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5 Crystal Southampton Cruise Reviews

This cruise on the Crystal Serenity (1,000 passengers) was a good fit for two of our travel goals: (1) lots of sea days and (2) lots of Ireland. Cruise V4322 started with four daily port stops, three of them in Ireland (Belfast, Dublin, ... Read More
This cruise on the Crystal Serenity (1,000 passengers) was a good fit for two of our travel goals: (1) lots of sea days and (2) lots of Ireland. Cruise V4322 started with four daily port stops, three of them in Ireland (Belfast, Dublin, Waterford). Then it was off across the North Atlantic with a further stop only at Iceland. PRE-CRUISE LOGISTICS Given the uncertainties of air travel, we always build in a “cushion day” to avoid missing the boat. We stayed at the Mercure London Bloomsbury this time, a comfortable boutique hotel (but not Crystal’s offering). Our room met our need for a spot to sleep and park for the day. Since cruise ships don’t tool up the Thames, downtown London is 70 miles from its port over at Southhampton. We booked Crystal’s bus for that long ride to the port, and had an uneventful check-in at the ship. When the fears that fuel the “cushion day” come to pass, we utter that “Thank god, we built in an extra day.” But usually we’re “stuck” with a day of waiting, and we’d sure consider pre-cruise shore excursions if Crystal sold more. They only had one this time, and it was only available if you took Crystal’s pre-cruise hotel package. Since lots of cruisers wisely build in that extra day, there’s probably a market here if Crystal cares to tap it more. And, per the Wall Street Journal, Crystal’s president is urging her crew to sell more shore excursions in hopes that the little two-ship line can double its earnings (see WSJ, 4-23-15). Our trips abroad really begin with the cushion day (whether or not we’re doing Crystal). In this case, our hotel was near the Tube (or Underground) and we did a quick ride over to Wimbledon. There we took the behind-the-scenes tour of the complex that hosts the tennis championships. (See www.wimbledon.com ) My wife is quite the sports fan. During a prior wait to board Serenity, we took the tourist bus in Barcelona over to the Olympic Stadium. (See www.museuolimpicbcn.cat ) And, if you’re a rabid soccer fan, a tour of the Camp Nou Stadium is also accessible from the tourist bus. (See www.fcbarcelona.com/camp-nou ) Once we had a cushion day in Edinburgh, and we hopped on the train to St. Andrews. On Sundays, you can walk the Old Course with the non-golfing public (not likely at Congressional or Augusta). Other days you can take a guided tour that focuses on the 1st, 17th, and 18th holes. (See www.standrews.com ) During the day-of-waiting, hotel concierges help us fill the gap with non-Crystal options that are memorable, economical, and convenient to access on our own. But once aboard the ship, we’ve seldom been able to get these kinds of local tips from Crystal’s staff. (This aspect of their “six star” service is apparently limited to signing you up for their contractor’s tours and, of course, for future Crystal cruises.) Nor I have found even high-end travel agents to be much help on this (though they assert access to some nebulous network of insiders around the planet). STATEROOM AND PUBLIC SPACES We’ve tried a few other brands that service some niche of the world (Tahiti, Hawaii). But we have cruised exclusively on the Crystal Serenity for some time now. In fact, this was one of four trips on the Serenity that we’ve taken during the past year. (We live in a very hot place, and people travel frequently for a break from it.) 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. It amazes us that we still keep discovering new spots to hang out around this ship. On this cruise, as before, we found the Serenity’s stateroom to be adequate and comfortable. The housekeeping service was thorough, attentive, pleasant, and dependable. But we really do these cruises for what’s beyond the stateroom (or what’s beyond the ship at the port stops). Despite all the promotion as “ultra-luxury” and “six” (or even “seven”) stars, we consider the Serenity to be a comfortable choice rather than a palace of perfection. We only expect that Crystal will promptly address any deficiency –- and most times they have. For instance, sometimes we’ve experienced a problem with the stateroom’s plumbing (a drain or a leak). Housekeeping promptly sends over a plumber, who promptly fixes it. We don’t expect the quick cosmetic makeovers in dry dock to prevent every imperfection in the staterooms of this gracefully-aging little ship. The Serenity is no longer young in cruise ship years, and even the iconic Love Boat eventually went to the scrapyard (or cruise ship heaven, if you prefer). And, per the Wall Street Journal, Crystal’s president says that “[a]s we acquire additional tonnage we will eventually phase out the other ships one at a time” (see WSJ, 4-23-15). We’ll continue to enjoy the Serenity as long as she’s with us. PASSENGER HEALTH AND SAFETY The Serenity gets periodic inspections by a federal agency, the Center for Disease Control. These 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. At the end of this cruise (Sept. 19 in Boston), we were eating on the Lido Deck and watched as the CDC inspectors did their checking. CDC’s public website shows that the Serenity scored a 93 on the inspection we witnessed. Some months later, we reboarded the Serenity for a cruise out of Miami (May 4, 2015). CDC returned for another inspection, though we didn’t actually see the inspectors this time. CDC’s website shows that the Serenity received a score of 88. This score is 3 points above CDC’s “not satisfactory” threshold of 85. CDC’s website still indicates that “[t]his cruise ship has not submitted their Corrective Action Report” (website visited 6-26-15). CDC’s website reports its inspections of the Serenity going back to 2003. Serenity’s lowest score was this 88 that it recently received in Miami. Ironically, Crystal sometimes gives its cruisers a “galley tour,” and we took the one offered on May 15 (that is, 11 days after the inspection). While we didn’t see anything of concern, we’re eaters of the seen rather than experts on the unseen. The CDC website shows that the Serenity’s five lowest scores all occurred after November 2012. Serenity scored better in the years prior to this, sometimes earning a 99 or 100. Per CDC’s website (visited 6-26-15), the agency has so far conducted over 100 inspections of cruise ships during 2015. Serenity’s score of 88 was among the six lowest scores. In contrast, Regent’s Seven Seas Navigator scored a 100 when it was inspected a few days later on May 7, 2015. And, of the 18 ships that have so far received a 100 during 2015, five were Carnival and five were Holland America (as of my visit to CDC’s website on 6-26-15). On the other hand, the year’s lowest score so far has been the 82 received by the Silver Shadow of the Silversea line. This means that CDC rated the ship as “not satisfactory” at the time of the inspection. Crystal is a tiny cruise line with only two ships. Two years ago, CDC investigated an outbreak of norovirus on Crystal’s other ship (the Symphony). In May 2013, CDC inspectors boarded the Symphony in Los Angeles and reported that 125 passengers (15%) had symptoms at some point during the cruise. You just never know what will pop up in the statistical tedium of a government website. Those inspection reports are all publicly available at www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp. You can read for yourself and discuss any item of concern with your doc that deals with travel health. This CDC program expectedly has its field office in Fort Lauderdale. In fact, the program just had its annual meeting with the cruise industry on June 22 in Miami. Though these inspections are an important (and transparent) service to consumers, I’ve surprisingly never heard a mention, pro or con, from experienced travel agents. DINING The only dining deficiency that we experienced is a sensitive one -- and a difficult one for Crystal to address. On some evenings, our dinner in the formal dining room was spoiled by a screaming toddler at a neighboring table of several generations. The disturbance didn’t self-correct, and we simply ate at other venues for a while. But we missed our tablemates on those nights and, in retrospect, now realize that we should have discreetly asked the maitre d’ for a solution that let us keep our table intact. Crystal’s president has expressed her understandable need for “making sure every berth is full every sailing” (WSJ, 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). While I understand the economic dilemma, I’m not sure how Crystal can prevent the dining problem that we faced for a while on this cruise. SHORE EXCURSIONS The Crystal Serenity is a good fit for those who like to study up and do their own thing at the port stops. There were six stops between London and Boston as this cruise wound its way across the Atlantic. Three of those stops were in Ireland (Belfast, Dublin, Waterford). A major reason that we booked this cruise was to continue our travel in that area. Like many Americans and Canadians, one of us is a bit Irish and likes exploring the immigration backstory. In fact, we stayed on Serenity for the next cruise (back-to-back) and saw Irish-related sites at Halifax and Saint John (see my review for Boston to Quebec). For those who prefer passive pampering to active research, rest assured that Crystal will round up the usual contractors for its shore excursions. In other words, you just get on the bus and “leave the driving to us” (as they used to say in those old Greyhound commercials). When they let you out, just keep your eye on the bouncing blue paddle at the head of the herd. My study of Irish history has gone on for a while and, not surprisingly, Crystal’s generic onshore offerings didn’t cover the arcane nuances that I wanted to check out. But one of the strengths of Crystal is the opportunity to write your own story, as they tout in their ads. So this time in Dublin, we toured the “famine ship” replica that is walkable from Crystal’s shuttle bus. (See www.jeaniejohnston.ie ) We’d previously toured the other famine ship about 15 miles out of Waterford. Your best access for this latter replica will be Crystal shore excursion WAT-G. (See www.dunbrody.com ) Much of the Irish immigration to North America started from the port down the coast at Cobh. The museum there (Cobh Heritage Centre) focuses on the famine ships and the Titanic (its last stop). Cobh is accessible when Crystal has a port stop at Cork (not this cruise). There’s a virtual tour of the museum at www.cobhheritage.com. For my purposes, the best stop on this cruise was Waterford. The Irish tourism in Waterford gets overshadowed by Dublin and Belfast. But if you walk and talk with the locals, you’ll piece together the saga of a general in the American Civil War who got his start here (Thomas Meagher). He went on to become a governor of early Montana, and then disappeared without a trace. To this day, no one knows for sure whether Meagher drowned, was murdered, or rode off to Canada to continue the Fenian fight for Irish independence. Though he was presumed dead in 1867, Montanans have never sighted a body, a grave, or a ghost. His life story reads like grand opera or How the West Was Won. Statues of a mounted Meagher with raised sword are found at both the beginning and end of his trail, that is, here in Waterford and in front of Montana’s capitol building. (See catherinegreene.com ) If playing history detective or back door tourist is your kind of thing, you can spend your port stop with Meagher in downtown Waterford. Crystal’s shuttle bus dropped us off right where he was born. (See www.granville-hotel.ie ) We then walked over to the local museum (Bishop’s Palace) that has an exhibit about him. (See www.waterfordtreasures.com ) Meagher designed Ireland’s flag, and a little down the street we saw the club where he first flew it. (See www.1848tricolour.com ) And, if you can get five miles out of town, you’ll find the Meagher family’s plot at Faithlegg Cemetery (minus the missing general). See www.russiansidetours.com/faithlegg-heritage-tour.html But most interesting of all is the Waterford building that was the family home during Meagher’s days as an Irish revolutionary (the 1840s). It’s now a good-tasting Thai restaurant, and we lucked out as I stood outside and read the historical marker. A local author happened along and introduced us to the owner, who gave us a full tour of the building. This included the second floor from which Meagher addressed the crowd outside, as the Crown was arresting him for urging revolt (like any good opera). See www.sabai.ie Meagher’s only armed battle with the Crown was quickly suppressed at the “Famine Warhouse,” which is over in Ballingarry (35 miles northwest of Waterford). The building has been preserved as a museum that tells the story of Meagher and his colleagues. (See www.slieveardagh.com/history/famine-warhouse; www.hiddentipperary.com/thomas-francis-meagher ) Meagher’s trial for treason took place in the still-used courthouse over at Clonmel (25 miles west of Waterford). The Queen commuted the original sentence of death & dismemberment to banishment in Tasmania. (I hope Crystal will offer a trip over to Clonmel and Ballingarry as a future shore excursion.) And when you reach Dublin (the next port stop), you can take the city bus and tour the old Kilmainham Jail (“the Bastille of Ireland”). The Crown kept Meagher there until he was shipped to the other side of the earth. (See www.heritageireland.ie/en/kilmainhamgaol ) Meagher didn’t like Tasmania, escaped to New York, and became an American. He fought as a general in the American Civil War and hobnobbed with Grant, Sherman, and Lincoln. After the war, he became an early governor of Montana. There are plenty of books out there that detail this final decade of his saga. And you can visit the last spot that anyone saw Meagher if you ever get to Fort Benton, Montana. Though it was once the head of steamboat navigation on the Missouri River, the Crystal Serenity probably won’t be docking there any time soon. Crystal’s shore excursions at Waterford have a brief brush with three Meagher-related sites. Crystal tour WAT-FB has lunch in the building where he was born (now the Granville Hotel). Tours WAT-B and WAT-FB include the Bishop’s Palace museum with its Meagher exhibit. Tour WAT-C goes to the Faithlegg House Hotel, which would be a half-mile walk to the Meagher family’s cemetery plot. We just walked Waterford on our own. However, if you want to hire a guide for a customized tour of Meagher sites, here are three locals that may do the honors: Jack Burtchaell (jburtch@iol.ie ); Anthony Kelly (email@anthonydkelly.com ); Deena Bible (russiansidetours@gmail.com ). And, if you want to study up even further, the best source that I’ve found for maps and books about Ireland is the Eason bookstore on O’Connell Street back in Dublin. (See www.easons.com ) SUMMARY This cruise on the Serenity, like our others, reinforces that this is truly a ship of choices -- rather than the pressured herding for which the industry is stereotyped. For independent travelers, it’s a good (but not perfect) platform to do your own thing at the port stops. Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
This cruise on the Crystal Serenity (1,000 passengers) was a good fit for two of our travel goals: (1) lots of sea days and (2) lots of Ireland. Cruise V4322 started with four daily port stops, three of them in Ireland (Belfast, Dublin, ... Read More
This cruise on the Crystal Serenity (1,000 passengers) was a good fit for two of our travel goals: (1) lots of sea days and (2) lots of Ireland. Cruise V4322 started with four daily port stops, three of them in Ireland (Belfast, Dublin, Waterford). Then it was off across the North Atlantic with a further stop only at Iceland. PRE-CRUISE LOGISTICS Given the uncertainties of air travel, we always build in a “cushion day” to avoid missing the boat. We stayed at the Mercure London Bloomsbury this time, a comfortable boutique hotel (but not Crystal’s offering). Our room met our need for a spot to sleep and park for the day. Since cruise ships don’t tool up the Thames, downtown London is 70 miles from its port over at Southhampton. We booked Crystal’s bus for that long ride to the port, and had an uneventful check-in. When the fears that fuel the “cushion day” come to pass, we utter that “Thank god, we built in an extra day.” But usually we’re “stuck” with a day of waiting, and we’d sure consider pre-cruise shore excursions if Crystal sold more. They only had one this time, and it was only available if you took Crystal’s pre-cruise hotel package. Since lots of cruisers wisely build in that extra day, there’s probably a market here if Crystal cares to tap it more. And, per the Wall Street Journal, Crystal’s president is urging her crew to sell more shore excursions in hopes that the little two-ship line can double its earnings (see WSJ, 4-23-15). Our trips abroad really begin with the cushion day (whether or not we’re doing Crystal). In this case, the Mercure was near the Tube (or Underground) and we did a quick ride over to Wimbledon. There we took the behind-the-scenes tour of the complex that hosts the tennis championships. (See www.wimbledon.com ) My wife is quite the sports fan. During a prior wait to board Serenity, we took the tourist bus in Barcelona over to the Olympic Stadium. (See www.museuolimpicbcn.cat ) And, if you’re a rabid soccer fan, a tour of the Camp Nou Stadium is also accessible from the tourist bus. (See www.fcbarcelona.com/camp-nou ) Once we had a cushion day in Edinburgh, and we hopped on the train to St. Andrews. On Sundays, you can walk the Old Course with the non-golfing public (not likely at Congressional or Augusta). Other days you can take a guided tour that focuses on the 1st, 17th, and 18th holes. (See www.standrews.com ) During the day-of-waiting, hotel concierges help us fill the gap with non-Crystal options that are memorable, economical, and convenient to access on our own. But once aboard the ship, we’ve seldom been able to get these kinds of local tips from Crystal’s staff. (This aspect of their “six star” service is apparently limited to signing you up for their contractor’s tours and, of course, for future Crystal cruises.) Nor I have found even high-end travel agents to be much help on this (though they assert access to some nebulous network of insiders around the planet). STATEROOM AND PUBLIC SPACES We’ve tried a few other brands that service some niche of the world (Tahiti, Hawaii). But we have cruised exclusively on the Crystal Serenity for some time now. In fact, this was one of four trips on the Serenity that we’ve taken during the past year. (We live in a very hot place, and people travel frequently for a break from it.) 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. It amazes us that we still keep discovering new spots to hang out around this ship. On this cruise, as before, we found the Serenity’s stateroom to be adequate and comfortable. The housekeeping service was thorough, attentive, pleasant, and dependable. But we really do these cruises for what’s beyond the stateroom (or what’s beyond the ship at the port stops). Despite all the promotion as “ultra-luxury” and “six” (or even “seven”) stars, we consider the Serenity to be a comfortable choice rather than a palace of perfection. We only expect that Crystal will promptly address any deficiency –- and most times they have. For instance, sometimes we've experienced a problem with the stateroom’s plumbing (a drain or a leak). Housekeeping promptly sends over a plumber, who promptly fixes it. We don’t expect the quick cosmetic makeovers in dry dock to prevent every imperfection in the staterooms of this gracefully-aging little ship. The Serenity is no longer young in cruise ship years, and even the iconic Love Boat eventually went to the scrapyard (or cruise ship heaven, if you prefer). And, per the Wall Street Journal, Crystal’s president says that “[a]s we acquire additional tonnage we will eventually phase out the other ships one at a time” (see WSJ, 4-23-15). We’ll continue to enjoy the Serenity as long as she’s with us. PASSENGER HEALTH AND SAFETY The Serenity gets periodic inspections by a federal agency, the Center for Disease Control. These 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. At the end of this cruise (Sept. 19 in Boston), we were eating on the Lido Deck and watched as the CDC inspectors did their checking. CDC’s public website shows that the Serenity scored a 93 on the inspection we witnessed. Some months later, we boarded the Serenity for a cruise out of Miami (May 4, 2015). CDC returned for another inspection, though we didn’t actually see the inspectors this time. CDC’s website shows that the Serenity received a score of 88. This score is 3 points above CDC’s “not satisfactory” threshold of 85. CDC’s website still indicates that “[t]his cruise ship has not submitted their Corrective Action Report” (website visited 6-26-15). CDC’s website reports its inspections of the Serenity going back to 2003. Serenity’s lowest score was this 88 that it recently received in Miami. Ironically, Crystal sometimes gives its cruisers a “galley tour,” and we took the one offered on May 15 (that is, 11 days after the inspection). While we didn’t see anything of concern, we’re eaters of the seen rather than experts on the unseen. The CDC website shows that the Serenity’s five lowest scores all occurred after November 2012. Serenity scored better in the years prior to this, sometimes earning a 99 or 100. Per CDC’s website (visited 6-26-15), the agency has so far conducted over 100 inspections of cruise ships during 2015. Serenity’s score of 88 was among the six lowest scores. In contrast, Regent’s Seven Seas Navigator scored a 100 when it was inspected a few days later on May 7, 2015. And, of the 18 ships that have so far received a 100 during 2015, five were Carnival and five were Holland America (as of my visit to CDC's website on 6-26-15). On the other hand, the year’s lowest score so far has been the 82 received by the Silver Shadow of the Silversea line. This means that CDC rated the ship as “not satisfactory” at the time of the inspection. Crystal is a tiny cruise line with only two ships. Two years ago, CDC investigated an outbreak of norovirus on Crystal’s other ship (the Symphony). In May 2013, CDC inspectors boarded the Symphony in Los Angeles and reported that 125 passengers (15%) had symptoms at some point during the cruise. You just never know what will pop up in the statistical tedium of a government website. Those inspection reports are all publicly available at www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp. You can read for yourself and discuss any item of concern with your doc that deals with travel health. This CDC program expectedly has its field office in Fort Lauderdale. In fact, the program just had its annual meeting with the cruise industry on June 22 in Miami. Though these inspections are an important (and transparent) service to consumers, I’ve surprisingly never heard a mention, pro or con, from even high-end travel agents. DINING The only dining deficiency that we experienced is a sensitive one -- and a difficult one for Crystal to address. On some evenings, our dinner in the formal dining room was spoiled by a screaming toddler at a neighboring table of several generations. The disturbance didn’t self-correct, and we simply ate at other venues for a while. But we missed our tablemates on those nights and, in retrospect, now realize that we should have discreetly asked the maitre d’ for a solution that let us keep our table intact. Crystal’s president has expressed her understandable need for “making sure every berth is full every sailing” (WSJ, 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). While I understand the economic dilemma, I’m not sure how Crystal can prevent the dining problem that we faced for a while on this cruise. SHORE EXCURSIONS The Crystal Serenity is a good fit for those who like to study up and do their own thing at the port stops. There were six stops between London and Boston as this cruise wound its way across the Atlantic. Three of those stops were in Ireland (Belfast, Dublin, Waterford). A major reason that we booked this cruise was to continue our travel in that area. Like many Americans and Canadians, one of us is a bit Irish and likes exploring the immigration backstory. In fact, we stayed on Serenity for the next cruise (back-to-back) and saw Irish-related sites at Halifax and Saint John (see my review for Boston to Quebec). For those who prefer passive pampering to active research, rest assured that Crystal will round up the usual contractors for its shore excursions. In other words, you just get on the bus and “leave the driving to us” (as they used to say in those old Greyhound commercials). When they let you out, just keep your eye on the bouncing blue paddle at the head of the herd. My study of Irish history has gone on for a while and, not surprisingly, Crystal’s generic onshore offerings didn’t cover the arcane nuances that I wanted to check out. But one of the strengths of Crystal is the opportunity to write your own story, as they tout in their ads. So this time in Dublin, we toured the “famine ship” replica that is walkable from Crystal’s shuttle bus. (See www.jeaniejohnston.ie ) We’d previously toured the other famine ship about 15 miles out of Waterford. Your best access for this latter replica will be Crystal shore excursion WAT-G. (See www.dunbrody.com ) Much of the Irish immigration to North America started from the port down the coast at Cobh. The museum there (Cobh Heritage Centre) focuses on the famine ships and the Titanic (its last stop). Cobh is accessible when Crystal has a port stop at Cork (not this cruise). There’s a virtual tour of the museum at www.cobhheritage.com. For my purposes, the best stop on this cruise was Waterford. The Irish tourism in Waterford gets overshadowed by Dublin and Belfast. But if you walk and talk with the locals, you’ll piece together the saga of a general in the American Civil War who got his start here (Thomas Meagher). He went on to become a governor of early Montana, and then disappeared without a trace. To this day, no one knows for sure whether Meagher drowned, was murdered, or rode off to Canada to continue the Fenian fight for Irish independence. Though he was presumed dead in 1867, Montanans have never sighted a body, a grave, or a ghost. His life story reads like grand opera or How the West Was Won. Statues of a mounted Meagher with raised sword are found at both the beginning and end of his trail, that is, here in Waterford and in front of Montana’s capitol building. (See catherinegreene.com ) If playing history detective or back door tourist is your kind of thing, you can spend your port stop with Meagher in downtown Waterford. Crystal’s shuttle bus dropped us off right where he was born. (See www.granville-hotel.ie ) We then walked over to the local museum (Bishop’s Palace) that has an exhibit about him. (See www.waterfordtreasures.com ) Meagher designed Ireland’s flag, and a little down the street we saw the club where he first flew it. (See www.1848tricolour.com ) And, if you can get five miles out of town, you’ll find the Meagher family’s plot at Faithlegg Cemetery (minus the missing general). See www.russiansidetours.com/faithlegg-heritage-tour.html But most interesting of all is the Waterford building that was the family home during Meagher’s days as an Irish revolutionary (the 1840s). It’s now a good-tasting Thai restaurant, and we lucked out as I stood outside and read the historical marker. A local author happened along and introduced us to the owner, who gave us a full tour of the building. This included the second floor from which Meagher addressed the crowd outside, as the Crown was arresting him for urging revolt (like any good opera). See www.sabai.ie Meagher’s only armed battle with the Crown was quickly suppressed at the “Famine Warhouse,” which is over in Ballingarry (35 miles northwest of Waterford). The building has been preserved as a museum that tells the story of Meagher and his colleagues. (See www.slieveardagh.com/history/famine-warhouse; www.hiddentipperary.com/thomas-francis-meagher ) Meagher’s trial for treason took place in the still-used courthouse over at Clonmel (25 miles west of Waterford). The Queen commuted the original sentence of death & dismemberment to banishment in Tasmania. (I hope Crystal will offer a trip over to Clonmel and Ballingarry as a future shore excursion.) And when you reach Dublin (the next port stop), you can take the city bus and tour the old Kilmainham Jail (“the Bastille of Ireland”). The Crown kept Meagher there until he was shipped to the other side of the earth. (See www.heritageireland.ie/en/kilmainhamgaol ) Meagher didn’t like Tasmania, escaped to New York, and became an American. He fought as a general in the American Civil War and hobnobbed with Grant, Sherman, and Lincoln. After the war, he became an early governor of Montana. There are plenty of books out there that detail this final decade of his saga. And you can visit the last spot that anyone saw Meagher if you ever get to Fort Benton, Montana. Though it was once the head of steamboat navigation on the Missouri River, the Crystal Serenity probably won’t be docking there any time soon. Crystal’s shore excursions at Waterford have a brief brush with three Meagher-related sites. Crystal tour WAT-FB has lunch in the building where he was born (now the Granville Hotel). Tours WAT-B and WAT-FB include the Bishop’s Palace museum with its Meagher exhibit. Tour WAT-C goes to the Faithlegg House Hotel, which would be a half-mile walk to the Meagher family’s cemetery plot. We just walked Waterford on our own. However, if you want to hire a guide for a customized tour of Meagher sites, here are three locals that may do the honors: Jack Burtchaell (jburtch@iol.ie ); Anthony Kelly (email@anthonydkelly.com ); Deena Bible (russiansidetours@gmail.com ). And, if you want to study up even further, the best source that I’ve found for maps and books about Ireland is the Eason bookstore on O’Connell Street back in Dublin. (See www.easons.com ) SUMMARY This cruise on the Serenity, like our others, reinforces that this is truly a ship of choices -- rather than the pressured herding for which the industry is stereotyped. For independent travelers, it’s a good (but not perfect) platform to do your thing at the port stops. Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
My wife and I just returned from a North Atlantic Crossing on-board Crystal Serenity. We have sailed Crystal Serenity many times and for us the overall cruising experience gets better each and every time. The crossing included stops at ... Read More
My wife and I just returned from a North Atlantic Crossing on-board Crystal Serenity. We have sailed Crystal Serenity many times and for us the overall cruising experience gets better each and every time. The crossing included stops at several ports, while also offering several days at sea in which to enjoy the ultimate in enrichment that is offered by Crystal Cruises on each and every sea day. Over 50 enrichment programs are offered in the morning and afternoon on sea days. This voyage also incorporate two different theme cruises; Food and Wine and a Golf Theme Cruise all into one. The evening also included lots of great entertainment including acts from land to complement an array of on board production shows. Cuisine was better than ever as we the outstanding service. The ship sailed at essentially a 100 percent occupancy rate but with lots of public room space you would never know it was full. This was an outstanding cruise and we look forward to returning to Serenity later in the year. Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
We decided that a Crystal Getaway would make the perfect Easter break, especially as Serenity would be visiting a favourite city, Bordeaux. This newly renovated ship is a favourite, and the latest makeover is truly elegant and stylish. ... Read More
We decided that a Crystal Getaway would make the perfect Easter break, especially as Serenity would be visiting a favourite city, Bordeaux. This newly renovated ship is a favourite, and the latest makeover is truly elegant and stylish. We embarked in Southampton, an easy train ride from our Midlands home, and were speedily whisked through embarkation, our luggage all taken care of, and ambled to the Pool deck to enjoy a freshly cooked meal, and celebrate with nicely chilled champagne. Naturally the toast was " to the good life" Soon after we had enjoyed a leisurely lunch, our cabin was ready, a pleasant , comfortable Deck 8 balcony cabin, with delightful neutral furnishings, quality bedding and cosy robes . Luggage had already been delivered, and our friendly efficient stewardess appeared to ask for any pillow preferences or special requests. She made sure that our order for champagne and fruit basket would be delivered later.m The spacious teak decks were then perfect for strolling in the Southampton sunshine, and later we enjoyed a swim in the warm pool. Now that there are few smoking areas, we were able to enjoy sitting in Cove bar as a pianist played and pre dinner drinks can be sipped in a smoke free atmosphere. As the sun began to sink, we enjoyed sitting in the gorgeous Palm court, looking out to sea as the ship slipped quietly out of port to the strains of " Wonderful World" sung by Louis Armstrong, Crystal's sailaway signature tune, and again , raised our glasses in a toast to Crystal cruises. Dining is of course, a major event on any cruise ship, but Crystal elevate it to high levels, wherever one chooses to dine. The brand new Modern menu in the Crystal dining room provided the most amazing menus we have enjoyed anywhere. Light, delicious, innovative and prepared beautifully. The sauces were amazing, the dishes creative , utterly appetising and yet did not leave you feeling over full. Naturally, the sommeliers assisted in suggesting delightful, quality wines to accompany such delights. We dined once in the speciality Prego, with attentive service,offering tried and tested Italian favourites, beautifully presented and so delicious. Since we were in port overnight , in Bordeaux, we opted for the more casual Tastes one evening, enjoying the tapas style menus, sharing dishes whilst seated under a lovely olive tree. As always, Crystal excel in the quality of entertainment and enrichment, with daily programmes of superb lectures, lessons and activities, but it is equally pleasant to sit by the pool, or on a sofa in a quiet spot, enjoying a book for the superb , well stocked library. More active passengers participated in sports, Nordic walking and golf lessons, and a large group enjoyed the excellent dance lessons on board, many practising their newly learned steps as the band played each evening. The evening entertainment highlight for us this short cruise was a one- off show, Serenity Pops, with a big band assembled from every musician on board, the orchestra, a Philharmonic sextet, soloists, and the delightful violin quartet who usually play genteel melodies for afternoon tea. It was a wonderful show, with musicians clearly enjoying demonstrating their considerable talents. As we drew into Lisbon, we felt a real wrench that we had to leave after such a short cruise,but are fortunate in knowing that we would be back soon.   Read Less
Sail Date April 2014
As a newbie to Crystal I was excited to experience my first luxury cruise. I had been looking at Crystal, Regent and Seabourn. I ultimately decided on Crystal due to the sail date, wonderful itinerary and the very reasonable cruise fare. I ... Read More
As a newbie to Crystal I was excited to experience my first luxury cruise. I had been looking at Crystal, Regent and Seabourn. I ultimately decided on Crystal due to the sail date, wonderful itinerary and the very reasonable cruise fare. I booked in September for the May 21 voyage on the Symphony called European Discoveries. This would also be the annual President's Cruise so the expectation of special events and programs was also an enticement. Highlights: -Great itinerary and the ports were all terrific. -All inclusive fare with alcohol and gratuities included. -Free Shuttle buses to town -No need to sign slips for a large variety of table wines wines and spirits. -Excellent customer service, the best we have had onboard any ship. -Treated same by the crew if you were in an ocean view room or a penthouse. -No speical treatment like priority tendering for those with elite status. -Pre booking shorex in advance but not charged until you are on the ship. -Bistro extra hours and quality of cheeses, cured meats, fruits and desserts. -Fellow passengers were interesting and great cruising companions. -Free laundry Lowlights: -Inconsistent food in the Crystal dining room. -High price for Crystal shore excursions (although the ones we took were excellent). -Crowding. As our cruise was sold out it was often hard to find a seat in the Lido for breakfast. -Enrichment program was weak. Too many lectures on the Middle East when presentations on WWII and the D-Day invasion would have been much more appropriate and interesting. -Terrible quality of the coffee in the Lido. -Mozart Tea was just ok. Tea was weak. Why can't Crystal serve loose leaf tea? We boarded the Symphony in Southampton on a Monday afternoon. Embarkation through security at the City Terminal was tedious. We had to keep showing our passports. Once onboard the ship the check in was completed which only took a few minutes. I don't think it was any faster to do it this way than in the cruise terminal. I am guessing that Crystal can save money by not paying as much for the port staff and would prefer to process people onboard the ship. Of course I could be wrong about that too. We had a category C Deluxe stateroom with large window. On my past 12 cruises I have always had a veranda and booked a window this time in order to save $1000 on the per person cruise fare. Our stateroom 7117 was located in the aft area of the ship. The window was quite large and during the day provided a great view across the Promenade Deck to the sea. You cannot see out of the window at night due to high intensity flood lights on the deck. With this being the only drawback we did not miss having a balcony at all. Our itinerary was very port intensive interspersed with 3 sea days. For a cruise with many more sea days the balcony might be nice so you can sit out during the day and also see out at night. Our category C (which is he same size as category D and E) stateroom was elegant and spacious. The Murano glass night table lamps and crystal mirror sconces were beautiful. Deck 7 where the Category C rooms are located has a lavender, cream and gold theme. I love lavender and was delighted! It was just a short walk out the door on Deck 7 to the outdoor area at the back of the ship and also just a short walk and elevator ride up to the Lido on Deck 11. The beds were very comfortable and had a top sheet and fluffy white duvets. I requested special pillows from among the 4 options on the pillow menu and was quite happy. Our room had plenty of storage, 15 drawers and a very nice closet with a motion activated light. The bathroom was a nice size with glass sinks. There was limited counter space. The shower was very steamy and was great for some of my wrinkled dresses. The only downside to the steam was that the room became very wet. The walls were absolutely drenched. A glass door instead of a curtain would be a welcome addition for the tub/shower. I would describe the look and feel of the Symphony as more understated elegance than beautiful. There was no "wow" factor to Symphony that can be found on several new builds. The Symphony entered service in 1995. There have been several refurbs since then including the one immediately following our voyage. Our favorite area of the ship was the layout of Decks 5 and 6. They were joined by a central sweeping staircase and provided a high class feel. The Bistro on deck 6 was another highlight with an excellent selection of specialty cheeses, cured meats, fruits and pastries. We made regular visits to the bistro during our cruise. The two specialty restaurants, Silk Road and Prego are available at no additional charge. We tried both and although Asian food is my favorite, we were not impressed with Silk Road and preferred Prego for its excellent Italian dishes. The carpaccio in Prego was fantastic. We both had pasta which was flavorful and well presented. Prior to the cruise immediately after final payment you can login in to Crystal's PCPC and book all you dining times in advance. I loved this and booked all our meals for either 7:15 pm or 7:30 pm. We met some guests who did not book in advance and were eating at times they found inconvenient. The food in the Crystal Dining room was hit and miss. Perhaps we made the wrong choices but we only had a few meals that we liked. The rest were as Simon Cowell would say, "forgettable". If I did not take photos I would have no memory of what we ate there. The lobster was excellent and I had several yummy desserts. However, a shrimp Cobb salad without any lettuce and a few unappealing fish dishes that were dried out left me disappointed. We had much better food off the ship than during our 11 night cruise. There were also a few buffets on the sea days. The Asia buffet seemed very Filipino and the Med buffet was horrific. I love Mediterranean food so this was a surprise. I ended up with a Reuben from the Trident Grill. At times our meals in the Crystal Dining Room felt very rushed. They served the food quickly and had us out the door on most nights between 8:15 pm to 8:30 pm. Our ports for the cruise were Southampton; La Coruna, Spain; Bilbao, Spain; St. Jean de Luz, France; St. Malo, France; Honfleur, France and Hamburg, Germany. It was a fantastic itinerary and we were fortunate to have excellent weather up until our arrival in Hamburg where it was drizzling. The seas were so smooth and I didn't have to wear my pressure wristbands at all. It was my first cruise where I was sad to disembark the ship. We booked our next Crystal Cruise while onboard for the beginning of 2014. We are eager to see the improvements made to Symphony in Hamburg following the recent refurb. The photos, especially of the new Palm Court (which previously looked like a retirement home) make 2014 seem a long way off. Overall we were very impressed with Crystal and look forward to future voyages. Ports: There is no option on the CC menu for many of our ports. In Bilbao, Spain we took the bus independently to San Sebastian. We had a long but fabulous day. Loved San Sebastian. The town is beautiful and we had the most amazing pinxtos lunch that we will remember for along time. We also visited La Perla Thalassotherapy spa and spent about 2 hours there doing the circuit and enjoying the hot pools. Rating would be a 4. For Saint Jean de Luz we were ultimately able to tender after a few tense moments with delays. We visited both St. Jean de Luz and Biarritz on a Crystal excursion which was fabulous. Both places had great shopping and restaurants. The history was fascinating. Would love to go back. Rating would be a 5. In St. Malo, France we tendered again but it was much easier. We took another Crystal excursion, this time to Dinan and Dinard. Had a great guide and really enjoyed it. I would rate it a 5. After our excursion we walked around the ramparts in St. Malo and had a delicious lunch at Brasserie du Sillon facing the beach. I rate this port a 5. Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
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