it (you have to lean on it heavily) until the last day, but we thought the raised height was more convenient anyway. The closet had some drawers and a shelf. It also was stocked with a long handled shoe horn, shoe bags, laundry bags and a clothes brush. It had well made, nice wooden hangers, but not quite enough of them since I hang up all my shirts, including short sleeve sport shirts. We obtained extra hangars very quickly in response to our call. The bathroom was very attractive for a standard cabin, all in marble and tile, with a nice marble double sink, a small, but serviceable tub shower, and a full supply of Aveda toiletries. Both thick bath towels and long bath sheets were provided. There was a shelf above the sink which was very useful in holding things, and with side cabinets and cabinets beneath the sink, more than enough room. Both a built in bathroom hair drier and plug in hand held hair drier were supplied. All the fixtures were top notch and the toilet was the quietest we had ever experienced. There was only one electric outlet in the bathroom, and that was part of the hair drier set-up; not the most convenient arrangement. The thermostat was clear in its directions and actually changed temperature. A thermos ice bucket was provided along with minimal stationary and pen. Wine and beer glasses were also provided, and fortunately we had brought our own wine bottle opener for Ediths bottle of wine. There was no clock provided other than on the phone, and we had, for the first time, forgotten to bring our little travel clock and alarm. The bed was made up into a king size format. Two pillows each were provided, along with a note that there were five different types of pillows available. The bed covering was a very nice duvet. All in all the sleeping arrangements were fine and the room very nicely done and a pleasant place for living. As usual, the ships architects had done their excellent job of providing more than enough closet and drawer space in a limited area. Shortly after we arrived we met Milica from Slovakia, our cabin stewardess. She had just joined the ship that day on her second Crystal contract. We chatted a little about Serenitys 108 day world cruise from Los Angeles across the Pacific to Africa, the Suez and finally Rome commencing in January. She said she had been told that about 35% of the cabins had been sold for the entire trip. Three of our four pieces of luggage were in the cabin when we first arrived after lunch and the fourth showed up in a couple of hours, so unpacking and storing everything went smoothly. THE SHIP As usual, at least when time has allowed it, we went exploring as soon as possible. Serenity is a good sized vessel, 68,000 gross tons, making it only slightly smaller than Mercury & Galaxy, almost the exact size of Elation and larger than either Veendam or Zaandam. But its total capacity is only 1080 passengers, so there is a space ratio of almost 63; a huge amount of room for each passenger. Since Crystal distributes a list of passengers showing names, U.S. state, Canadian province or country; and the total I counted was 821 people, we really had a lot of room on board. Proceeding from top to bottom and fore to aft, the layout is as follows. The Sun Deck, 13, is open forward which really gives you a great view and a strong breeze. Proceeding aft along a walkway above and past the open pool area you come to the paddle tennis courts, which actually did some business. The aft section housed the well stocked gym, aerobics studio, fitness center, spa and salon. Deck 12 forward contains the Palm Court and Sunset Bar with excellent views. There is a decent size dance floor and dance stand also. This area was used daily for tea and also for the Captains Receptions as well as other activities. Ediths yoga classes were conducted on the dance floor for example. Aft of this were a couple of small rooms, Fantasia for children and Waves for teen-agers with the obligatory video games. Since there were only a few children, mostly of pre-school age, and no teenagers that we saw; these rooms did not get much action. Midships held the open air pool with its deck chairs and two hot tubs. The deck chairs were plastic with rubber strapping and fairly thick and comfortable pads. There was never any crowding at any time that I saw. Aft of the pool there were two small food stands, one on each side. One was Scoops, the ice cream bar, which served all its offerings without charge. The other side was the Trident Bar and Grill, which was a hamburger/hot dog type facility. Aft of these was the Neptune Pool area which had a sliding glass roof that was never opened. This is a very small pool, and while it also had nice rattan seats and couches, I never saw anyone in the Neptune pool. Aft of this was the Lido Buffet area. At the entrance to this area on the starboard side is another grill called Tastes. The Lido buffet has two serving lines port and starboard and a further service area connecting them aft. It also has another serving station off to one side for pasta at lunch and omelets at breakfast. There is a small open deck area for eating aft of the main Lido seating area. Decks 11,10,9 and 8 are all passenger cabin decks; except for the bridge and officers quarters forward on Deck 11. Each of these decks has corridors which open at the aft end to small covered seating areas. These are out of the wind and have nice views and deck chairs. They can also be reached by stairs up and down from decks 12 to 6. Decks 8 and 9 also allow access to a forward viewing area. Deck 7 is the Promenade deck which has a true teak promenade around the entire vessel. It is a wide walkway with no deck chairs intruding, and it seemed to get a lot of use from dedicated deck walkers and participants in the Walk on Water WALKVEST® program. Deck 7 has cabins without verandahs of course, since they face out to the promenade, from forward to midships. Aft of that there are two special venues, the Computer University at Sea, followed by a large bridge or card room and a small studio room on the starboard side, and the Yamaha electronic piano studio, followed by the Library and the Vintage room and Century Suite portside. The Vintage room is set up as a private dining room with wine serving facilities. If you wish, and care to spend about $1400.00, you can order a multi-course multiple vintage dinner for yourself and fourteen friends. I did not see it in use. The other rooms were small meeting rooms. Aft of these rooms were the specialty restaurants, The Japanese Silk Road with its Sushi Bar on one side and the Italian Prego Restaurant on the other. Deck 6 was the main activity area. The show venue, the Galaxy Lounge is forward. This is a one story theater seating about 500, although it was never full because each show went on twice each night, once for regular and once for late seating diners. Aft of this is Caesars Palace at Sea, the casino. This is a relatively small venue with about 100+ slot machines, one roulette table, one craps table and five blackjack, baccarat or poker tables. Proceeding towards the rear there is a small art gallery. And then one arrives at the shop next to the atrium. There is one jewelry store, Facets, one small general supply store, Captains Choice, and Apropos, a fairly good sized clothing store. Across from the clothing store is the Bistro, my favorite spot on board. Here, between 10:00 and 6:00 one can be served coffee, cappuccino, latte, tea, snacks and pastries, sitting in comfortable chairs, looking out to sea, all at no charge. Aft of this is the movie theater, holding about 250 people. It was used extensively for lectures as well as a good run of movies. Then came the photo shop and photo gallery down the starboard side, and past that is the night life area. This has four separate venues. First there is the Connoisseur Club, a small place with a tiny bar and a few sofas and deep leather chairs, all quite dark, with brass lamps and dark wood, supposedly to be used as a mens cigar hideaway. Aft of this is the Avenue Saloon, which also runs to dark wood and brass fixtures, with a larger bar and a piano. This had a pianist playing every evening, and I greatly enjoyed him the one time I attended. Opposite this is the Pulse Lounge with a small dance floor and a disco set-up, also used every night. Behind both of them are the main lounge, the Stardust Club with small tables, and a dance floor with its band stand. The dance floor area was quite small, and two of our dinner table companion couples complained that tables and ramps leading on to the floor made dancing difficult. The aft deck of Deck 6 held the golf nets (2), a small putting green and table tennis facilities. Deck 5 had cabins forward, which I found out were occupied either by officers, or entertainers/lecturers. This area also housed the Medical Center. Midships was the lower level of the Crystal Atrium, containing the Reception Desk and Excursion Desk. There also was an area for the future cruise consultant, the Crystal Society concierge and a pleasant bar, called the Crystal Cove with a piano and its own musician, Joe Fos. Aft of this area is the Crystal Dining Room, the main dining room. The gangway opened off Deck 5, but access to the tenders was on Deck 4. There are three elevator bank/ stairwell bay areas, which make getting around the ship relatively convenient. The forward and midships banks have three elevators and the aft area two. The general dEcor is minimalist and decorative rather than heavily artistic in the vein of the HAL or Celebrity ships. Everything physical about the ship is beautifully finished and very attractive however, and the art works displayed are nicely done and appropriate. The furniture is first class. The tables and chairs in the buffet area are good wood for the tables with full arms on the chairs and comfortable seats. The library was very attractive, had a good selection of books and music with disc players. It also had Jackie Sanchez, the only full time librarian other than Erin on Celebrity that we have ever seen. She was very pleasant and helpful. The Galaxy showroom had a nice mixture of armchairs and small sofas, and every seat had a good sight line. The theater seats were also comfortable. Serenity is as elegant as Insignia, but more spacious, and very easy to navigate, although it is not a small ship. In my review of Insignia I said; It is . . . as pleasant a venue for 14 days as can be imagined. This is equally true of Serenity. PASSENGER SERVICES Flatly and simply, Crystal is ahead of everyone else in this facet, and it is hard to imagine how any cruise line could surpass it. They truly put the passengers care, comfort and convenience ahead of everything. From the ease of booking excursions on line, to the confirmation of every detail, to the truly pleasant attitude of every crew member, dealing with this company is a pleasure. The only problem we ever had was occasional difficulty of reaching the wake-up call service. The excursion service was great. When, as the result of a change of anchorage for our tender service at Grand Turk, we had a minor change in the snorkel sites, the excursion desk called to apologize, and gave us a half off rebate. When the winds at St. Maartenss were light for the 12 metre Americas Cup Regatta, they called prior to departure to tell us and offer a full refund it we wanted to cancel. The excursion director was always available at the disembarkation point, and every excursion was accompanied by a crew member to make sure things went right. This member filled out a report on each excursion. Typical crew members assigned were the Guest Hosts, Casino staff etc. The front desk answered all questions with a smile and greeting. The balance of the crew always was pleasant and friendly. When I went to make reservations for the specialty restaurants, the maitred could not have been nicer, even though the night I first requested was sold out. We had the New York Times newsletter, about six or eight page 8x11 document, delivered to our cabin every day. Reflections, the regular information flyer, had very complete information, and good information columns without much advertising. When we left the dining room on the last day, we were presented with a folder that contained all the dinner menus for the cruise! I mentioned the booklet that had the passengers names, but it also contained the names of the crew members who were either senior officers, entertainers, lecturers and teachers/trainers or people who had frequent passenger contact. Port information was complete and accurate. In short, Crystal does everything right, and with the right attitude. To be fair, I did not use any e-mail; and there were some remarks that it was highly priced; but by comparison, the shore excursions were reasonably priced. FOOD AND FOOD SERVICE The food and service in all areas ranged from excellent to superb. Our dining room waitress was Julia from Heidelberg, assisted by Zoltan from Hungary. He was pleased when I said I could always remember his name because of Zoltan Kodaly, a great Hungarian 20th century composer. At our initial seating on embarkation day we were joined by Jill and Tony from Nottingham, England, JoEllen and Ken from a Maryland suburb of Washington and Steve and Linda from Naples, Florida. Steve and Linda found friends from another cruise, so we were six for the rest of the cruise. The table next to us had five, so our wait staff had only eleven people to serve. Other tables seemed to be arranged so that the maximum number of people for service team was no more than 14, and usually less. This created a quiet, well paced and attentive milieu for each meal; a definite improvement over most lines. To give Celebrity credit, they also manage the number of patrons to be served by each team so that there is the same pleasant atmosphere. In addition to our two servers our assistant maitred was always around to assist when needed, and the wine steward was attentive. I like non-alcoholic wine and beer. Crystals policy is that all non-alcoholic drinks are free. So the wine steward faithfully inquired whether I wanted a glass of white or red Ariel at every meal. The standard dinner menu had four appetizers, three to five soup and salad offerings, a pasta dish, a salad entrEe, a main entrEe with four choices, including at least one fish and usually one fowl choice, the option to order a steak or salmon dish at every meal, and a range of vegetables. The dessert menu offered six choices normally, with at least one sugar free, an ice cream, frozen yogurt or sherbet selection, a cheese trolley, and coffee, latte, espresso, cappuccino and tea. A vegetarian offering was also available. The main selections had no duplication during the cruise, and a good deal of imagination. I heard no complaints from anyone, and did not expect any based on my own observation. The seafood, including oysters, lobster and crab, was very fresh; the meat moist and tender, the vegetables nicely done, and the sauces excellent without being overbearing. The portions were small, as they should be with so much food being offered. The pastries, both at dinner and everywhere else, were the best I have ever had on board ship, or indeed almost any other place except Vienna. This was not surprising since the head baker was Austrian, and no one does pastry better than the Austrians and Germans. The table settings were particularly nice, with a selection of Villeroy and Boch charger plates. Our dining table was towards the aft end of the room, thus out of the way and fairly quiet, so we had no way to judge the complaints contained in some books that the main dining room is noisy. We ate at each specialty restaurant once. Our first such experience was at the Silk Road, with the Japanese menu created by Nobu Matsuhisa. I had a single spring roll, a clear mushroom soup served in a small iron Japanese tea pot, lobster and crème brulee. The roll and soup were delicious, but hardly preparation for the fantastic lobster. I am not given to hyperbole, but this was a unique and true gourmet experience. Of equal merit were the three small crème brulees, one ginger, one mango and one passion fruit. Altogether, this was one of the finest meals I have ever had. Our experience at Prego was also of an excellent, if relatively standard, Italian meal. Both restaurants have a suggested $6.00 per person gratuity charge, and the service at both was excellent, personable and friendly. We also enjoyed the Lido Buffet for both breakfast and lunch. We were adopted by Jun Sai, a waiter for breakfasts; and he carried our trays, brought coffee, and made sure we had refills. The buffet setup was for trays with plates, and the cutlery was provided with the trays. There were no crowds except at the specialty lunches, of which there were three on the sea days. One was oriental, one Nuevo Latino Buffet which included South American as well as Mexican food; and one described as the Grand Gala buffet, which ran to a lot of good seafood. The first two were set up around the pool, but the Grand Gala Buffet was served in the Crystal Atrium on deck 5. This is a pleasant venue, but with fewer seats, requiring some people to carry their trays to the main Dining Room. The other daily lunch buffets had a very good selection, although I typically eat only a small portion of a main entrEe, always of course saving room for dessert. Edith could find good salads and vegetables all the time. We ate once at the Sushi Bar, after a show, but were not able to persuade our smiling sushi makers that we only wanted one or two pieces, not the many delicious and fresh items they gave to us. Instead of a snack, it became a late meal which sat a little heavily as we went to bed. We noticed at every buffet that the maitreds from the two specialty restaurants were supervising this operation and were very quick to step in to help and make sure everything was running smoothly. We went to the afternoon tea on many occasions with the usual problem of fending off the diligent white gloved servers who were determined to stuff us two hours before dinner. As I noted, the pastries were excellent, and we were able to get very good tea. Like the tea time on Insignia, this break in the day is very relaxing and civilized; and we quite understand the British love of tea time. On one occasion the servers were dressed in 18th century attire for a Mozart tea. We also noted that the waiters assisting at the specialty buffet lunches all had attire appropriate to that lunch. These little touches mark Crystals efforts to provide a special experience. Although Celebrity on our six cruises, and Oceania on our sole cruise to date with them, both do a very fine job with food and service, Crystal is the best in this important area of cruising that we have ever experienced. SHORE EXCURSIONS Crystal provided fairly detailed information on both its website and via a cruise specific booklet sent out after we made our final payment. I had contacted the company that runs the 12 metre Americas Cup Regatta Race on St. Maarten directly and had been advised that they book only through cruise lines. The other excursions we booked were a snorkel one in Grand Turk for me (Edith does not snorkel) and an eco hike for both of us on St. John at our St. Thomas stop. All three were reasonably priced, and as noted above, very well run by Crystal. There were four boats in the race excursion, which had two races of two boats each. Out boat had ten of us from Serenity, including the crew member who was a Casino employee. We had one ringer from a Princess. We won our race. The eco hike had about fourteen of us and our snorkel trip about the same number, so we were never crowded or rushed. I should note that at every port there was at least one other cruise ship present from the Radisson Seven Seas Voyager at Key West, to a Sea Dream Yacht at St. Barts to the 3500+ passenger Mariner of the Seas in St. Maarten. On Key West we simply strolled around town. It is a place to see once. The Truman Southern White House and Hemingway House, which is set in a small, but attractive park setting, are both worth a visit, but we will not rush to return. Edith walked around Grand Turk in the morning, and I did also in the afternoon after my snorkel tour. It is not an impressive place. Unless you are heavily into scuba or snorkel diving, there is no reason to go there. It was the butt of several well appreciated jokes by the comedian. St. Barts is definitely French. Not only is that the language, with the Euro as the currency, but most of the locals we saw were European French. We rented a car for the reasonable rate of ¬45 plus ¬5 for gas. It was a small, but nice Japanese car with an automatic transmission and air conditioning if we needed it. We obtained a good map of this small island and by the time we returned, had seen most of it. It is hilly, but attractive, with a lot of upscale housing and very little that was not at least middle range in pricing and appearance. We stopped at a small hotel called Le Toiny, which, in a typical Caribbean construction, had an open entrance with a restaurant behind it looking out over a pool to the sea beyond; in this case, down a hill. The art instructor from the ship was there also, and we joined him in the office to one side, There a very attractive young French Girl told us in response to my question of how many rooms were in the hotel that there were no rooms, only 15 suites, each with its individual pool. She handed us a brochure. This is a Relais & Chateaux establishment; which means ultra-ultra luxury, priced to match. The small Villa Suites ran from ¬775 per day in the off season from late April to October 31; ¬800 in the Inter Season; November to mid December; ¬1550 in the high season from January to April, and ¬1700 in the Festive Season, from December 20 to January 4. For the larger 2 or 3 bedroom suites, the same seasonal rates were ¬1450, ¬1450; ¬2600 and ¬3000. For those rates you also got breakfast in addition to your room, and transportation from the airport. But she was a charming young lady and it was a striking and beautiful place. She also recommended a local beach for swimming, which I took advantage of. St Barts is quite small as I noted, but very nice; a place you might want to visit for a few days  with a large suitcase filled with money. Actually, we had a lunch at a truly local restaurant which provided quite nice traditional provincial French food for a reasonable price. We had been to St. Thomas twice before, on Galaxy and Zaandam, both cruises being reviewed on this (www.cruisereviews.com) site. We opted for the St. John Eco-Tour, which consisted of a half-hour ferry ride from Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas to Cruz Bay on St. John, a hike up and over a hill down into Caneel Bay. Here we went swimming on Honeymoon Beach, which has extremely fine white sand. This is just around a bend from the hotel at Caneel Bay, and we walked out through its grounds to a taxi. The hotel occupies about 120 acres carved out by Laurance Rockefeller from his original 5000 acre gift to the National Park Service in 1956. More land was donated later so that now over 2/3 of the island is National Park land. We had a local guide who was fairly well informed about local flora (there is not much by way of fauna). We had a good deal of rain upon arrival in Cruz Bay and everyone took advantage of the visitor centers rain ponchos for sale. Despite the weather, it was a very pleasant and relatively easy hike and good swim. I even persuaded Edith to go in the water, and she liked it. Our final stop was Nassau, Bahamas. Here we went out on our own, first stopping to buy an emerald pendant and then walking about a mile and a half out of town to a combination zoo and botanical garden called Ardestra Gardens. Here the feature was a group of very pink flamingos who had been taught to march on command, turn, stop and start again. This was quite a sight. In addition to this there were about forty or fifty bird and animal exhibits, including a marvelous family of father, mother and two small serval cubs along with a jaguar and caracal. This was a nice break and a pleasant venue. Nassau itself was crowded with three other large and one small cruise ships at dock. ENTERTAINMENT The Cruise Director was Rick Spath from the United States. I told him I appreciated the fact that he did not attempt to be a comedian or entertainer, and he said he was pleased to hear my reaction. He was present at all of the main shows of course, but also at many of the other events during the day. He made a point of saying that he could be contacted after each show for suggestions on how to improve things, and some people took him up on it, with varying degrees of success of course. He was generally quite visible around the ship, and in short, was the best, hardest working and most effective cruise director we have seen. The formal evening entertainment laid huge emphasis on the singer/dancer shows. There were five of these on a ten night cruise; not counting the sailing night abbreviated show but including the final night variety show which was a combination including some of the earlier acts. Apart from these shows there was one night with a singer, one with the comedian and one with a harpist. This meant that there was a lot of singing and dancing. As in many of these cruise shows, the ensemble consists of four men and four women who are primarily dancers, and a lead male and lead female vocalist who do some simple dance routines. This group was among the more highly talented we have seen, and the costumes were amazing. The Galaxy Lounge is nowhere nearly as high tech or versatile as the theaters on larger ships, but this does not detract from the enjoyment of talented young people. Edith actually enjoyed the comedian; Mike Goddard. His humor depends on his acting as much as the actual verbal content, and he is a talented actor. In the final show he played a maid with a strong Norwegian accent  obviously a take off of our Captain Edvardsen with his strong accent, and this really had everyone rolling in the aisles. The singer was British, with a stage background, but we did not enjoy her as much as we had appreciated Lindsey Hamilton, also a British stage performer, on Mercury. We felt that this lady, Petrina Johnson, was a little too loud and strident for our best enjoyment. Edith loves harp music, but the harpist played with an electronically amplified instrument that sounded far too metallic and harsh for our taste. There also was a dance duo that was quite good. A classical pianist performed once, but it was between our dinner and our normal show, so we never did get to hear him. I believe he should have been presented at a time (or at times) when everyone would have had a chance to enjoy this music. The entertainment also included the ships orchestra, which backed up all the Galaxy Lounge performers, providing live music instead of the prerecorded variety now common for some of the stage presentations in larger showrooms on board the mega-ships. The crystal sextet played mostly dance music, either in the Stardust Lounge on Deck 6 or the Palm Court on Deck 12. The Wind and Strings trio, which was composed of violin, guitar and flute, played mostly in the Crystal Cove and also wandered around playing requests at dinner in the main dining room. A pianist named Joe Fos played mostly in the Crystal Cove while Daniel Davies did the same in the Avenue Saloon. Both were excellent and very knowledgeable. However, on one occasion when we wanted to sit and listen to Joe Fos after a show, he was interrupted by a passenger who proceeded to have a lengthy private conversation with him, stopping him from playing, and depriving us of our entertainment. A better plan would have been for Joe to gently remind this person that he was there to play for all passengers. Movies were shown in the theater every day, and the movies available on closed circuit TV were both very extensive and varied. A TV program for each day was provided. On a typical day there were four movie channels with four movies each. The channels were: Movie Laughs & Romance; Action Drama and Suspense; Silver Screen Classics and The Destination Channel. For example, one days offering on the Silver Screen channel gave you: A Man For All Seasons; Singin in the Rain; Gone With The Wind and Sunset Boulevard. On the same day the Destination Channel showed Captain Corellis Mandolin; The Italian Job; Man of La Mancha and Notting Hill. This is quite a line-up as anyone would agree. In addition we could see the Discovery Channel, and depending on the ships location, up to 4 news channels. The usual, but more than ordinarily thorough port and ship information channels also were available. GUEST EDUCATION AND RECREATION EVENTS I have made this a separate section because the offerings in this area were so extensive, particularly on the 3 sea days. This was labeled as a Fitness cruise. Every day there was at least one fitness walk in a Walk on Water WALKVESt® program with an instructor trained in that program; one or two fitness classes and perhaps a yoga class. Edith attended each yoga session, which was run by a husband and wife team who own a yoga studio, and do this for a living. This was obviously much better that the typical cruise yoga session run by one of the gym instructors. The Computer University at Sea had three separate sessions, repeated during the cruise. I took the one on getting your digital photos edited and transmitted. I discussed the Yamaha electronic keyboard studio in my description of the ship. Edith attended one or two of the classes offered and had a fine time. She also attended an art class with prizes. There was an arts and crafts class and I attended three golf instruction sessions offered by Bruce Murray, a Canadian Golf Professional with a Masters Professional status awarded by the PGA in 1981. This was typical of the caliber of people hired by Crystal. Spanish lessons were also offered, along with bridge instruction by a couple, both of whom are Silver Life Masters with the American Contract Bridge League. The credentials of the other instructors are equally impressive. There was no charge for any of these activities. Crystal also has a Cleveland Clinic Health Talk program as part of its overall Life Style offerings, and on this cruise it featured a MD Dermatologist. The Enrichment series of educational talks was so extensive and varied that I can only give a short overview. The cruise had members of PBS people known as the PTV at Sea group, including many business analyst types such as the Chief Investment Strategist at Standard and Poor; the founder and CEO of Riley Asset Management and Paul Kangas, co-anchor of the PBS Nightly Business Report. There were many other presenters, and one could not possibly attend them all. Edith enjoyed a doctor speaking mainly on nutrition and diet, and I enjoyed a talk given by Aimee Mullins. This very beautiful young lady lost both her legs to amputation below the knee at 8 months of age. Despite this, while attending Georgetown University (my alma mater also) she competed in and won several NCAA Division 1 track events, including world records in the long jump, 100 and 200 meter dashes. She since has gone on to a modeling career. Perhaps typical of her marvelous attitude was her closing remark after mentioning that she has several different prosthetic legs for different purposes. I can be any height I want to. I also greatly enjoyed a joint presentation on politics for the 2006 and 2008 given by Charlie Cook, a widely known political writer and TV analyst, and Gwen Ifill, moderator and managing editor of Washington Week on PBS, and a regular senior correspondent and moderation on The NewsHour with Jim Leher. We had enjoyed the Enrichment offerings on Celebrity on sea days and the lectures on Oceania; but the Crystal programs go way beyond those. There was no excuse for anyone to have had a moments boredom on this cruise. THE CRYSTAL CREW AND OUR FELLOW PASSENGERS The sailors, meaning the Bridge and Engine Room officers were mostly Norwegian with a sprinkling of Japanese. The hotel and food service managers were either German or Austrian, with a supporting cast from other European countries as well. The staff in the main dining room was European, and they also served tea each day in the Palm Court. The buffet staff was largely Filipino. The room stewards seemed to mostly female and from Europe. Their hallmark and motto was Service  service and better service. While most cruise lines make extended efforts in providing good service, and many succeed at a fairly high level; we have experienced nothing as good as Crystal. We do not make special requests of the dining room staff, but some did at an adjoining table, and their requests were apparently cheerfully supplied. The front desk was always a pleasure to deal with on the few occasions I went there. I have mentioned the excursion staffs dedication. The Captain and senior officers were often seen around the boat. The entertainers and lecturers were also visible and willing to chat with passengers. Every request of our room stewardess was promptly met if we dialed her number, she was paged, and replied in every case in a minute or two. In short, we were thoroughly spoiled. Our fellow passengers were also a pleasure. Our dinner companions were extremely nice, and we had a very pleasant and at times hilarious level of conversation. Most on board were American, with 27 British couples according to Tony and Jill, the usual sprinkling of Canadians, a group of 30 from Bermuda, a few Europeans and a number of Japanese from Japan, Hawaii and California. CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS Just in case you missed the message; we loved this ship, its on board offerings and the cruise company. We enjoyed the places we visited, but after all, the Caribbean is still the Caribbean with a lovely climate, good swimming, shopping if you want it, but not the most exotic or exiting spot in the world the sixth or seventh time around. On the level of professionalism, customer attention, service, attitude and the overall product supplied to its passengers including the ships appearance, ambience and convenience, Crystal Serenity was the finest we have ever experienced. There have been some entertainment on Celebrity we thought was better, and some cozy aspects of Insignia that delighted us just as much in a slightly different way; but the total value of what Serenity provided was the highest. Of course you pay for this, even though this was a Value cruise at a rate approximately 55% of the normal fare. This was still almost twice the cost of a comparable Celebrity cruise. Whether or not this high level of service is worth either the discounted or the full price, I leave to each individual, but we certainly felt we got our moneys worth. Would we sail again on Serenity? In a heartbeat  if the price was right and the itinerary appealing. Unfortunately it is not possible to get discount prices on Crystals more exotic itineraries, as I expect that they will book them fully. But if Serenity sails again at a time and place convenient and desirable, we would sure love to be her pampered guests again. Bon Voyage! Read Less
Sail Date November 2005
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