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20 Crystal Lisbon Cruise Reviews

We just returned from another fabulous Crystal transatlantic crossing (our 5th) on Crystal Serenity. Crystal seems to just get better every year and a transatlantic crossing is the best way to take advantage of all the ship (and the ... Read More
We just returned from another fabulous Crystal transatlantic crossing (our 5th) on Crystal Serenity. Crystal seems to just get better every year and a transatlantic crossing is the best way to take advantage of all the ship (and the cruiseline) has to offer. With only about 800 people on a good-sized ship, the ship is small enough to seem intimate, but large enough to have multiple activities taking place from early morning to late at night. The ship is beautiful, the food is delicious with many choices and lots of flavor, the all-inclusive amenities are top notch. It is truly a fantastic experience. Many people often ask if the transatlantic crossing is boring or if the seas are rough. We have never had rough seas, and Crystal has so many activities going on that we need to prioritize our activities during the day and seem to be going non-stop from 8am to 1am! A typical day for us is: some kind of fitness in the morning (not always, but we tried!), breakfast, bridge lesson, trivia with our "team" at noon, lunch, dance lesson, duplicate bridge, snack and French press in the Bistro, get ready for dinner and watch the wonderful lectures we missed on our stateroom tv, before dinner drinks in the Crystal Cove, dinner, some kind of great entertainment, dancing with the Tommy Dorsey Big Band and finally listening to great piano in the Avenue Saloon. Whew! Of course, you can do as much or as little as you like. There are art courses, computer classes, movies...probably 4 things happening at once. Or, you can just relax in your stateroom, in the library, or out on deck. The entertainment at night was so varied...there was something for everyone from a violinist or guitarist, to a duo, the Crystal Quartet, the Showband who played Dixieland Jazz one night in the Crystal Cove, and of course the fabulous Tommy Dorsey Orchestra! We did stop in 2 ports - Antigua and St. Thomas (only half the passengers went ashore!) - the real attraction was the ship itself, where we were able to take advantage of all that Crystal has to offer. What a Wonderful World! Read Less
Sail Date November 2019
As a couple we invited a family member to travel with us and Crystal Cruises offered us the trifecta: upscale cruise ship, fabulous itinerary and a single cabin supplement for our family member. We have cruised on HAL, Celebrity & ... Read More
As a couple we invited a family member to travel with us and Crystal Cruises offered us the trifecta: upscale cruise ship, fabulous itinerary and a single cabin supplement for our family member. We have cruised on HAL, Celebrity & Oceana and were not overly fond of the first two and felt that Oceana was an upgrade, but with something still missing. Based on the requirements (premium dining, polished service, big ship amenities, refined decor, uncrowded hushed public areas) that we provided to our travel agent, she highly recommended the Crystal Serenity and she was spot on. Our only concern was that we had read that the fellow passengers skew older (our party was mid- 40s to 60s) and be very clubby. We never once encountered this experience and found the fellow passengers to be very well mannered and inviting. While the dining, overall ship appointments and atmosphere are akin to high end resort experience, what truly sets this cruise line apart is the entire crew's kindness and keen attention to detail. The little things that sometimes go missed (food trays in hallways, incomplete orders....) do not happen on Crystal. It's back to the gym and making our own beds until..... Read Less
Sail Date August 2019
We have sailed on Serenity several times before and love it: huge interior spaces for the number of passengers; outstanding service; delicious food; provocative speakers; exciting evening entertainment. But, the ship has shown its age ... Read More
We have sailed on Serenity several times before and love it: huge interior spaces for the number of passengers; outstanding service; delicious food; provocative speakers; exciting evening entertainment. But, the ship has shown its age and the formal, fixed seating dinners belong to a bygone age. Thus we were anxious to see the remodeled ship featuring new dining options. Smooth embarkation in Lisbon. The big changes, aside from decorative finishes throughout are revamping the formal dining room as Waterside--more like a suburban country club than a banquet hall--and creation of new deck 11 evening dining venues--one Asian and quite nice and the other a Brazilian style steak house that I find of limited appeal. Why? It really is not that much of a physical transformation for a part of the buffet area set aside for it but mostly because who wants that much food at night after being well fed all day. One of our preferences for Serenity over its very similar sister ship Symphony is the much larger Avenue Saloon where for years one was regaled by an outrageously bold piano player singer who had a devoted following. On this cruise his replacement was a bid disappointment. Serenity has a large physical fitness area and good classes there. We will sail both Crystal liners again particularly on the extended crossings. Read Less
Sail Date November 2018
In November 2018, my wife and I took Crystal’s 11-day cruise across the Atlantic aboard the Serenity (voyage OCY181110). For some time, we’ve taken two to three cruises a year on Crystal. This is one of two ships in Crystal’s ... Read More
In November 2018, my wife and I took Crystal’s 11-day cruise across the Atlantic aboard the Serenity (voyage OCY181110). For some time, we’ve taken two to three cruises a year on Crystal. This is one of two ships in Crystal’s tiny ocean fleet. Each carries around 900 passengers. The two ships are pretty much a matched set that rotates crew, routes, and entertainment. ROUTE: This type of cruise is for those who enjoy the boat ride itself. It started in Lisbon and ended in Fort Lauderdale. The only enroute stop was at St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, which placed us back in the U.S. It was Sunday, and the onboard border clearance was quick and painless -- took only five minutes from leaving our room to returning. OVERALL RATING (5 OUT OF 5): I rate this cruise as excellent (an overall “5” on a scale of 5). My score is based on the high quality of (1) live music in the small venues, (2) food offerings (truly perfect), and (3) service in the food and entertainment areas (still the most attentive service anywhere on land or sea). However, we’ve never found the Serenity to be perfect “ultra luxury” in every way. We keep coming back year after year because it’s like a comfortable old hotel, where the predictable pleasures outweigh the problems of an aging ship. In fact, the cruise’s most memorable lecturer was a writer for the old “Cheers” television comedy (Cheri Steinkellner). She gave you the juicy backstory of that neighborhood bar where “the troubles are all the same” and “everyone knows your name.” If you’re looking for a low-key, relaxing, good old-fashioned voyage across the Atlantic, this is your ship. Luxury measured by what’s not there. No stateroom announcements. No pressure to buy anything or do anything. No gaming to get your keycard for just one more charge (Crystal’s price is all inclusive). For cruisers who’ve tired of harried herding on the mass-market lines, the absence of certain nuisances on Crystal may be worth an overall “5” in itself. ENTERTAINMENT: When it comes to entertainment, what get’s the perfect “5” from me is the live jazz and show tunes performed in the ship’s small venues (the “Great American Songbook” from the 1940s and 50s). Crystal calls this its “supper club” and “cabaret” entertainment. I found these talented performances every bit as enjoyable as a night clubbing in Seattle or New Orleans. But no cover charges, taxi fares, exorbitant parking, or pestering to buy another drink. Crystal’s musical offerings continued right up to the end, with five shows on the final night of the cruise. The last of these shows ended at 11 pm, just as luggage was due outside the staterooms. Pretty impressive for a cruise with less than 900 passengers. There are lots of amazing musicians out there who never do albums or arenas. Crystal finds them; some stay for a cruise, others stay for years. But if live music isn’t your niche, think of the Serenity as your floating senior center. One with lots of pampering (they even have a “valet service” that parks the scooters and wheelchairs to keep the halls clear after bedtime). And the ship’s veteran waiters are saints of the sea when it comes to their patience and respect toward the older crowd that frequents Crystal. Yup, you’ll find all the day-to-day activities that you’d expect in a well-appointed senior center: bingo, bridge, needlepoint, knitting, shuffleboard, slots, puzzles, trivia, liars club, name-that-tune, karaoke, parlor magic, tribute shows, afternoon tea, and dance hosts for the ladies. (About a fourth of the passengers on this cruise were involved in a bridge tournament.) Music and comedy shows are focused on the tastes and memories of the “extra generation” of seniors blessed with extended retirements. There was even the screening of a new film about finding late-life romance in a nursing home (yes, including sex). The filmmaker (Neil Leifer) was onboard and understandably pegged the Crystal crowd as a sympathetic test audience. But I’ll say it again: travel agents should use caution in sending children under age 50 on this ship. Though Crystal’s current president came over from Disney, absolutely none of the following “advancements” in onboard entertainment are found on this ship (thankfully): water slide; climbing wall; zipline; go-carts; carousel; laser tag; bungee trampoline; bumper cars; surfing simulator; trapeze training; skydiving wind tunnel. After all, this ship is called the Serenity -- a synonym for quiet peacefulness. There is, however, a golf net, a little swimming pool, and a “shopping mall” of three stores (including one that sells the Chico’s line). While there are no midnight buffets, there is 24-hour room service for those who can’t wait until the next meal at 6 am. Not surprisingly, the youngest on board are usually the employees. No teen gangs here. And nature seems to impose its own curfew, with the halls largely empty after midnight. DINING: We dined in all of the ship’s venues with the exception of its Italian restaurant (Prego). When it comes to dining, I give this cruise a perfect “5” simply because I found it perfect in every respect. Taste, variety, presentation, novelty, service, and overall enjoyability were all consistent with luxury cruising. It’s not just about the food, though. You get to leisurely visit with some of the world’s most interesting people. Table topics go far beyond the common senior focus on kids’ foibles, grandkids’ achievements, and perpetual medical procedures. While this is indeed God’s waiting room, people here aren’t in a hurry to keep their appointment with Him. In fact, the more they cruise, the less they rush to get to the next onboard activity. Crystal has definitely reinvented the experience of its main dining room. We much appreciated Crystal’s new walk-in flexibility (open dining) for time, table location, and the number of diners joining us. With little fanfare, you can now bring along your onboard friends, old and new. Or dine in a quiet secluded corner and share secrets. Gone are those days when disappointed cruisers went up to a hearing room for an audience before the maitre d’. There you lined up and pled your case for the dining dispensation of a better table or feeding time. Never quite seemed consistent with Berlitz’s definition of luxury cruising as “the kind of stylish ships aboard which the word ‘no’ is virtually unheard.” STATEROOM: We stay in ordinary staterooms on Crystal (no opulent party suites for us). Though Crystal had just remodeled this ship’s “penthouse” class of rooms, the only change we found in the standard stateroom was a bigger TV screen. But we frankly don’t come here for the rooms. We keep returning to this ship because it’s like a comfortable old hotel, where seasoned employees year after year provide the most attentive service anywhere. And an expected part of a comfortable old hotel (ship) is old rooms with problems that we just get fixed as they arise. This time it was slow drains, faucets without cold water, no clock, no shower curtain, and a stuck sliding door that kept us from using the veranda. All eventually fixed after a little intervention from an officer. Onboard television was limited to a few generic international channels. Those who live for American reality shows or Monday night football may need to schedule their cruise during the annual rerun doldrums. On the other hand, the Lido Deck’s sound system was unintelligible, and a channel on our television was a good alternative for hearing the captain’s daily announcement on weather conditions and routing adjustments. Travel agents should alert customers that, even on a cruise billed as ultra luxury, an aging ship’s staterooms may be in less than perfect condition. INTERNET ACCESS: You really don’t come here for the Internet. A few months before our trip, Cruise Critic published its article, “6 Cruise Lines With Great WiFi.” Crystal didn’t make the list. Those tethered to the rituals of social media may consider it more of a forced silent retreat than a vacation. Internet connectivity varied greatly throughout the cruise, with regular display of the dreaded message, “Internet access is currently not available” (even when approaching Florida). Passengers grabbed it while they could. And ocean crossings like this one obviously lack port stops where an Internet cafe could come to the rescue. For some primitive, less-connected retirees like ourselves, a vacation with sporadic Internet is no deal-breaker. And there’s something to be said for the attitude of a past Crystal president that cruisers should “turn off the Internet and just enjoy the moment.” (Virtuoso Life, May-June 2015, p. 99) However, travel agents should caution their customers that this ship may not be a good fit if they must stay in uninterrupted email contact with a business or relative back home. Nor should passengers count on Internet availability to make enroute arrangements for port stops or post-cruise travel. Or for online bill paying or holiday shopping at the last minute. SHIP’S MUSEUM: The lore of cruising traditionally has the rich & famous dining at the captain’s table. But Crystal has something just as good for the rest of us. Captain Vorland periodically opens up the ship’s museum and serves as its docent and resident storyteller -- sort of a Norwegian cross between Sully Sullenberger, Garrison Keillor, and your favorite humanities professor. This guy really has been everywhere, man (he even took a break as a Crystal vice president). The museum, in a restricted area, has a couple hundred commemorative plaques. They reflect the Serenity’s visits to the world’s ports, both famous and obscure. While some of the plaques are simple pieces of wood, the more elaborate ones feature local art, crafts, and materials. Tell the cruise director or Crystal Society host if you’d like to be included when a group does this. Like the free kitchen tours, backstage tours, magic shows, and guided stargazing, Crystal doesn’t charge for this onboard activity. I’ve always been impressed by Captain Vorland’s daily explanation of the sea conditions and resulting navigation adjustments. Reminds me of the aviation saying that “a superior pilot uses his superior judgment to avoid situations which require the use of his superior skill.” Or success is measured by all the potentially bad days that cruisers never know they have been spared. Captain Vorland may in fact be eligible for the honor of the Explorers Club, given his work in advancing passenger cruising through the Northwest Passage (like another Norwegian who pioneered polar air routes back in the 1950s). Crystal recorded the many lectures that experts gave during the Serenity’s treks through the Northwest Passage. I’ve watched around 40 of these videos, and the collection should be sent to the Vancouver Maritime Museum (rather than just forgotten, lost, or erased). FEDERAL INSPECTION SCORES: Federal agencies in both the United States and Canada conduct health inspections of cruise ships. The inspection scores are posted on the agencies’ public websites. See www.cdc.gov and www.canada.ca. For the U.S. inspections (CDC), cruisers can read the full reports online in all their technical detail (as well as Crystal’s side of the story). For the Canadian inspections, you’d need to email a request to see the report behind a score. Unlike your grades back in school, a passing score (both countries) is set a bit higher at 86 out of 100. And a score of 100 means no significant deficiencies, not perfection. The Serenity’s most recent U.S. inspection occurred in December 2018 (about three weeks after the end of our cruise). Score was 95. The inspection report listed 43 violations around the ship, none of which would deter me from booking the ship again. (Gluttony at that Churrascaria dessert bar was a health risk for me, though.) A few months passed before CDC published the results of this inspection. Perhaps due to the famous shutdown of some federal agencies for about a month. The Serenity’s most recent Canadian inspection was in June 2017. Score was 99. However, even well-inspected luxury liners can face that noro nastiness (vomiting, diarrhea). There’s a limit to what cruise lines and governments can do to protect passengers from their own health habits. While we were crossing the ocean, Crystal’s other ship (the Symphony) had a norovirus outbreak on the Amazon. No secret, though. It was publicly reported on CDC’s home page, in Cruise Critic’s passenger chat room, and in USA Today. The Symphony’s doctor made daily reports to CDC, sought CDC’s assistance, and was able to contain the illness (less than 5 percent of the passengers reported symptoms). While passengers in a Cruise Critic chat room are not a statistical sampling, their online thread on the Symphony didn’t signal any cruise-spoiling panic. They made passing references to onboard norovirus in the midst of much more vigorous exchanges over the ethics of petting sloths and the merits of selling the Chico’s brand in the ship’s clothing store (true story). Per these stats and chats, it’s not inevitable that most people on board will get sick if there’s a norovirus outbreak (defined by CDC as 3% of passengers). A clinic that specializes in travel medicine can give you a thorough briefing on how to handle this contingency, including what remedies to take along. Here are two lists of doctors with this type of practice: (1) the International Society of Travel Medicine (www.istm.org) and (2) the American Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene (www.astmh.org). Measles has made quite the comeback across the U.S., and is highly contagious. CDC presumes that travelers born in the U.S. before 1957 have childhood immunity. If you were born later and have had the shots, you may want to take along proof in case there’s a quarantine in your travels. (See www.cdc.gov/measles/travelers.html) EVOLVING AMBIENCE: Crystal’s customer core is retired “comfortable couples” from the American mainstream. Some have been retired for decades -- now in their eighties and beyond. Crystal continues to preserve traditions from a prior era of travel. There are still formal nights (“black tie optional” and some tuxedos), daily afternoon tea, a dress code after 6 pm, and an ornate hideaway for smoking cigars. We continue to feel safe from onboard crime. Guests occasionally die from getting old, but not from assaults, drunken parties, or jumping overboard. You’ll have to cruise elsewhere for those experiences. But Crystal is not an isolation ward, and travel agents may need to prepare some customers to expect subtle changes in the ship’s atmosphere. For instance, the music. The Russian string quartet has been replaced by a solo performer with an electronic violin. Crystal has invested heavily in computerized neon costumes for performers to dance in the dark. The young jazz crooner that faithfully replicates the 1940s may wear his hair in a modern man bun. (But just be glad that yet another generation is striving to perpetuate the old favorites from before it was born.) The crew members who give you super service may sport a few tattoos. (We’re talking pretty young ladies here, not muscled male deckhands.) And you’ll see cruisers who whip out their smartphones whenever there’s a lull in table talk. (We’re talking seniors here, not millennials.) And you might even see a dog on board these days. Folks on this cruise reported dog sightings at the buffet line, ice cream bar, clothing store, Lido Deck dining, Japanese restaurant, and ledge around the hot tub. The tiny hound that I saw didn’t make a sound, didn’t bother anyone, and was even wearing a dress at one point. And the affection from crew members suggested that they might be missing their pets back home. Or perhaps their parents just raised them to be kind to animals (and seniors). Social media polarizes this sort of thing in a rhetoric of rights. But it’s not really a legal matter until a foreign ship (here the Serenity) departing from a foreign port (here Lisbon) finally reaches an American port (here the Virgin Islands). (49 CFR 39.5(b)) Until we reached the Virgin Islands, it was just a customer relations call as to which species Crystal wished to accommodate in the price of a ticket. Regardless of a dog’s purpose, the practical problems for “pet parents” make it unlikely that cruises will ever really go to the dogs (become truly “pet friendly”). There are issues like dog-sitting during port stops, local health regs, security screenings, and distinctive nasties from nature. Things like fleas with plague, cute little snakes, and big birds that really do eat small mammals. Nature is indifferent to the rhetoric of rights. In the event of a canine unthinkable, it can be a long wait until the next port stop with a veterinarian. And I have no idea whether Crystal’s onboard physician would agree to treat a suffering non-human. If you insist on bringing Fido or Fifi, a competitor’s megaship will be more likely than tiny Crystal to include a vacationing veterinarian among its passengers. Of course, you never know what travel entrepreneurs will develop for an unmet need. While we were docked in the Virgin Islands, the humane society was having a dog-washing fundraiser at the yacht marina. Proceeds of $10 a dog went to “fly homeless pets to stateside rescues and better lives.” Read Less
Sail Date November 2018
After doing a previous Crystal Cruise, we opted to go on Symphony. This was the first cruise after an upgrade to the ship. The ship, crew and staff were not ready. Delayed beginning and food quality varied widely. I mean not even close to ... Read More
After doing a previous Crystal Cruise, we opted to go on Symphony. This was the first cruise after an upgrade to the ship. The ship, crew and staff were not ready. Delayed beginning and food quality varied widely. I mean not even close to our other experience. (example: bone in the breakfast sausage & asked for Chicken noodle soup and got chicken broth with spaghetti noodles) The wait staff is so busy trying to figure out how to type in your food order, that there is no eye contact. Very unprofessional. A safety concern was told directly to the safety officer which was ignored. We did complain to Crystal upon are return home and after 2 months did get a response that the safety issue was addressed and fixed. Offered $500 for next cruise with too many limitations for us to use. Under new management, this cruise line has gone down substantially. Very disappointed and I would think twice about going on another Crystal Cruise. Read Less
Sail Date October 2017
Our preference is for ships of a decent size able to offer a variety of venues whilst maintaining a high level of service. We dislike smaller ships, ships within a ship, ships with specific areas reserved for specific cabin types or ... Read More
Our preference is for ships of a decent size able to offer a variety of venues whilst maintaining a high level of service. We dislike smaller ships, ships within a ship, ships with specific areas reserved for specific cabin types or titanium plus members etc, continually signing for goods and services, mandatory tipping, crowded spaces etc. We like what we have found on crystal and are beginning to think we’ve found our Goldilocks cruise line. This was our third crystal cruise (2nd on Symphony) and her first sailing after dry dock. We’ve attempted to summarise our highlights and closed by listing our favourite 5 and least favourite 5, I confess we were scraping the barrel to come up with 5 things we liked less!! An email arrived the evening before sailing to inform us that there would be a 24 hour delay leaving port, but that no ports of call would be missed and we were each to receive $150 on board credit for any inconvenience. We felt this was very fair and crystal also laid on a half day complimentary excursion for the additional day in Lisbon although we chose to do our own thing (a highly recommended visit to Sintra.) We are always late boarding so embarkation is a breeze, we then stop by the cabin and head up to the trident grill for a snack and glass of champagne. Because of the delayed departure the emergency drill was postponed to the following day which was nice as we felt more able to relax and have a look round the refreshed areas of the ship. We knew about the dry dock and expected a few glitches; we heard (from a lady in the lift ;-) that some of the deck 9 cabins were not ready and that a number of guests had been accommodated on land for the first night. We subsequently heard that those guests were well taken care of for the inconvenience. Our cabin on deck 8 was as expected although it had not been properly cleaned (several items in drawers and bits of debris on the floor) our room attendant was lovely and we felt bad for bringing these things to her attention, it appeared that someone else had made up some of her rooms. During our conversations we got the impression that the room maids have more work than before (she wasn’t complaining - we were probing) She did however provide us with excellent service throughout the cruise and the shaky start was soon forgotten. The only change in the regular cabin is the new TV and desk chair which now fits under the desk more readily than the previous chair. I had hoped to be able to order room service and check billing / menus etc. through the interactive TV but that functionality was not available on our cruise; hopefully this will change in future. We did on occasion hear the TV in the neighbouring room and whilst not an issue for us it could be if larks and owls end up as neighbours. Internet was spotty, I didn’t have too much trouble but was aware that others did and there was a mention in reflections regarding internet connectivity one day. Again I’m sure these things are all tied up in the refit and will be ironed out. In over 40 cruises across a variety of cruise lines we felt that the entertainment in terms of variety and quality was the best we have ever experienced on a cruise ship and we’re really glad we made the effort to get to most of the shows. The only thing to take the edge from this was the lack of drink service before the shows, particularly as there is no convenient bar serving the theatre. The quality and consistency of food was excellent throughout the ship, bearing in mind that the staff in the main dining room did not only have to adapt to open seating but also a new ordering system on small hand held devices. One evening, two of everything we had ordered was delivered which caused some amusement. There was a short line for dinner on the first black tie night but the wait was not significant. The team was under some pressure though they coped admirably. This was the only occasion when it was noticeable that tables are quite close, on other nights we rarely had a neighbour when seated where the tables are closely grouped together. We were also asked if we would like to join an open table, we chose not to so can’t say how this worked. Wine is now generally served by your waiter although sommeliers are on hand and delivered other drinks (ordered via the servers hand held device) The trident grill functions like clockwork, we’re always impressed by the way the main man keeps those lines short and the rest of his team in check. Sadly there were no fries or onion rings for the first few days which was good for my waistline but piled pressure on the staff as every second guest questioned “when will you have fries” something which they very obviously didn’t have the answer to. The Churrascaria was a delight with the additional opportunity to eat outdoors, it’s nice to have an informal option for those evenings when you just want something simple washed down with a nice cold beer. You have a little card labelled yes please one side and no thanks on the other for when you want the meat to continue coming or to stop. It’s not the easiest thing for the meat waiter to see and perhaps a coloured light or flag would make their life easier. Silk was another absolute pleasure and has its own evening ambience to differentiate itself. We felt the food to be authentic and thoroughly enjoyable. I have a shellfish intolerance and am a little nervous in restaurants where a fair amount of shrimp is used. The staff were wonderfully accommodating and we ended up eating there several times. Umi Uma and Prego are pretty much unchanged in appearance and food offer. What we liked best 1. The phenomenal staff, many of whom are new to crystal though you would never know it. I hate to pick out favourites when they are all so good but on this trip Sophia (waterside and bistro) and Fabio (waterside) we felt were truly brilliant. 2. The transformation of deck 11, the way in which new venues have been laid out gives each a separate and clear identity and a really nice fresh feel. 3. Entertainment was truly fantastic each and every evening and we also loved the greater use of starlight for shows than we had experienced previously 4. Food throughout the ship was outstanding 5. Our fellow passengers – we have never failed to meet wonderful passengers on Crystal and this journey was exactly the same. What we liked least 1. Lack of drink service pre-show in the theatre (especially as the nearest bar is some walk away) 2. Avenue saloon vibe was not the same this trip; we just didn’t warm to the pianist (nothing wrong with him) guess we have been spoiled previously. The plus side to this being a far less woolly head the following day. 3. Movie selection in the theatre was odd, I think we had wonder woman one day followed by Spiderman the next plus a few other oddities in the mix (again just my opinion) 4. Birthday breakfast was a bit of a damp squib, this was the first time we had been to breakfast in the restaurant and we didn’t find it decadent or particularly special, just a bit strange. 5. Although I’ve said the food was top notch throughout we still comment on the use of reformed frozen onion rings with the beautiful steak at dinner. It should be obvious from the list of things we liked least that we thoroughly enjoyed this cruise, in fact we both agreed this was our best cruise ever with the exception of our very first on P&O Canberra in 1992. (I think your first cruise will always be special) We’re struggling to find a crystal cruise to fit our travel plans for next year even though everyone on our sailing received a letter offering ($1000 per room - $500 pp On board credit) for a booking in 2018/19. The only answer is for us to change our travel plans!! Read Less
Sail Date October 2017
My husband and I have been on a couple of dozen cruises on a total of 12 lines. This Crystal cruise was outstanding in every way. In most ways it was comparable to less expensive cruises such as Oceania and Azamara, though the enrichment ... Read More
My husband and I have been on a couple of dozen cruises on a total of 12 lines. This Crystal cruise was outstanding in every way. In most ways it was comparable to less expensive cruises such as Oceania and Azamara, though the enrichment activities were far and away the best we've ever experiences. The cusine was top rate, though the specialty restaurants were, in my view,no better than the main dining room. Even top shelf liquor brands were included in the price, and service was impeccable.Gratuities and internet also were included in the price, so the high ticket was not as bad as it seemed. The ship, while beautiful, was a bit dated, but was due to go into dry dock right after our cruise. With the exception of Lisbon, Madeira and Morocco, the island ports were just so-so; but who cared? We would've been happy to never leave the sh\p! Read Less
Sail Date September 2017
Comparisons are important, and a good way to paint a valid description. Crystal is considered one of the best 6 star line if you will. We've cruised with them previously which we enjoyed and can serve as an easy comparison. The ... Read More
Comparisons are important, and a good way to paint a valid description. Crystal is considered one of the best 6 star line if you will. We've cruised with them previously which we enjoyed and can serve as an easy comparison. The boarding experience in Lisbon was up a shabby ramshackle tented gangway. Not even a "Hello and welcome aboard" and certainly no welcome drink nor semblance of service . Following a pleasant check in clerk we were directed to the elevators dragging luggage. What 5 star hotel or cruiser have to been on where nobody accompanied you to the room/cabin ? That should have been the warning signal of what to expect. Don't swallow the ploy that Crystal sell the 'first night in port' as a plus for arriving pax. Not so, its another cost saver for the company calculated you lose whilst the company gains. $500 per person or more a night buys the best luxury accommodation in 5 star hotels with a wide choice of dining possiblities in any major cities departure port, instead of wasting time and money in a tiny uncomfortable cabin on board. However this cruising standard we considered; in common with many of co cruisers, was lower than the benchmarks Seaborne or Silver Sea. The Symphony is well down the scale. Claims as to being 6 star and the # 1 exclusive cruise line are wild exaggerations of the truth. Without doubt Crystal is on a major cost cutting exercise under the new management. If you are looking for luxury cruising and value for money you are advised to look elsewhere. The Symphony is tired, and badly in need of a refit. Old cheap prints do nothing to enhance the outdated furnishings in very small cabins.The overall impression is clearly of overwhelmingly sloppy management. On day 2 we attempted to speak with the Hotel Director and was told we have to make an appointment by email instead of simply calling him on his mobile or pager. Herein undoubtedly lies the root of the management problem. This is an incapability or planned device to avoid responding in a timely manner. 6 hours later and only after contacting the head office in California, did the Director respond. The only positive is the ship is immaculately clean.. Waiting crew on open decks (breakfast or lunch) mainly Philippinos have an uncontrolled tendency to be over friendly and in ones face. Failing to clear dirty dishes from table in a timely fashion because theres never a manager in sight, doesn't make their presence more appealing. 48 hours following my complaint, the matter was recitified to normal anticipated standards, proving the management had dropped standards as a norm. Sloppy as accused. Dining room waiters are very good and we have no complaints. However, again the restaurant manager is noted by his absence during service. Food is above average, but the kitchen does not excel merely good Bistro standard to be found in any major European City. . Housekeeping likewise is not paying attention to their managing, or the beds would be properly dressed instead of simply being thrown together. They do not turn beds down at night. No flowers, chocolates nor fruit nor champagne in the pokey tiny cabins. Two normal sized people cannot pass each other between the wall and the foot of the bed. Bar staff are acceptable, but here as all of the ship, in every single aspect lacks professionalism. There's not one part of the ship nor its operation I would commend as being excellent or at best equal to 4 star. Unfortunate, for it is precisely that Holy Grail which ships of this calibre strive for. Entertainment was very poor. A Transatlantic cruise needs distracting quality shows. A scheduled stop at the Azores was cancelled by the Captain, claiming a risk of Hurricane force weather conditions. This was either a figment of his imagination or more likely an economic decision driven by cost cutting. I was a professional racing yacht skipper, well able to read meteorological charts and forecast weather with the best and I saw no valid reason for this decision. In fact I was 100% correct , there was no bad weather for the day we should have docked. The CEO and her Board need to travel more, taking note of their competition. Sampling it would have them disembarking with their eyes cast down and worried for the future expectations of their shareholders. Improvement will not occur rapidly, requiring a major change from CEO and management. This particular cruise remained an unfortunate place to be, for 13 days failing our high but justifiably balanced expectations in every field. The experience will likely leave an unpleasant memory as a waste of money. This fairly ordinary form of transatlantic transport could be had at half the price and probably more enjoyable for expectations wouldn't be high. it was a relief to disembark in Miami. Detailed letters of justifiable complaint to the CEO remain unanswered 2 months later, as yet another indictment of poor management . When the CEO has not to common commercial decency to respond, nor make a offer of retribution is an indication of where the root problem lies. She couldn't care less - shareholders take note ! Watch this website for further in detail description. Finally. Take our valid advice as regular cruisers for more than 20 years, always in 5 star or better ships. You would not be doing yourself any favour by cruising Crystal. David. Read Less
Sail Date October 2016
We take 3 crossing a year, between crystal and Seabourn.But Crystal has a better lecture program. And the Tommy Dorsey band makes it over the top. Crystal also to care of our medical needs. They were just great. The overall staff was over ... Read More
We take 3 crossing a year, between crystal and Seabourn.But Crystal has a better lecture program. And the Tommy Dorsey band makes it over the top. Crystal also to care of our medical needs. They were just great. The overall staff was over the top in all departments. We have done 15 crystal cruises and it was great to see how many crew new our names. The owns we new us best called us Mr. Steve and Mrs. Judy. The one thing that stood out was there house keeping. I dare anyone to find any dust or finger prints on the brass, You think they walk behind you. As for dinning it could not be better. I need a special diet and they prepared all my meals according to my needs. Was for the wait staff if we could take them home they would be very upset with Judy and I. Of all the cruises we have taken 100 + crystal is on top of the list. Read Less
Sail Date October 2016
We chose this cruise because of the big band and ballroom theme and we were not disappointed. The Tommy Dorsey orchestra under the direction of Terry Myer was superb. Y husband is a retired trombone player from the Pittsburgh Symphony ... Read More
We chose this cruise because of the big band and ballroom theme and we were not disappointed. The Tommy Dorsey orchestra under the direction of Terry Myer was superb. Y husband is a retired trombone player from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and he was thrilled to here this ensemble every night.. our veranda suite on Deck nine was wonderful. The dining experience was memorable with creative, delicious choices every evening. We were always busy. My sea days incled 2 dance classes daily, Team Trivi! And a painting class with a wonderful teacher, Patty Jones.There were also excellent lectures on board and the evening shows were top notch. We have booked 2 more Crystal voyages for 2018! The cruise line has incentives for repeat cruisers, early booking while on board and early payment in full. I had no idea that thirteen days at sea with only a stop in St Thimas could be that much fun. Read Less
Sail Date October 2016
We waited a bit to write this review of our Crystal Symphony transatlantic in October in order to gain perspective and not overreact. After reading the previous post on the same cruise, we felt we also needed to provide feedback on what ... Read More
We waited a bit to write this review of our Crystal Symphony transatlantic in October in order to gain perspective and not overreact. After reading the previous post on the same cruise, we felt we also needed to provide feedback on what was, overall, a disappointing cruise. This was our 5th Crystal cruise and second transatlantic. We loved the first transatlantic and have always loved the lectures, dancing, Silk Road, Prego and the Big Band theme. We booked this cruise for relaxation, dancing, food and our experience with past Crystal cruises. Boarding in Lisbon was unorganized with no welcoming signs or agents. We found our way to registration and, after we were on the ship, found our own way to our cabin. The cabin was just as expected in size and amenities. However, there was no welcoming bottle of champagne. There was, as we had requested in the past, a fan and a top sheet on the bed. We had brought our usual duct tape to tape down the lights in the closet, which turn on every time a door is opened. We were appalled to open the refrigerator and find a moldy, half eaten canister of caviar. There were no water bottles in the cabin. We opened a dresser drawer and found a plastic bag full of a white powder. It was obvious the cabin stewardess had not been vigilant in her preparation of the cabin. This, unfortunately, continued throughout the cruise. We consistently had to ask for water, four times for Kleenex, for wine glasses, new shampoo and towels. We finally called the head of housekeeping just to get basic amenities. We asked for a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc for the cabin. We received Pinot Noir. The stewardess said they did not have Sauvignon Blanc. When we told the sommelier, he sent two bottles to the cabin. We did not ask her again. After the third day, the air conditioning in the room did not work properly. We went to the desk and put in a maintenance request. When we returned to the cabin there was a note that they had “adjusted” the vents. It made no difference. The cabin remained very warm and we were so grateful that we at least had a fan to move air. We asked two more times for repair of the a/c and no one came. We finally went to the desk again and demanded to see the hotel director. They would not let us but said they would be certain to get the a/c fixed. No one came. Finally, the second last night of the cruise, we were woken at 11 pm by someone who offered to change our cabin due to poor air conditioning. We were shocked at being called so late and declined to move cabins at that late date. This lack of maintenance is totally unacceptable and not what we have experienced in the past. We were given a table for 2 next to the waiters’ station in the dining room. We considered asking to move but really liked our waiters Nuno and Fabio who did a fantastic job in serving us. They were just exceptional. We also appreciated Roland’s extra efforts and genuine care. Julius did a nice job as sommelier and found us some lovely complementary white wines such as Sancerre and Chablis which frankly, were as good as the four bottles of wine we purchased off the proprietors list. We also loved the staff at the Trident and Lido, especially Rikki and Norman who went above and beyond in service. Food in the main dining room was for the most part very good. It was prepared as ordered and hot when it arrived. Trident Grill sandwiches were delicious. We highly anticipated our dinner at Silk Road and even made a second, fee-required, reservation because we had enjoyed it so much in the past. We do not know what happened, but our dinner there was a disaster. We were seated at a table and ignored for at least 15 minutes. We finally got menus and water. We then waited another 15 minutes to order. When the shrimp tempura arrived, it was all batter and almost no shrimp. Another guest that I spoke with later also told us they were very disappointed in the lack of shrimp in their dish. My husband’s sushi was mushy and my cod entrée was “off”, did not smell right. I could not eat it. That evening, my husband was sick with food poisoning from the sushi he had eaten at Silk Road. Luckily we had medication for food poisoning and he felt better the next day, but he was off his feet and did not eat for a day. We reported this but no one contacted us. We cancelled our second reservation at Silk Road. Prego was better, especially on our first visit. The service was good and our food, especially my lamb chops, and the beef carpaccio, were excellent. The second time, on a fee required basis, the service was slow and impersonal and the veal was overcooked and tasteless. The carpaccio and mushroom soup were as good as usual. I do not know what happened to the specialty restaurants. But they are not really “special” anymore. The staff seemed to go about the motions, but there is no enthusiasm and the menu offerings are getting old. The ship itself was very clean and the Palm Court especially looked nice. We enjoyed time in the Avenue bar, especially when Name That Tune was on. Our team won twice out of three times. I wish I could say the same for Trivia. There was a large crowd attending Trivia each day and we had a convivial team who won a few times. However, the dancers who put on Trivia gave the impression they would have preferred to be anywhere else. They had no enthusiasm and in fact, a number of the answers were totally incorrect. This resulted in a small altercation with one member of another team and the staff. And, the worst incident was the final sea day when a passenger was allowed to ask his made up questions for Trivia. It was insulting to the rest of the passengers who love Trivia to have this man flaunting “his” knowledge. The highest score was 3 correct, as he showed off his esoteric “knowledge,” and trick questions. But I guess it gave the staff responsible for Trivia time off. BAD IDEA! And one of the worst changes to Trivia and other games were the “prizes.” We do not play Trivia for the rewards, but now Crystal is giving certificates for 15% off items in the shops and the spa. The problem was the spa coupon was only good for port days – we skipped the Azores due to weather and had all sea days, and no item I wanted in the shop qualified for the coupon. Crystal should not force passengers to buy something (or give worthless certificates) in order to have a prize for Trivia. Bring back the t-shirts or don’t give anything at all. The theme of the cruise was Big Band, and the Tommy Dorsey orchestra was the main event. We have sailed with them before and they gave good performances. There was an emphasis on ballroom dancing and it is the reason many passengers book this crossing. However, this time there was a real issue with the dance instructors, Ambassador Hosts and the dancers. It is wonderful that Crystal accommodates the single lady passengers who wish to dance by having Ambassador Hosts with which to partner. In the past, they have done a marvelous job. However this time, at dance lessons morning and afternoon and in the evenings with the bands, the regular passengers were literally shoved to the side and off the dance floor. We were forced to dance in the aisles and side of the room while the Ambassadors and their alternating partners took over the floor. After about 6 nights of being pushed, shoved, and banged into, we simply gave up and went to listen to the piano player in the Crystal Cove. This also applied to the dance lessons. The morning teachers were good and took time to explain steps and practice. Then we got with our partners and practiced. However as time went on, the Ambassadors and single ladies took over the floor, edging others out. We practiced in the aisles. In the afternoon, the instructors went so fast and added so many steps that no one knew what was going on except those who were experienced dancers. And, when we asked questions of the instructors, they said they were too busy to answer. We are not new to dancing, but we truly hoped to be able to refine our steps. This did not happen. Perhaps Crystal needs to separate classes into experienced and less experienced. It would give more room on the dance floor for practice as well. The worst incident with an Ambassador Host occurred in the Lido one day when we were having lunch. One of the Hosts was eating with the Golf Instructor at the table next to us. Both of them were loudly making fun of and criticizing guests for their appearance and inabilities. It was embarrassing to hear and they should be ashamed of their attitude toward paying guests. We skipped the Azores due to “bad weather” although the seas remained calm. We therefore had 9 straight sea days to St. Thomas. The usual lineup of speakers were onboard and the speaker on the oceans and sea life was exceptional. Also the speaker on Broadway and the theater who provided singing commentary was great. However, the general’s presentation, in our opinion, contained bigoted comments with incorrect information on his slides. For example, they were not the “Mongrels”, they are the Moghuls. We can’t quite put our finger on what went wrong with this cruise. Some of the service was exceptional. Others were rote and unfeeling. The ship, although clean, seemed tired and in need of refurbishment. Basics such as maintenance of air conditioning were lacking. Front desk staff, while pleasant, did not act on requests. Officers were non-apparent. Overall it just lacked that special “Crystal feeling.” It was the first cruise we completed where we were glad to be off the ship. We reported all the problems on our survey. We have heard absolutely nothing from Crystal. Due to our issues, we cancelled the Serenity Antarctica cruise we had scheduled for February and booked with another cruise line. It is too important a cruise to take another chance on Crystal at this time. Read Less
Sail Date October 2016
We travelled with friends but the ship stopped at smaller ports which gave us a chance to see some wonderful things. My review, however, is based on Crystal's claim to be a 6 star line. We normally travel on Oceania and Silversea ... Read More
We travelled with friends but the ship stopped at smaller ports which gave us a chance to see some wonderful things. My review, however, is based on Crystal's claim to be a 6 star line. We normally travel on Oceania and Silversea (and others) so our expectations were very high...and they weren't met. Except for the entertainment, which was excellent, there was nothing very special about the ship or its service. While this cruise line may have been special 10 years ago (when we first were on it), it has stood still while others improved. The decor is rather bland and a little dated. Their booking system for the dining room is too cumbersome and rather annoying. Food was good but not outstanding and 2 dinners weren't very good at all. We met frequent Crystal cruisers who were big fans --- but have never sailed with other providers. They would be surprised if they gave another top line a try. Read Less
Sail Date May 2016
We looked forward to a Crystal Big Band Transatlantic cruise with great anticipation. Never have we been so disappointed.. The standards have slipped so far and so fast , we were bitterly disappointed by the entire experience. The ... Read More
We looked forward to a Crystal Big Band Transatlantic cruise with great anticipation. Never have we been so disappointed.. The standards have slipped so far and so fast , we were bitterly disappointed by the entire experience. The cutbacks and cost snipping are getting a little too obvious under new ownership. The " Best cruise line in the world" is suffering from a severe case of self delusion. We have enjoyed several Big Band cruises with Crystal, finding them a special way of crossing the ocean. this was a pre Christmas cruise, so the ship was decorated throughout... With the same decorations we have seen several times, all beginning to look a little tired This was hardly a Big Band, merely a dull group who could not, and did not , give guests a Big Band experience. The house band offered a better quality of music. Entertainment was equally lack lustre, often seen, dull , dreary shows, despite the enthusiasm of the talented young singers and dancers. The daily dance tuition was equally tired , dull and delivered by the same old foursome we have seen too often. Crystal were introducing new dance talent from Australia and Ukraine, but cut backs are showing here too. Guest entertainers were similarly not of the quality we had expected, and previously enjoyed aboard Crystal ships. The highlight of the cruise, to our delight, were the fine guest speakers, including musical experts, an astronaut and a British retired RAF senior officer who delighted with his insights into current world situations. Dining aboard Crystal cruises was always a delight, but we were disappointed on this cruise, not by the service levels which remain superb , delivered by the ever dedicated staff. However, the dining room , wonderful " modern menu" is now so altered that there is little difference between it, and a classic menu. Similarly, we were disappointed by the charming Tastes menu, which is now heavy, over sauced and has little resemblance to a decent tapas menu. The tried, tested , very repetitive Prego menus desperately need a makeover, as the menu is heavy for modern tastes and badly needs some seasonal changes. We have always enjoyed the enrichment experiences on cruises, but art classes consisted of total lack of creativity, limited media choices and complete lack of inspiration. Luckily, the golf tuition was excellent making up for the paucity of other classes. Crystal are steadily raising the cost of cruises, but , in our opinion, delivering poorer value, and providing far from the luxury experience we had come to enjoy. Petty little cuts , which we assume they believe will go unnoticed, grated... The own brand toiletries, which look and smell cheap, the lack of a daily news sheet, the lower number of the always delightful tiny lunchtime desserts, the substitution of thin cheap balsamic vinegar for salads are surely some examples which irritated. Read Less
Sail Date December 2015
Cruise 5331 was an Atlantic crossing (Lisbon to Miami), with only two brief stops along the way (Tenerife and Key West). My wife and I took this cruise for its long string of sea days, not the port stops. We’ve taken the Crystal ... Read More
Cruise 5331 was an Atlantic crossing (Lisbon to Miami), with only two brief stops along the way (Tenerife and Key West). My wife and I took this cruise for its long string of sea days, not the port stops. We’ve taken the Crystal Serenity (1,000 passengers) over a dozen times in the past several years. We treat it as a comfortable boutique hotel where everyone knows your name. It’s consistently a nice getaway that lacks all that herding, hustling, and hollering for which cruises are stereotyped. Nevertheless, there are some real limits on what the Serenity offers all of us who don’t stay up there in those elite penthouses. Travel agents who want to book repeaters should use caution to avoid an expectation gap. Regardless of the fancy ads, this aging ship doesn’t meet the assumptions for unabashed “ultra luxury.” There are simply too many little “no’s” and missing touches for that. Overall, I rate this cruise as a “3” (on a scale of 5) when judged against Crystal’s asserted standards of “all exclusive” and “ultra luxury.” But there are definitely some pockets of real luxury on the Serenity, including some crew members who consistently offer a luxury level of service. Among the latter are the cruise director and the famous Lido waiters -- true masters of making you feel welcome. So we enjoy what’s there, and overlook what’s not. And we keep coming back. For customers that insist on absolute pampered perfection, travel agents should carefully brief them on the market’s offerings and realities. DINING: The quality of food on the Serenity was quite variable during this cruise. For my taste buds, the following hodgepodge was delicious and memorable: monkfish (a rare treat where we live); fishermen’s platter (perfectly breaded); salzburger nockerl (custom dessert from our Austrian head waiter); homemade corned beef hash (a breakfast treat); Ovaltine (a childhood memory); all that super-creamy ice cream (including arcane flavors like lychee and green tea). As in the past, the Lido Cafe’s steaks, hamburgers, and chimichurri beef were consistently delicious. And my wife had a good filet in the dining room. But the rest of the ship’s beef cuts lacked flavor at best, and were hard to eat at worst. (I actually pushed two servings aside.) One of the Serenity’s pasta offerings (spaghetti with meat sauce) was quite tasty. With that one exception, the ship’s pasta was disappointing. One serving lacked flavor and arrived lukewarm. Another serving arrived so cold that I reported it to the head waiter for replacement. The Serenity is a good choice if you like the treasure hunt of sampling the world’s cuisine. It may not be a good fit for those who passively expect meals of predictable perfection (that is, eaters with little tolerance for uncertainty and experimentation). On the other hand, the head waiters on the Serenity are outstanding and, with a day’s notice, will arrange just about any food you want (as close as we come to having a personal chef). And this option for customized, off-menu items is indeed a luxury. Last spring, Crystal’s president expressed her understandable need for “making sure every berth is full every sailing” (Wall Street Journal, 4-23-15). That apparently means marketing to more than us empty-nesters, as well as steps like deformalizing the dining room a bit for those who wear the “$400 jeans” (as she expressed it in an onboard video of a March 7 passenger briefing). The apparel debate has now been addressed in a 350-word “Dress Codes for Your Cruise,” which was distributed at the start of the voyage. After dissecting the document and looking at the diners’ attire, I concluded that the dreaded jeans are now permissible anywhere and anytime except the two formal nights. Once again, the key is for travel agents to openly cover this issue with their shoppers. If customers prefer more or less formality, they can vote with their checkbooks. But it’s not just about the ups and downs of the food (or even the tuxes). We much enjoy our table talk with some of the world’s most interesting people. All those people who do things we’ll never do ourselves. And those dining conversations are the real luxury for us. In fact, we often remember those chats in more detail than what we ate at a given feeding. MUSIC & LECTURES: This was a repositioning cruise with less than 1,000 passengers. But it was definitely the land of luxury for musicians and music lovers. The little ship was saturated with three bands, two pianists, nightly music shows, a Mozart tea, and a Russian string quartet. Three lecturers did a memorable series of 11 presentations about the “American Songbook.” And the Serenity provided free wireless access to 300+ videos of its past lectures. However, the ship’s online portal needs to label these videos by topic, rather than just by the name of the lecturer. STATEROOM & PUBLIC SPACES: Cruising need not mean crowding. Though a small ship, Serenity was somehow built with “endless” nooks and crannies in which one can limit contact with other humans to the desired degree. On this cruise, as before, we found the Serenity’s basic veranda stateroom to be adequate and comfortable. The housekeeper was thorough, attentive, pleasant, and dependable. However, the ship’s voicemail system was broken for most of the cruise. This frustrated messages from passengers and crew. Crystal’s daily newsletter acknowledged the problem on December 16, 20, and 21. But the failure to provide this basic service is not consistent with luxury cruising. The broken voicemail reminded us of our cruise last year, when the Serenity’s connection to the Internet was broken across much of the Pacific. Again, this is an aging little ship with limitations that travel agents should alert their customers to expect. PRE-CRUISE & POST-CRUISE: We’ve given up on using taxicabs due to various incidents over the years. A problem with a cab driver can be a real spoiler at the beginning of a trip. Thus, in Lisbon, we reserved a private driver to meet us at the airport. In setting the pickup time, be sure to make a pessimistic allowance for baggage claim and the passport line. Before the cruise, we built in a “cushion day” at the Sheraton Lisboa hotel. Great place to park for the day of waiting, but be sure to read your bill before paying. The Sheraton felt free to tack on an unrequested donation to a charity. They took it off when I spotted it. We used a private driver again for the ride down to the Serenity. At the end of the cruise (Miami), we rode Crystal’s bus from the ship to the airport. If Crystal offers a transfer bus, it’s a good deal and we take it. HEALTH & SAFETY: There’s a lot to like about the Serenity, but one concern is hard for customers to assess because it’s hard to see. At the start of this cruise, the Serenity’s daily newsletter asserted that “Crystal Cruises consistently receives the highest scores from the United States Public Health service after inspections of our culinary operations.” Crystal is referring to the inspections that cruise ships get from a federal health agency (Center for Disease Control) based in Fort Lauderdale. These inspections can occur when the ship docks at a U.S. port (the CDC Vessel Sanitation Program). CDC considers inspection scores from 86 to 100 to be in the passing range. I checked CDC’s website for the last inspection before our cruise. CDC gave the Serenity a score of 88 in its May 2015 inspection. This score is 3 points above CDC’s “not satisfactory” threshold of 85. CDC issued a 15-page report that detailed 62 deficiencies. Per CDC’s website (visited 12-29-15), the agency has conducted 230 inspections of cruise ships during 2015. Serenity’s score of 88 was among the 16 lowest scores, that is, in the bottom 7%. These inspection reports are publicly available (in all their technical tedium) at www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp. Travel agents can read for themselves and discuss any item of concern with their doctors that deal with travel health. Part of the “value added” by a travel agent can be a realistic assessment of the risks of an itinerary. Another option, which I’ve found quite helpful, is a pre-cruise consultation with a national chain of travel medicine clinics (see www.passporthealthusa.com). CDC hopefully did a re-inspection when this cruise ended in Miami. And the Serenity hopefully got a better score (which will ultimately be reported on CDC’s website). Crystal continues to boast that it caters to the “top 2% of the world’s wealthiest.” (See the marketing interviews on Fox News (12-14-15) www.youtube.com/watch?v=1--zYYGJukQ, and on CNBC (4-23-15) http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000373868 ) But an inspection score in the lowest 7% is not consistent with luxury cruising. Read Less
Sail Date December 2015
This was our fourth time sailing on the Serenity. She is a well appointed ship. The staff stay the same from year to year. They go out of their way to accommodate the passenger. Our every request is granted with a smile. This is one of the ... Read More
This was our fourth time sailing on the Serenity. She is a well appointed ship. The staff stay the same from year to year. They go out of their way to accommodate the passenger. Our every request is granted with a smile. This is one of the reasons we love Crystal. Another thing we love about Crystal is that they overnight in in some ports. On this cruise we had overnights in three ports. This allowed us to use the boat as a hotel,and really get the flavor of the port. The ship docked for two nights on the Garonne river, right in the heart of Bordeaux. We loved it! We could sit on our port side balcony and soak up the atmosphere. While in Bordeaux,we took a shore excursion with wine expert , Dewey Markham Jr. He is wonderful,and the tour was a highlight of our trip. We spent a great deal of money for a shore excursion billed as a " rare wine tasting" which was unwelming. We expected to be tasting rare grand cru classe wines, and that was not the case. Don't waste your money on this one. Overall, the actual shore excursions are no better than Princess although the offerings are more interesting. I have found excursions themselves to be average which should not be the case for a line as upscale as Crystal. Our deck 8 balcony stateroom was very adequate for our needs. I room was always clean. The bathroom has a bathtub and two sinks. The line supplies you with bathrobes and an umbrella ( which we needed). The food on Crystal is wonderful. We had second seating in the main dining room. Dragon, our waiter was excellent. He anticipated our every need. We also like to eat in the main dining room for breakfast and lunch. "Tastes" and the buffet are also good. All food and drink is included, so you can have anything you want( expect to come home with an expanded waistline-lol) The only thing I did not like was our stop in Brest. In my opinion ( and the feeling of other passengers at the time)this should have been a sea day. On Sunday nothing is open in Brest. Several people we spoke to said that they road around on the Crystal shuttle just for something to do. We went to the maritime museum which was one of the few things that was open. To make matters worse, it was pouring. At least if we had been at sea there would have been activities. There was nothing on the ship for us- no lectures, classes,bingo, casino-nothing! At night we often went to the piano bar. We had fun with the other "regulars". We also saw some good shows. There are other venues on the ship, but we did not visit them. Getting on and off the Serenity is simple. They are very organized. We always get on for lunch, and off after breakfast. We did not take a Crystal transfer this time. My husband and I both get seasick, so we do not sail on small ships. We have been on Oceania, Princess and Celebrity but Crystal is our favorite. The service,food,and multiple overnight ports make this line standout. Read Less
Sail Date July 2015
My first Crystal Cruise last May was a disaster. 1. We had 8 people at our table and the servers were definitely overworked. The food preparation was great, buy the meal was most often cold. We had one breakfast in the main dining ... Read More
My first Crystal Cruise last May was a disaster. 1. We had 8 people at our table and the servers were definitely overworked. The food preparation was great, buy the meal was most often cold. We had one breakfast in the main dining room and it was room temperature. We went to the buffet after that. 2. Our mattress was horrible. There were two twin mattresses pushed together and both had a big depression in the middle. It was like having a bunting board between us. We complained and they put a foam topper on the beds. This didn't help at all. After a couple of days, I saw them loading new mattresses on the ship. I asked to have ours replaced, but were told that they were for the penthouses. 3. The wifi at $55/two hours was absolutely worthless. I couldn't send anything with an attachment or a photo or even a normal email. Downloading one email could take ten or fifteen minutes. They shouldn't charge for a worthless product. 4. I filled out the questionnaire after the cruise, but never heard a word from Crystal. Tauck would contact you immediately to correct any problems. 5. For the price that we paid, I would expect everything to be first class. We would be hard pressed to ever sail on Crystal again. I know that Crystal has their loyal customers, but they didn't shine for us. Oceania was definitely a better cruise experience. Read Less
Sail Date May 2015
This cruise was our second crystal cruise. Last year we sailed from Venice to Rome and had an amazing time! The shore excursions were top notch and the service was amazing. The ship was quiet and there was a wonderful lack of children. We ... Read More
This cruise was our second crystal cruise. Last year we sailed from Venice to Rome and had an amazing time! The shore excursions were top notch and the service was amazing. The ship was quiet and there was a wonderful lack of children. We raved about Crystal for a year to everyone that would listen. We couldn't wait to get back on board. This trip, from Lisbon to Barcelona, was our honeymoon. It was a terrible experience, crowded with children and it did not justify the high costs. Because of the immense frustration level felt almost on a daily basis, we will not be going back onboard any time soon with Crystal. Dining--- First of all, we had requested a nice table for 2 by the windows ( which we were able to get) at the late dining time for romantic evenings. To my shock, we were next to 2 large tables, both of which had children ( one of which was in a highchair playing with an electronic game that dinged and played repetitive music the entire time.). The waiters, while extremely friendly and polite, just were overwhelmed with the large parties and our service lacked. Food mediocre. We attempted to eat in the main dining room one other night but due to the noise from the surrounding tables we left before ordering and headed up to Prego. One of the large groups were dancers and actors from one of the shows. They were very boisterous oblivious to the disturbance they were causing. We never bothered to go back to the main dining room, instead, we ate the rest of our meals at the speciality restaurants or room service. What a shame. Two of the nights we went to Nobu. Food is amazing and one of the reasons we went back. (After our cruise last year we have flown to Dallas twice just to eat at the Nobu restaurant there). Service on board this year was okay, but not 5 stars. Again, I was shocked to see small children in the highchairs during our late night dining. Food at Prego was really good, but service was so-so. One of the nights we were seated by a noisy service station and endured quite colorful conversations. It lacked an attention to detail, as we often had to continually ask for things. We headed up to Tastes one evening and our experience was so awful that it was THE tipping point for us in realizing Crystal service had dropped to sub par. We were ignored while waiting to be seated, treated rudely, and had to ask continually for obvious things such as refills to napkins. No one was removing our empty glasses so we made a game of stacking them on the ledge next to us in order to get them off of the small table. Our "waitress" spent almost the entire time talking to the table next to us with her back turned. When we showed displeasure at the lack of service she became defensive and blamed it on another girl, saying that refills and removing dishes were "not her department." When she tried to offer dessert we politely said that we were finished and stood up to leave, she followed us out and continued to argue with us that she, being our waitress was not responsible for service standards. It was really shameful and even worse because the manager or head waiter was standing right there watching the entire thing. I say that it is all a shame because the food we did have was really really good! Our last night on board we waited until late and ate at the Sushi bar in Nobu. It was an amazing experience. The Sushi chefs were entertaining and spoiled us rotten the entire time we were there. The bistro cafe was one of our favorite places. We spent a lot of time in there. Cheeses and pastries were decadent. You could piano trickling up from Crystal Cove below which just added to the relaxation. Activities---- Shore Excursions were top notch on our last sailing, but this time very disorganized and overcrowded. They varied in quality wildly. Kids. Kids. Kids. I wish that we had arranged excursions on our own as it would have made such a difference in our experience of these remarkable cities. Spa- tried to book the couples massage, but the room was unavailable. My husband and I chose to have separate massages at the same time. Very relaxing and pleasant experience from check-in to massage. We loved our massages. However, I was displeased when at the end of my massage and about to get dressed, she presented with a slip to sign if I wanted to give her an extra tip (on top of the automatic gratuity amount) and a sales pitch to buy anti-cellulite products. Sorry, but no. Cabin We booked a verandah cabin 9009. Very comfortable bed and cozy room. Roomy bathroom with double sinks and a generous sized shower tub combo. Plenty of space to spread out and relax. I usually love to keep my door open to listen to the water, but not able to do so as my neighbor had their tv on quite loud and it would drift into our cabin. This also made breakfast on the verandah sometimes difficult as I was forced to listen to their tv if I wanted to sit outside. The housekeeper was very nice. Friendly and always smiling. The Aveda products are not replenished throughout the trip. We never had a fresh fruit bowl despite asking on the first day. The sodas and waters in the minibar were never restocked unless we called room service and asked for it to be done. Room service- top notch service. No matter what time I picked up that phone and asked for something, and no matter what I asked for, it was always delivered quickly and with a friendly smiling face. Bernie was our steward most of the time and he's truly dedicated and hard working. I cannot say enough about these hard working crew members. Of all the extra gratuities we paid at the end of the cruise, a large majority went to the room service crew. My morning breakfast was always delivered punctually and made the start of the day wonderful. With such awful service elsewhere on the ship you can really see the Crystal standards upheld by them. I give room service a standing ovation. This brings me to another point. The front desk customer service. One day after coming back from 6 hours of hell on a shore excursion, I attempted to take an afternoon nap. A horrible banging sound started up and continued to escalate. It was metal upon metal. When a second hammer joined in, I called the front desk. The guy who answered the phone said that he would "look in to it." After 20 minutes and there was no abatement to the noise I called again. A female answered the phone and said that she would look into it. Another 20 minutes and the racket is intolerable. I get dressed and go downstairs to the promenade deck and notice immediately the workers on ladders banging metal hammers on the metal ship beneath our cabin. I proceed to the front desk where I told them exactly what was causing the noise. Finally, over an hour after it started the noise was stopped. Why could these things not be done while guests are off the boat for the majority of the day? There was no apology or concern over my visible displeasure. My husband, who does not have the same exacting standards that I do, was quite disappointed overall. He would be more open to going back on Crystal at some point ( for Nobu), however we will be definitely be sailing on alternative luxury cruise lines first. Read Less
Sail Date August 2014
My partner and I have served back to back tours in Afghanistan, so we wanted to make my R & R leave extra special, given that we haven't seen each other a lot these last two years. I also didn't have a lot of time to plan ... Read More
My partner and I have served back to back tours in Afghanistan, so we wanted to make my R & R leave extra special, given that we haven't seen each other a lot these last two years. I also didn't have a lot of time to plan things, so we thought a cruise was the logical choice. We chose Crystal Cruises because I like a more formal atmosphere. In that aspect, Crystal delivered. The women always dressed stunning on the ship on formal nights -- even on some casual ones. The men were always at least in suits on formal nights, but many more wore tuxedos, which was nice. We found the following things to be especially good about the cruise: 1. The service. We can't say enough about how willing the staff were to cater to your needs and how cheerfully they did so. 2. All inclusive. We could not possible have eaten or drank anymore. And all inclusive does not give you rail drinks. It gives you pretty much anything short of Louis XVII Cognac, which they have for an upcharge. Glenlivet or Glenfiddich, though? It's on the house. 3. Food. Prego and Silk Road are always booked, yes, but both made for a special experience. Book them early, and don't expect more than one seating at each. It won't disappoint you that much, though, as the Main Dining Room fare is excellent and varies each night. 4. Friendly cruisers. We met many interesting people and shared plenty of great conversations. We didn't encounter any bias as a gay couple, at least we didn't perceive any. 5. Avenue Saloon and the Connoisseur Club. The Avenue Saloon was by far the best bar on the ship. The piano player was great. The Connoisseur Club was my favorite room on the ship. If you like cigars, it is amazing. Though I might suggest bringing your own cigars (prices were a bit high), their premium alcohol prices (30, 40 year old cognacs, etc.)were very reasonable. A couple of minor complaints, neither of which will deter us from cruising wiht Crystal again: 1. The internet. We realize that it's a cruise and there are logistical issues to getting connectivity. Perhaps these issues are so great that the charges and problems with the internet onboard are justified. But it seemed overly expensive. $50 got you two hours of internet and $200 got you 10 hours. That's pretty steep, even if you have the money to pay for it. All that aside, it didn't even work half the time. 2. Demographics. I don't know if its always this way on Crystal, but the crowd seemed very old. We expected an older demographic, but this group seemed to be 65 or even 70 plus, with a small smattering of other ages. I heard some comments from some of the older patrons to this effect that the crowd seemed older than usual, so perhaps this was an anomaly. Like I said, we had a wonderful time, but we feel the cruise could benefit from a more mixed crowd. Read Less
Sail Date March 2012
Allow me to qualify the following by stating unequivocally that Crystal provides the best service, food and cruising experience one will ever have. After a personally challenging 2011, I was so ready for this cruise, I was packed a week in ... Read More
Allow me to qualify the following by stating unequivocally that Crystal provides the best service, food and cruising experience one will ever have. After a personally challenging 2011, I was so ready for this cruise, I was packed a week in advance. We left a few days early to explore Lisbon which was worthwhile, but finally Thursday afternoon arrived and we readied for the cruise. Embarkation was as easy as it gets. As we walked up the gangway, we were greeted with flutes of champagne & smiling faces. Our C-category cabin was perfect since we spend minimal time there. I was amazed at the the amount of storage, drawers and shelves, especially in the bathroom. The plan was very well thought out. The daily REFLECTIONS offered so many events, we were busy from 7:00 am and onward, starting at the gym, breakfast and then a continuum of talks, trivia, lessons and movies. OR you could just relax and watch the beautiful Crystal passengers sachay by. I must comment that the women dressed beautifully. St. John knits, Chico's and other designers were commonplace. Formal nights featured beautiful gowns and all the men looked so handsome in their tuxedos!!! The food was consistently very good to excellent. The waiters, asst. waiters and wine steward were very attentive & always behaved in a professional manner. I was very disappointed in PREGO. They tried too hard and the Italian food was nothing like I know. Lasagne made with bechamel sauce??? I ordered osso buco & it was so full of carrots & vegetables, I sent it back. Also, our waiter seemed rather rushed. I also heard same from our table companions. People were underwhelmed. The guest speakers were marvelous and very well versed in their individual subjects. Bill Miller spoke on the history of cruising. His presentations were excellent and to the point. I learned a lot. Bill Boggs dovetailed off his career as a talk show host and spoke about the celebrities he interviewed over the years. He concentrated on Frank Sinatra because Sinatra was his favorite. But my personal favorite was former FBI profiler, Clint Van Zandt. His talks attracted so many people, it was SRO. He was unbelievably interesting,approachable and his wife, Diane, was very sweet. I did not attend any of Dr. Ruth Westheimer's lectures although I heard from others they were also very good. Our cabin steward, Reema, was average to good. She tended to be a bit forgetful but she seemed overwhelmed. I found I had to ask her for things which automatically would've been provided by a more experienced steward. She was very polite and agreeable to any request. Comparing her to the woman we had on the Harmony, Reema needs more training in the small details perhaps. The nightly entertainment was good but not exceptional. A featured dancing/singing troupe entertained us with Broadway hits one night, Rodgers & Hammerstein the next and other dance numbers. An Irish flutist and a professional guitar player filled in. I realize that Crystal is not for everyone, but I can state that this is one of the few cruises in the world where you get what you pay for. From the moment you walk on board, it's all about YOU. I would rather go on one Crystal cruise than five of any other cruises. Crystal clients are refined, employees are always trying to please, the food is delicious and they even provided a rainbow for us to sail under one morning (see picture). Crystal thinks of everything!!! ADDITIONAL NOTE: CASABLANCA is a port not mentioned but one visited. We took a terrible tour led by a terrible little old man who did not let us enter any of the buildings or mosques he took us to nor did he offer explanations. The worst part was when he guided us aimlessly through the dangerous alleyways and sewage ridden streets of old Casablanca. I wouldn't risk anyone going through these paths filled with feral cats and ominous looking people. We felt like sacrificial lambs. As usual, after people lodged complaints, Crystal refunded half our money (so classy!). I have since written a letter to HQ recommending to remove Casablanca from their itinerary. I do not blame Crystal in this instance. I believe they were lied to and these excursions were a complete sham. Read Less
Sail Date December 2011
"Moonlight Crossing" Transatlantic Big Band Cruise Lisbon to Miami November 9 - November 19, 2007 BACKGROUND This was my first cruise on Crystal Serenity, after five on sister ship Crystal Symphony. Understandably, It is ... Read More
"Moonlight Crossing" Transatlantic Big Band Cruise Lisbon to Miami November 9 - November 19, 2007 BACKGROUND This was my first cruise on Crystal Serenity, after five on sister ship Crystal Symphony. Understandably, It is tempting to compare the two ships - more about that later. I chose this cruise primarily because of the big band theme, Crystal's only one in 2007, but also because I enjoy sea days more than hopping from port to port. It was my third cruise with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, one of the few "ghost bands" living up to their name. Unlike several previous years and 2008, the 2007 crossing did not conflict with the American Thanksgiving holiday which I like to spend with my family. I booked the cruise through my regular travel agent, using an open booking I had made on my previous cruise, and selected a Category C cabin on Deck 7. Unlike Symphony, Serenity doesn't have any lower priced, restricted view cabins, since lifeboats are stowed at a lower level. There are no inside cabins on either of Crystal's Ships. I normally select an inexpensive cabin, since as a solo traveler about the only time I spend there is sleeping and preparing for the next on-board or shore activity. About a month before sailing, Crystal notified my travel agent that they were upgrading me to a Category B cabin with verandah on Deck 8. Although you don't get a lot of use out of a veranda on sea days in the Atlantic in November, it was nice to have it when we were in port in the Azores and Bermuda. PRE-CRUISE AND EMBARKATION My travel agent has a contract rate with Swiss International Airlines, so I used her air arrangements, rather than Crystal's air-sea program. Even after adding the cost Lisbon taxis and a Miami-Boston flight at the end of the cruise, it was still considerably cheaper than Crystal's air. It had the added advantage of connecting through Zurich, one of the world's few remaining civilized airports, instead of London, Frankfurt, New York, or Washington. As is my usual practice, I flew to Lisbon a day early, and the overnight Boston-Zurich flight was as comfortable as any economy class transatlantic can be; we arrived in Zurich about 40 minutes early. The connecting flight to Lisbon was a Swiss/TAP Portugal code share and operated more or less on time. About the only disadvantage of connecting through Zurich is that because Switzerland is not a European Community member, you don't clear EEC passport control until arrival in Lisbon. The international arrivals area at Lisbon airport is not very efficient - poor signage and only two desks handling non EEC passengers, so it took me about an hour to get through. passport control. It turned out not to matter, as baggage was just starting to come in when I got to baggage claim. There are several conveniently located ATMs just outside customs and plenty of taxis, so I was in my hotel by mid afternoon. Taxi from airport to central Lisbon was less than €15, including add-ons for bags, €0.80 each as I recall. In the past I have stayed at the Hotel Miraparque, a pleasant boutique style hotel opposite the Eduardo VII park. However, it was fully booked, so I had booked the nearby Best Western Hotel Eduardo VII. Nothing fancy, but a very comfortable bed, all I really wanted at this point, and a good included breakfast the next morning in the pleasant roof-top restaurant. Also, the price was hard to beat - less than $80 total, booked and prepaid through an on-line travel service. The next morning I went for a leisurely walk through the park and stopped at Crystal's hospitality desk in the Meridian Hotel, where I learned that check-in and embarkation would start at 12:30. Taxi to the port cost about €6. As usual, at check-in I ran into and chatted with several people I knew from previous cruises, including fellow passengers, a couple of Ambassador Hosts, orchestra leader Buddy Morrow, and trumpeter "Flea" Campbell, so the short wait passed quickly, with check-in actually starting shortly after noon. By 1:30 I was having a pleasant lunch in the Crystal Dining Room. Since cabins wouldn't be available until a little later, Crystal had set up a temporary baggage check system for hand baggage passengers didn't want to lug around the ship, and my carry-on bag was then delivered directly to the cabin. As far as I can recall, this is a service that neither Cunard nor Holland America provide A regular Cruise Critic contributor, who had also been on board for the previous cruise, had arranged a Cruise Critic get together in the Palm Court at sail-away time to allow CC members to get to know each other. There was a minor glitch when onboard Guest Services forgot to send out invitations, but most of us found our way there anyway. This actually resulted in a small bonus - Guest Services hosted another CC party later in the cruise. THE SHIP Much of what follows is familiar to Crystal regulars, but may be of interest to readers considering their first Crystal cruise. First of all, Crystal is a luxury cruise line, by no means cheap. However, I believe the old clichE "you get what you pay for" certainly applies. Crystal is also more singles friendly than most other lines, with single supplements as low as 25% for standard cabins and plenty of male dance hosts for solo lady guests. In the not-too-distant past Serenity would have been considered a large ship, but in today's market she is in the medium size category, with a maximum passenger load of ll00 lower berth passengers. Both passenger space ratio (approximately 62 square feet per passenger) and crew/passenger ratio ( 1 crew member per 1.6 passengers) are some of the highest in the industry, considerably higher than even boutique lines like Seabourn and Seadream and large luxury ships like Queen Mary 2. As a result, the ship never feels crowded and service is second to none. About the only items not included in the cruise fare are alcohol and personal items like spa treatments, hairdressers, laundry and shore excursions. Want a bottle of water to take ashore, or a cappuccino to take with you to a lecture, or a soft drink from a bar? Just ask and you'll receive it immediately! While not large, the standard cabins are comfortable and attractively furnished. I only have experience with Crystal's standard ocean view cabins and similar veranda cabins on both ships, so can't comment on suites and penthouses. There is good storage space, both drawers and hanging space, more than I need as a solo passenger and certainly adequate for most couples. Bathrooms are well equipped, including counters with two basins, tub-shower combination, hair dryers, and good cabinet space. Furnishings include twin beds that can be made up as a queen, a love seat that also provides storage for life jackets, vanity/desk, TV, safe, and well-stocked fridge, free except for alcohol. On the first day your cabin stewardess will ask if you have any special requests for the fridge and what fruits you prefer in your cabin fruit basket. Public areas throughout the ship, which include the Crystal Dining Room, Stardust dance club, the high-up, forward Palm Court, the Lido, and the Bistro, a favorite spot for a quick coffee, snack or late risers' breakfast. My favorite late-night venue is the Avenue Saloon, where, I must admit, I'm one of the night owl regulars who close the place lots of nights. No need for me to go into details about the public areas - just about anything a reader wants to know can be found on Crystal's website, www.crystalcruises.com. Gratuities: unlike many other cruise lines, Crystal does not automatically add standard gratuities to on-board accounts. Except for bar drinks, where a 15% gratuity is added, tips are at your discretion, but conveniently can be added to your onboard account by filling out a form a few days before the end of the cruise. This can be done not only for cabin and dining room staff, but anybody else you may wish to reward for good service, from maitre d' to bar staff. For example, as I mentioned, I spend a lot of time in the Avenue Saloon, but for medical reasons I consume little alcohol, so bar staff would receive no gratuities for serving me soft drinks or water - 15% of nothing is nothing! So, I normally designate an amount for Avenue Saloon staff on my gratuities form. Of course, you can also give cash tips if you wish. As noted later, I ended up at several different tables for dinner, but the front desk assured me that the dining room staff kept them informed of all table changes and dining room gratuities were apportioned accordingly. Also, being a bit suspicious by nature, I had previously wondered if the gratuities charged to my onboard account actually went to the staff; on a previous cruise several staff members assured me that these gratuities were credited to their shipboard accounts almost immediately. As a first timer on Serenity, it is tempting to compare her with Symphony, but this has been discussed at length on the Cruise Critic message boards so no need to repeat it here. For further ship comparisons, see http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=664521&highlight=Symphony+Serenity I agree with many or most of the message board posters that the ships are equally excellent; my future cruise plans will continue to be based on schedule, itinerary, and theme, not which ship is operating a particular cruise. However, like most, I do have a few items I prefer on one ship over the other, including: Serenity: the slightly larger staterooms and their furnishings - love seats instead of Symphony's infamous chairs; the conventional bathroom fixtures; the more spacious Palm Court with its larger dance floor Symphony: the new openness and lightness of the Starlite, as compared to the rather dark Stardust on Serenity; the more intimate atmosphere of the Avenue (but it does get smoky in there); the main atrium, although I understand Serenity's will be upgraded at next dry docking; layout of the Bistro, although it can't accommodate as many people as Serenity's. Everything else is equally excellent, including the staff and service. DINING I had, as usual, requested seating at a large table and the first night found myself at a table for six, with an English gentleman I knew from a previous cruise and four ladies. However, by the second night the ladies had disappeared for various reasons, so I requested that I be moved to a larger table with people who usually had dinner in the dining room. After a couple of false starts, Maitre d' Leo Asmair was able to seat me at a table with an interesting group for the rest of the voyage. I normally have breakfast and lunch in the Crystal Dining Room, with open seating for these meals. I tend to avoid cafeteria lines on ships - I can do that at home - and I also find it a bit easier to exercise willpower when choosing from a menu than being tempted by a buffet! Usually there aren't many people in the dining room at breakfast, so I ended up having a quiet breakfast alone, but I was often able to be join a large table for lunch and met quite a few new people that way. There are other breakfast and lunch alternatives, including the Lido, the Bistro, poolside Tastes, and the Trident Grill. Normally there are also several theme buffets on Lido deck. All have been excellent the few times I have tried them on this and previous Crystal cruises. The two alternative restaurants on Serenity are Prego and Silk Road. I had not frequented the alternative restaurants on previous cruises, since I didn't want to dine there alone and was too lazy to put together a group. However, Crystal has introduced a new feature called "Table for Eight" for singles and couples, at least once on each cruise. I was able to join this table, which actually ended up a table for eleven, for dinner in Prego one night. I wouldn't say that the food is better than in Crystal Dining Room, which would be hard to beat, but the menu does offer quite a few specialty items not found on the dining room menus. I particularly enjoyed the special mushroom soup, served in a bread bowl. Service was impeccable and I'll certainly try this again on future cruises. I also enjoyed before dinner appetizers at the first-come, first-served sushi bar in Silk Road. I was pleased to learn later that the Symphony's Jade Garden is being converted to a Silk Road with sushi bar. Unlike many cruise lines, there is no extra charge for the alternative restaurants except a suggested $7 per person gratuity which can be charged to your shipboard account. One other not-to-be-missed meal experience is the Grand Gala Buffet which seems to be offered on each cruise, although I'm not sure if it is on short, seven-day cruises. An amazing array of food is set up in the Crystal Cove, offering everything from mountains of cold appetizers, a choice of hot entrees and, of course, salads, desserts and cheeses.. It's hard to resist going back several times! Once you have made your choices, you can either carry your plate into the dining room, or there will be a steward waiting to carry it for you. Afternoon tea is served daily in Palm Court, sometimes with a particular theme. For example, staff dress in period costumes for the Mozart Tea. And, if you are still hungry after all of these meals, wait staff circulate through the various bars and lounges with finger food all evening. There is no late night buffet, nor is one needed. ENTERTAINMENT AND PROGRAMS My main reason for choosing this cruise was the big band theme and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. The band is led by Buddy Morrow, now in his 80s, who played with many of the big bands, including the Dorseys, during the big band era. Another big band old timer, "Flea" Campbell was in the trumpet section. "Flea" had led the band on one of my previous cruises when Buddy was ill, and I believe that he and Buddy are the only two current band members who actually played with the Dorseys. The side men are all first rate musicians, as is the male singer, and it would be hard to tell their sound from that of the original band. They played most nights from 9:30 to midnight and on one occasion also performed in Crystal Cove earlier in the evening. Many of us found the acoustics in the Cove better than in Palm Court, but it does not have enough dance floor or seating space to do this regularly. On the other hand, Palm Court works well for these performances, with a good-size dance floor - larger than on many ships two or three times the size of Serenity. The excellent Crystal Sextet also played nightly for dancing before and after dinner, either in the Starlite or Palm Court, so dancing opportunities were unlimited. The Sextet had recently moved to Serenity after home leave and a stint on Symphony. Band members are all Filipinos (I don't think I've ever met a non musical Filipino) and girl singer Poauline Toledo is excellent. The sextet plays a wider range of dance music, including Latin, while the Dorsey band concentrates mainly on the foxtrot, swing and occasional waltz which were most common in the big band era. Unlike some other cruise lines, Crystal provides Ambassador Hosts on every cruise to dance with the many unattached ladies (or ladies whose husbands don't dance). There were six hosts on this cruise instead of the usual four, undoubtedly because of the number of unattached lady dancers the big band theme attracts. Pianist Joe Foss played in Crystal Cove both at lunch time and the evening cocktail hour. He has an amazing repertoire, all from memory. I once asked him if he had a set program and he told me that he doesn't, just decides what to play next as the mood strikes him A second excellent lounge pianist, Colin Salter, whom I hadn't encountered previously, played nightly in the Avenue Saloon before and after dinner. There were five different production shows in the Galaxy Lounge. I didn't attend any because I had seen three of them at least once before, and the schedule conflicted with that of the Dorsey band. I did attend pianist Naki Ataman's "Around The World" program, even though I had seen it before. This is a non stop, one hour audiovisual tour of the world.. I also attended comedian Bruce Smirnoff's performance. I enjoyed it, although I suspect some of his Jewish humor was over the heads of audience members who had not been exposed to it as I was growing up in the New York area. There was a full schedule of daytime activities, especially on the many sea days, ranging from lectures to a wide variety of educational opportunities. A favorite of mine is big band theme lecturer Loren Schoenberg and I attended all of his talks. Loren is Executive Director of the American Jazz Museum in Harlem, author of the NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Jazz, and has played with his own big band and with such notables as Benny Goodman, Benny Carter and Bobby Short. His knowledge of the jazz and big band world is encyclopedic, and no matter how many times you hear his lectures, there is always something new. As an added bonus Loren sat in for some sax solos with the Dorsey band on several occasions and also played piano one night in the Avenue in an impromptu trio of himself and the Dorsey band's drummer and bass player. Other lecturers included destination lecturer Dr. H.J. de Blij, caricaturist Ken Fallin, and former NASA space program photographic consultant Richard Underwood. I didn't attend many of their lectures, but those that I did or caught on the cabin TV rebroadcasts were informative and interesting. Dance instructor Stacey Huston's classes on sea days were very well attended and she is an excellent instructor. Normally there is a dance team couple on all Crystal cruises, but Stacey was working alone because her partner was not available to join the ship until we reached the USA. She did an impressive job with the large dance classes, assisted only by the Ambassador Hosts. I didn't attend many of the classes because of conflicts with other activities and, frankly, most were a bit basic for me. I did, however, have the the pleasure of dancing with Stacey several times at evening events, as I was one of only two or three unattached men who danced. One thing that always puzzles me about these cruises that large numbers of passengers participate in the dance classes, but you see very few of them during evening dance sessions. As usual, I joined a trivia team the first sea day, and also as usual, trivia became quite competitive as the cruise progressed and the number of teams increased. Our team was getting quite frustrated finishing second, several times after tie breakers, but we finally did manage to win one day. Of course there were lots of other sea day activities, including the Computer University at Sea and bridge, art, keyboard, and Spanish instruction. I can't comment on these, not having participated - maybe I'll try the keyboard instruction next year, which should be challenging, since I had the last of my few piano lessons in 1942. In summary, the biggest problem with the on-board program is deciding which events to attend. THE CROSSING This was by far the smoothest of my thirteen transatlantic crossings, on ships ranging from Navy transports to large and mid size cruise ships to the QE2. I recall only one afternoon where there was any appreciable motion of the ship, but of course roughness is often in the eye (or stomach) of the beholder. I know that there are a lot of cruisers who disagree with my definition of rough seas: it's only rough if you can't stand up without hanging onto something. At one point I did comment that I have seen the lake near my house rougher. There were only two ports of call, Ponta Delgada in the Azores and an overnight in Bermuda. All the rest were sea days. Although I had previously visited Ponta Delgada, I had only walked around the town, so this time I decided to take a low-effort shore excursion, the half day "Ribeira Grande Visit and Fire Lakes Views" tour. First stop was at a pineapple plantation, probably unique because all growing is in green houses, the Azores not being tropical enough for outdoor growing like in Hawaii. The guided tour took us through the whole production process, from propagation to harvest. The remainder of the excursion consisted of a scenic ride through the mountains, with several stops at scenic observation points, ending back at the ship in time for lunch. I didn't spend any time in town because I'm not much of a shopper and, I believe, many shops were closed because it was Sunday. Our second and final port of call was an overnight in Bermuda. Although the itinerary lists Hamilton as the port, Serenity and most if not all other cruise ships now dock at King's Wharf in the Royal Dockyard. I understand that cruise ships are no longer allowed to dock in Hamilton because of the waterfront redevelopment project. I had booked the "Railway Trail Bike & Cruise Tour" but unfortunately the tour operators decided to cancel it because of blustery, showery weather. So, I decided to just walk around Hamilton, which I know quite well. Crystal provided complimentary ferry service into Hamilton, about 30 minutes away, but I opted for the commercial ferry because of its more frequent departures. I believe it only cost $2 or so. I learned a little about the ambitious plans for the redevelopment of the Hamilton waterfront, which will open up the view from Front Street by replacing the current warehouse type structures with green areas, shops and up-scale housing. The plan, a copy of which is available at City Hall, also calls for two piers at opposite ends of the waterfron, where smaller ships will be able to dock. I hope to live to see it finished, but it is a long-term project. I took the bus back to the Dockyard, a scenic trip along the coast. Bermuda has an excellent public bus system, serving all parts of the islands. I believe they still offer an economical day pass - check with the tourist office at the Hamilton ferry terminal. There has been a lot of development since I first visited the King's Wharf on QE2 in 1999. A second wharf is under constriction, one of the former dockyard buildings has been developed into a shopping mall, and one of the "Dolphin Encounter" centers is also located there. Other Dockyard facilities include the Maritime Museum, Bermuda Arts Center, and the Crafts Market, all within walking distance of the ship. Public ferries from the Dockyard also serve several other Bermuda locations, including the town of St. Georges, my favorite spot in Bermuda. I had planned to go over in the afternoon, but showers and blustery winds moved in just as I got back from Hamilton, so instead spent the afternoon exploring the Dockyard a bit and relaxing on board. We did have one incident of unplanned excitement while docked. A little before midnight, while many of us were still enjoying the Dorsey band in Palm Court, there was a "Code Bravo" PA announcement summoning fire-fighting teams, but no call for emergency procedures for passengers. A little later Captain Nergaard came on the PA to explain that there had been a small fire in a piece of engine room equipment, an economizer, which was quickly contained and extinguished. We all agreed that if the ship had to have a fire, it would be nice to be tied up at a pier instead of at sea. The next day, since I happened to know what an economizer is (it is essentially a device for recovering and re-using waste exhaust heat) I was glad to have a chance to discuss the incident further with Chief Engineer Keith Patterson, who explained that there is an economizer for each engine and the engine cannot be operated without it. I also learned that a repair crew was scheduled to board in Miami, with necessary parts, and make repairs during the next cruise. A CC regular on the next cruise later posted a message that damage had been less than expected and repairs had been completed quickly. Although not a threat to passengers, the fire did have one negative effect on many of us, as we learned the next day when the Captain and then the Cruise Director announced that the fire had made one engine inoperable, reducing our speed by a few knots and delaying our Miami arrival by several hours. Crystal's home office would handle any necessary flight rebooking for passengers with air booked through Crystal, and the on-board Concierge desk would assist those of us with independent air arrangements who needed to rebook. Also, ship-to-shore phone and internet service were to be free. A line formed immediately at the concierge desk and things were a bit disorganized at first - obviously this is not an everyday occurrence. However, before long two lines had been set up, one for the many of us booked on American Airlines, a second for other airlines. One thing that did delay the process a bit was that many only learned while in line that they would need two things for re-booking: their original booking confirmation number or locator code and a credit card to cover re-booking charges that there were sure to be. After a short delay some chairs were brought into the area for those waiting, and a CC member, the same one who organized the CC get together, set up a numbering system like the deli counter in your super market so we didn't have to stand in line. I thought I'd try to auction off my No. 3, but didn't get any offers. I was very impressed with the patience and good nature of Chief Concierge Sascha Spei and his staff dealing with both anxious passengers and airline passenger service reps at the other end of the phone line. I think they were on their feet and on the phone to at least 10 hours that day! Some re-bookings, including my own, requiring only a change to a later flight, were quick, but others took a lot of time. Those involving either international or transcontinental flights and, often, delaying departures until the day after arrival, required a lot more time to resolve. The worst case I saw was two ladies who were at the desk at least 45 minutes, largely because they couldn't make up their minds which of several alternatives to take. Sascha was able to quickly change my MIA-BOS noon flight to one at 6:00 PM, the only problem being that I would miss the last bus to NH and have to spend a night at one of the Logan Airport hotels. Obviously, any time you change an advance purchase ticket there is an airline re-booking fee and almost certainly additional fare, a total of about $300 in my case. Crystal announced in the disembarkation issue of "Reflections" that they would reimburse up to $250 for airline fees, although I believe they were under no obligation to do so, as cruise lines always have the right to alter itineraries and schedules. By the last evening on board, Crystal had revised and updated the disembarkation information and transfer schedules and delivered new color-coded baggage tags to my cabin. HOMEWARD BOUND We arrived in Miami per revised schedule. Passport checks for U.S. citizens were carried out on board, in the terminal for non US passport holders. Disembarking went smoothly, delayed only slightly by the time required for US authorities to clear all passengers and crew. Those of us who had booked Crystal transfers and who had evening flights were taken to the Airport Hilton where we were served a nice buffet lunch. There was also plenty of time for me to use the hotel's computer to check in for my flight and also to call my travel agent to book a hotel at Logan for that night. The AA terminal at the airport was the usual zoo. For those unfamiliar with the Miami airport, be advised that there is no curb-side check in, at least at AA, and airport police do not permit busses to stop long enough to hand luggage to passengers at curbside. Instead, all of the baggage is piled on baggage carts, and it is then a fight to get it back once inside the terminal. In our case, the porters were directed to two incorrect check-in areas before they let us have our baggage and check ourselves in. One of the airport ground staff insisted that even those of us with boarding passes had to check in at one of self-service kiosks, although it should only have been necessary to proceed to the baggage check-in position. It was easier to do it than to argue with them. A Crystal rep was present during this exercise, but airport staff paid no more attention to him than they did to us passengers. Because everybody was delayed at check-in, there were only short security lines, so once checked in I was in the gate area in plenty of time to pick up a snack for in flight. MIA-BOS flight was a little late due to late arrival of the aircraft but was otherwise uneventful except for a spell of clear air turbulence off the Carolina coast, rough enough for the captain to order the cabin crew to be seated for a while, but not unusual in the winter. After a night at the hotel, I caught the first morning bus to Concord, NH. Just to make things a bit more interesting, our first significant snowfall started about the time we got into NH, so I had the pleasure of driving the last 30 miles in snow - no problem, just a bit slow - and by mid afternoon I was home, having collected my dog and my accumulated mail, with plenty of time to finish preparing for the arrival of my family the next day for the Thanksgiving weekend. A few days after getting home I wrote to Crystal submitting not only my airline re-booking fees, but also for my hotel in Boston. I guess it should not have been a surprise when Crystal replied that although they would only reimburse $250, they would be happy to apply my total cost, a little over $400, to a future cruise fare or to onboard account on my next cruise in September 2008. That's Crystal! CONCLUSION Despite the minor glitches, this cruise fully met my expectations with Crystal, and Crystal will continue to be my first choice for cruising. I've already booked two 2008 cruises (Dover-New York back to back with New York to Montreal), and Crystal has whetted my appetite for 2009 with their recent publication of the '09 itineraries. To conclude, I don't think I can say it any better than Bill Miller of the World Ocean & Cruise Liner Society wrote in a recent article: "Crystal has been, and remains for me, the Rolls Royce of cruising, ocean travel at its best... If there is a seagoing paradise, it just might be on Crystal..." This review is a lot longer than I planned, but kept thinking of things to add. Comments or questions by e-mail are welcome. Read Less
Sail Date November 2007
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