This was my first Crystal cruise, a short-notice, easy-going, well-priced, discounted test run cruise out of my home port I did solo before considering booking anything longer on this line with my husband. My goal was to compare it with other luxury lines I have been on a few times, including Silver Sea, Regent, Seabourn, and Hapag Lloyd’s Europa 2 (and I will soon also be trying the sister luxury ship MS Europa on HL). I have also cruised Holland America a couple times on special big group cruises (one more coming up in the fall), and with AMA Waterways, for just under a dozen cruises total since 2011. I have plans to continue cruising 3-4x/year, mostly on luxury lines, ocean or river (and possibly an expedition) as long as my health allows me to continue to do so (I am in my early 60’s with some chronic health problems). I have no loyalty to any particular line, as I continue to sample, so I have no biases, but then also do not usually get the great discounts and privileges loyalty programs bring, which can create a different perspective.
More extensive details of this overall worthwhile and pleasant cruise including some of my experiences are on Cruise Critic at the following site , on a communal thread started by frequent Crystal cruiser Keith1010 (who also wrote a separate formal review), called “Live from Crystal Serenity May 6, Coastal Vistas Voyage” (his thread also includes links to his blog which has many wonderfully detailed pictures he took of the ship and ports).
I start chiming into Keith1010’s thread periodically with my own commentary starting at post #31.
EMBARKATION: this took longer than I expected for a luxury cruise (1.5 hours from port arrival to my getting on), but on analysis of what happened I believe the problems were primarily due to San Francisco port and port worker issues, and mostly cannot be blamed on Crystal (details are in the thread)
DECOR AND ATMOSPHERE:
As with all luxury lines, the housekeeping in the cabin and pubic venues was immaculate, very clean, and public spaces were light and airy. Unlike on Seabourn, where most furniture is stiff though chic, I found the furniture in public venues on the Serenity to be much more comfortable, while still stylish. The mattress in my cabin was fantastic, even in stormy seas, the most comfortable I have had, soft and forgiving to my musculoskeletal problems.
FELLOW PASSENGER AND CREW DEMOGRAPHICS
The passenger mix on this itinerary appeared to be primarily English-speaking Americans and Canadians, but there were also quite a few Chinese and Japanese speakers. This was not surprising, given that the San Francisco and Vancouver areas have very large Asian descent populations, both native-born and immigrant. I did not hear many British or Australian accents, as I often heard on Silver Sea and on Seabourn (likely the short itinerary and long distance from home played a role here) . Other European accents and languages amongst passengers were not as common either. A passenger list was available from reception, which listed opt-in passengers' general place of residence (e.g., “California”, or “British Columbia”), thus providing general information about passengers if people chose to disclose, without breaching privacy. There was also a sizable group of people on board who had something to do with Crystal marketing or sales.
Most people were well-dressed in designer casual attire day and night, though some wore neat T-shirts and jeans, some put on coat and tie for dinner, and some ladies wore fancier outfits. No one looked like a slob.
The ship also appeared to be gay and lesbian friendly (passengers as well as personnel), as all luxury lines are these days.
I also noticed a Friends of Bill W. meeting option posted.
The cruise was over Mother’s Day, so although most passengers were middle-aged or elderly, there were some extended happy families on board celebrating. There were very few small children. Some passengers were in wheelchairs and appeared to be appropriately accommodated.
The crew were primarily Eastern European (various countries, based on their name tags, accents, and languages I recognized) with variable skill sets) or of Asian origin (e.g., there were quite a few well-trained Filipinos, who are also common on Silver Sea and Regent and Holland America).
QUALITY OF FOOD AND WINE
Overall, food and wine offerings were good, some exceptions. The included wines and champagne I tried (Jacquart) were almost all very drinkable to excellent, and I did not feel compelled to order more off a special wine menu, though might have done so if with my husband and thus able to finish a bottle in one sitting. Cocktails I had were also nicely done. Main dining room (MDR) dinner food was good, with excellent service, though my experience there was limited and the menus did not seem particularly original. MDR boarding lunch was not so good food or service-wise (see my comments on the thread), but again, limited experience. The Tastes small plates venue which I tried 3 times was my favorite, both for creative food and atmosphere (you dine as you look at the sea). Don't miss the dinner choice Arctic Black Cod and Lobster corn and fennel chowder! The Bistro small snack place was cute, even closer to a view of the sea, with running buffet selections of cold salmon, cheeses, and cookies throughout the day, and fancy coffees or other drinks. The Lido lunch buffet was decent if you knew what to get, and the American style breakfast buffet in the Lido appeared adequate. I was unable to get into the highly rated Japanese restaurant, and skipped Prego, the Italian restaurant, so I could go to Tastes again.
To start, I liked Crystal’s website, very organized, easy to navigate, compared with other luxury lines, solo prices were posted. I booked off the site into a window view cabin (got upgraded last minute to a balcony cabin), and also booked my excursions there. I might not have booked this cruise, on impulse, if the site were a problem (did not use my TA ).
Reception personnel were friendly and helpful. The cabin stewardess was terrific.
There is room for improvement in some dining room service personnel training, especially on organization, and attention to solo customers (see the thread for details).
Though I generally prefer classical music, or non-lounge modern music style entertainment, the non-classical major offerings on this cruise, which were Vegas and Broadway style, were fine (I went to 4 of 5 shows and enjoyed all, at various levels). It is clear Crystal puts great effort into productions. Pianist Jamie Fox did Billy Joel songs with a good band (nice horn section), and Lovena Fox enthusiastically belted out assorted soul and pop numbers. The acrobat duo Donovan and Rebecca was also fun to watch. There were many other minor entertainment offerings and activities I did not sample, e.g., a movie venue, Trivia, various lessons.
One hour internet per day was included in the cruise price, and it worked reasonably well throughout the cruise. I use internet a lot when I cruise (to connect to work, and also to read about things I see), so when in port, I also supplemented access using my existing cell service, which I would not have been able to do far out at sea. Internet could get expensive on Crystal, if not near ports, as there was no “unlimited” plan like Seabourn offers that makes up for slow service periods. Internet and its speed and cost is a challenge on all lines.
There were two listed speakers, one was an older former Newsweek journalist who talked about the upcoming U.S. presidential election, and other president issues, and one of whom talked about the ports. I would prefer not to hear opinions about contentious U.S. politics while on cruises, and would have preferred other talks, but I understand some people enjoy this sort of thing (discussions of politics are banned on Cruise Critic for a reason). These talks could also be heard on TV in your room, recorded.
SPA, GYM and CASINO — I did not sample these other than just walking by
PORTS AND EXCURSIONS
Astoria, Seattle, and Victoria, B.C. are all beautiful, colorful and worthwhile ports with many activity options. On the two excursions I took with Crystal, the buses were comfortable and the guides were fine, no problems (see the thread for some details). Excursion prices were reasonable and were well-organized.
COMPARED WITH OTHER LUXURY LINES, there are pros and cons:
SIZE: With about 1000 passengers, though not huge, the ship is bigger, less personal (at least for someone who is not a frequent guest). On the smaller English-language luxury ships, crew usually knew who I was (there they are trained to memorize 300-500 names and faces) and addressed me in a friendly manner by name, which did not happen here at all other than with my efficient and friendly stewardess. More importantly, my anonymity at times seemed to lead to service problems more often than it should have on a luxury line, especially when alone in dining venues (e.g., getting drinks and table service requests fulfilled and attention was sometimes challenging, and not infrequently, there was confusion for unclear reasons, not a luxury experience). Not uncommonly I felt like I was a burden on some of the non-smiling, busy or just chatting servers who ignored me. However, if I were a more frequent cruiser, or in a more expensive cabin, or on a VIP list, or more assertive in personality (or perhaps if I were with my husband), this issue would likely resolve itself.
DINING AND SERVICE : The larger size of this ship allows a greater number of dining venues to be open at varying times, which I welcomed, as I tend to be a “grazer” who is often interested in food in small amounts at unusual times rather than fixed time breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can start with 5:30 AM early risers coffee and danish or cereal, move on to a big American style breakfast buffet in the Lido until 10, or eat in the MDR, or have late risers food in Tastes or The Bistro, lunch in the Lido or MDR from 12-2:30, grill food at the Trident most of the day (though it is line-up cafeteria serving), and afternoon tea snacks at 4 (great cakes). The MDR has 2 seatings, 6 and 8:30, at assigned tables, then later on you can also get some snacks at the bars that are carried around (basic items).
Assigned seating with fixed dining times is something I understand deters many luxury cruisers from Crystal and is the main reason my husband and I had not tried this line to date (that and the cabin size, see below). It could be a problem on a long cruise if you do not like your tablemates (mine were fortunately great, 7 other interesting and pleasant people, plus the cruise was short and I also went to other venues). It could also be unfortunate if you are a couple but still want to be randomly assigned to sit with others, to meet more people, when you choose to go dine. There is also a “dining by reservation” option now, but I don’t know how well that works as I did not use it or know what kind of tables you land up at there, or with how many others. On SS, Regent and SB, one thing I liked was being able to choose short-notice to either dine alone with my husband, or join group tables, depending on mood, and being able to walk into the main restaurant whenever we wanted during open hours, not an option here for the MDR. Specialty restaurants required reservation (some hard to get, even weeks in advance on this short cruise), and the Lido buffet was not open at dinner.
SHOWS — generally, there are more options for bigger and better shows on a ship this size than on smaller ships. Instead of just 6-8 people on stage, like on Silver Sea, there were as many as 18 contributing to a show here (some details are in the thread). However, as I prefer classical music , and the performances were not classical, the size of the performing group, or its famousness in popular music, is not the only consideration in evaluating show quality. On the 516 passenger Europa 2, there were world-class classical musicians, and on our last Silver Spirit cruise in 2015 there was a fantastic classical pianist, though the overall number of hired entertainers was small . Varying tastes in music may make Crystal more, or less, appealing to people, depending on what music is offered on other cruises, and if they care at all about entertainment.
CABIN SIZE AND PRICE — I had a small but efficient cabin far forward in the bow, 226 square feet, plus a 43 square foot balcony with two comfortable chairs with cushions and a little table. To compare, the base cabin on Silver Spirit with veranda is 376 square feet. As a solo, my Crystal cabin was just fine (I kept some of my stuff on the other half of the bed just to have easy access, and also had closet and drawer space to spare ). But if I were traveling with my husband or a friend, it would feel a bit cramped on a longer cruise so we would likely want to get the next level up in size on Crystal, which is a penthouse suite, actually bigger than we need (and would have to pay for it). Looking at the price points on a two-week cruise we were considering in 2018, for example, (assuming no unexpected discounts or upgrades) that would be thousands of dollars more than for a happy-compromise sized mid-ship veranda cabin on Silver Sea. Thus, Crystal in a PH would be more expensive overall than cruising on Silver Sea or Seabourn, and I am not sure I could justify paying the price for things we do not value that much (like a Crystal butler, bigger suite hallways and sitting areas, and a bigger balcony).
I give the cruise a 4 out of 5 stars overall on the available scale, though I would prefer to give a 3.8 because of some service issues (3 would be too harsh), and it is so difficult to judge a line based just on a five-day solo newbie experience. I would consider cruising on the Crystal Serenity again (or on its future ships or river boats), on the right itinerary and for the right price, to get more experience. Right now I have three more cruises lined up, in 2016 and early 2017, with Seabourn and Hapag Lloyd, lines to which I gave 5/5 stars, though they have their own set of disadvantages. Read Less