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5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2015
Crystal Serenity is a very beautiful smaller cruise ship. It only carries up to 1000 passengers. The ratio of passenger to crew is one crewmember to every 3 passengers. That does make for unbelievable service. This was our first cruise on ... Read More
Crystal Serenity is a very beautiful smaller cruise ship. It only carries up to 1000 passengers. The ratio of passenger to crew is one crewmember to every 3 passengers. That does make for unbelievable service. This was our first cruise on Crystal Cruises and I am about to book another for 2017. I had told my travel agent that I wanted to pamper my wife since she had just finished her radiation for breast cancer and was found to be cancer free. It was a long six months for her. Our travel agent suggested the all inclusive cruise on Serenity. The service was on such a high level that it made the Four Seasons Hotels service and the Waldorf of New York services seem meek compared to Crystal's service. Believe me I should know for I was in the Hotel Industry for over 40 years and worked at some of the finest hotel companies in the world. Crystal's upscale service is seen as soon as you go to check in. It is one of the smoothest and quickest check ins I have ever experienced. Upon entering our beautiful stateroom one could see how well appointed it was. The bathroom consisted of double granite sinks, his and hers, plenty of storage spaces and a full bathtub and shower. Most comfortable and spacious bathroom on any ship I have been on. We really enjoyed the 24 hour room service. It definitely came in handy at 2 am after a night of dancing. The all inclusive package was the best I have ever had. Being able to have a standing order of beverage to be delivered at a certain time everyday was outstanding especially my 10 am bloody Mary. Lol The main dining room was found to be the best. Every night the menu exceeded our every wish. The all inclusive cruise included one night in their two specialty restaurants.. They both were excellent but my wife and I enjoyed the fare in the main dining room much more. Their European staff could not do enough for you. As soon as your wine glass was half full, along came a staff member to top it off for you. Anyone looking for a first class luxury cruise I would highly recommend Crystal. You will not be disappointed. Much value for your dollar. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2015
First time on Crystal cruises. Had high expectations, and found that they were exceeded. Yes Crystal is not cheap, but since tips and drinks are included, they are comparable to others in price. What makes Crystal different is the ... Read More
First time on Crystal cruises. Had high expectations, and found that they were exceeded. Yes Crystal is not cheap, but since tips and drinks are included, they are comparable to others in price. What makes Crystal different is the attitude of ever member of the crew. Everyone greets you every time you see them. Waiters started greeting us by name. President - Edie was very open to input from passengers and she is focused on making Crystal even better. Food in main dining room was outstanding. Waiter was very attentive. Wine steward never let glass be empty. Ship docked in the middle of Bordeaux so very convenient. At all ports that needed it, a free shuttle was provided to take us to the center of each town. We started in Barcelona, then Ibiza, Cartgenta, Casa Blanca, then serveal ports in Portugal finally all though western France and the channel island of Guernsey. Recommend the Optional Oyster Farm tour. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: May 2015
This was our third cruise and first on Crystal Serenity so we are fairly new to cruising. We embarked in Rome and the process was effortless. Disembarkation in Istanbul was terrible. We left the ship about 9:30 am and stood in line for ... Read More
This was our third cruise and first on Crystal Serenity so we are fairly new to cruising. We embarked in Rome and the process was effortless. Disembarkation in Istanbul was terrible. We left the ship about 9:30 am and stood in line for about two hours to go through passport control. We had prearranged transportation to our hotel in Istanbul and that was perfect although a bit chaotic. I was disappointment in both restaurants. The food at Prego was ordinary at best as was the service. I really enjoyed Tastes. We chose the open seating because we preferred to be free to dine when we wish. Our friends were disappointed that with open dining, we would be seated as a twosome or foursome when we ate together. In hindsight, they would have enjoyed sitting at a table for 8 so they could to meet new people. We would enjoy either. The ship was simply perfect for us. The weather this time of year couldn't have been better. I arranged most of our excursions independently of the ship and they were perfect. The Port of Sorrento was lovely. I have been to Pompeii and Capri before, so my husband and I chose to wonder on our own. Capri was crazy crowded and with several ships in port, it was a nightmare of chaos. Sorrento was lovely the next day as I think most people take the other excursions and miss how lovely Sorrento is. Entertainment was good, although we preferred to go to our room and relax after a busy, busy day. Overall a wonderful cruise. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2013
My wife and I had never been on a cruise before as it just didn't seem like our kind of thing. Nevertheless, we signed up for this cruise, Crystal Cruise 3309, which went from Venice to Rome with 5 stops in between. Since it's ... Read More
My wife and I had never been on a cruise before as it just didn't seem like our kind of thing. Nevertheless, we signed up for this cruise, Crystal Cruise 3309, which went from Venice to Rome with 5 stops in between. Since it's a long way from California to Italy, we added time before and after in Italy to justify the long airline flight. We started off with 3 nights in Venice before boarding the ship. The embarkation process went very smoothly and we quickly lost first time cruiser angst. We had a cabin with veranda on deck 10. The room was very nice and more than adequate for our needs. The veranda is very comfortable and was larger than I expected. The bathroom was laid out very well and did not feel at all cramped, but rather seemed like an efficient use of the space. The beds were extremely comfortable, perhaps a bit hard for some but perfect for our tastes. Everything in the room worked well. The flat screen TV was well positioned for easy viewing from the sofa or bed. The first night, the ship stayed berthed in Venice and some tours were offered the next day. Since we had been three days in Venice, we elected to stay on board and checked out all the ships facilities. Our room was close to the forward stairwell/elevators, so we could get anywhere on the ship quite quickly. The ship seemed in immaculate condition. Scoped out the steam room and sauna on the top deck. It turns out, these are accessible 24 hours and became one of our favorite spots. Both the steam room and sauna were under utilized so I often had them to myself. The sauna in particular has a window to the outside so sitting there, sweating, watching the world go by was a enlightening experience. The first night, we booked in one of the specialty restaurants, Prego. It was very nice and we were a bit regretting that we could only pre-book one night. After that we ate in the main dining room (MDR) every night and were not at all disappointed. The menu was varied and always very good, some evenings downright delicious. Our desire to try to rebook at Prego waned as the MDR was terrific. Our waiters, Zoran and Angela were very attentive. Crystal does not seem to scrimp on staff. Our 2 waiters had only two (8 person) tables to tend to and got help from busboys and others. We had breakfast each morning in the LIDO buffet. There was never a wait except if one wanted a cooked to order omelet. The selection was very good for either American or European tastes... Bacon, Sausage, scrambled eggs, cold cuts, cheeses, breads, fruit, and fresh squeezed OJ. Our diner waiter, Zoran, recognized us and after the second morning knew our preference for cappuccino with an extra shot of espresso and had it for us without asking. Overall, the food quality and food service was much better than I had imagined possible. BTW, this cruise was all inclusive, so there was no extra charge for wine or cocktails or an after dinner port. The wife developed a taste for lemoncello. One could order special drinks that did cost, but we never found the wines and drinks offered to be at all wanting. We didn't go to any stage shows but did take in a couple of movies. The theater is small (may 100-150 seats) but more than adequate and was never more than 1/2 full. We did take in a special up close magic act. It was pretty lame, and seemed more like a promotion for the Magic Castle in LA. The ports of call were all pretty interesting. We did book one tour through the ship, Pompeii, during our call to Sorrento and it was wonderful with a very animated and informative guide. For all the other destinations, we just took the cruise line supplied shuttle to town and walked around the towns. Dubrovnik, Kotor, Corfu, and Taormina each are charming and interesting. It was easy to burn 4 or 5 hours just walking around, looking in windows, drinking the local beer, and finding a free WIFI to catch up on the world. So what the bottom line..... The cruise was terrific. Crystal did a great job. Everyone was friendly and helpful. The concierge was very helpful the few times we needed something. The tour desk was also really informative. Our waiter was a jewel.... he even had some suggestions about what to see in the various ports. The condition of the ship was more or less perfect. There were no lines. The food was great. The all inclusive package is the way to go. The only minor quibble is I would prefer more non-smoking areas, though once we identified the areas that allowed smoking they were pretty easy to avoid. I can only hope this doesn't spoil me. We're looking into a Princess cruise and some of the reviews of the Grand Princess are getting me a bit nervous. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2013
The cabin was as advertised and as expected. The bedding was luxurious. The bathroom was spacious by ship standards. The food was good, not great, which was disappointing, since we expected great. The cheese selection was outstanding. The ... Read More
The cabin was as advertised and as expected. The bedding was luxurious. The bathroom was spacious by ship standards. The food was good, not great, which was disappointing, since we expected great. The cheese selection was outstanding. The "included" red wines were not good; the included white wines were acceptable, but no better; there were a couple of sparkling wines that were very good, and one very good champagne---but they ran out of the latter before the cruise ended and didn't replenish, although we were in France at the time. (And the sommeliers didn't want you to order it anyway. They were, on the whole, not helpful. They pushed the wines which cost extra, and those wines were expensive.) If you were lucky and got a good maitre d', he steered you towards the better-prepared food choices. The specialty restaurants were good if you knew what to order (one night the Italian restaurant had linguini made with fresh clams from that day's port, and it was outstanding.)Room service was good.The shore excursions were outrageously overpriced. A $635 Grand Prix ticket (plus a mediocre boxed lunch, ear phones, a thin seat cushion and a guide per 20 people to walk you from the ship to the grandstand) cost $829. I agree that a mark-up is appropriate, but 30% is too much. We booked the cruise at the last minute, so had no choice but to purchase from Crystal. We were told that other shore excursions also had astronomical mark-ups.Crystal's representatives told us that wi-fi was free; it was not, which was very disappointing. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2013
This was our fifth Crystal Cruise and possibly our last. In my eyes, it was the classes and fabulous, educational lectures during sea days during our prior Crystal Cruises which distinguished Crystal from other luxery & non-luxury ... Read More
This was our fifth Crystal Cruise and possibly our last. In my eyes, it was the classes and fabulous, educational lectures during sea days during our prior Crystal Cruises which distinguished Crystal from other luxery & non-luxury lines. With port days each day of our cruise, there were no lectures. We found the attention of the crew much worse than it had been in the past. There were no beautifully presented luncheon buffets or the final buffet extravaganza that was too beautiful to touch. Our housekeeper didn't refill our refrigerator with items that had been used. She left empty, used glasses and plates so that we had to call Housekeeping to remove them. We needed to flag down waiters to refill our drinks during breakfast. This isn't acceptable on a luxury cruise. Also, they bill the cruise as providing top shelf liquor however, the wines were only mediocre. We keep kosher and as always, we found the food extraordinary. We even asked our head waiter to bring out enough of our baby lamb chops to share with the other diners at our table and they devoured them and rated them an A+! However, my intent when I go on a cruise is to experience the cruise experience which can only be done shipboard. As there is nothing happening on ship when in port, that defeats my purpose. Will I go on Number 6? I don't know. So far I haven't found any itineraries that satisfy my requirement for sufficient sea days. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2012
I just returned from my first Crystal Cruise and am in what I'm calling the 'Crystal haze' --a surreal place where one is treated like royalty, wined and dined and pampered beyond belief. I booked my Crystal cruise expecting ... Read More
I just returned from my first Crystal Cruise and am in what I'm calling the 'Crystal haze' --a surreal place where one is treated like royalty, wined and dined and pampered beyond belief. I booked my Crystal cruise expecting to receive the level of excellence they tout, but had no idea that they would meet and exceed me expectations in all categories. We sailed the Serenity on the Roman Empire Exploration from Istanbul to Barcelona. Ours was a port-intensive voyage, calling in many wonderful ports. And with three days at-sea, there was time to relax and enjoy the ship's offerings as well. My stateroom (PH) lacked nothing. With a walk-in closet complete with plenty of drawers, jacuzzi tub and glass shower, vanity, writing desk, sofa/table, ample balcony and VERY comfy queen bed, I enjoyed the time spent there. My friendly, professional and most anxious -to -please butler provided pressing/shoe shine services and brought canapes and champagne nightly at my request. Breakfast on my balcony was delivered in minutes after requesting...and always with a smile and kind word or two. It is obvious that Crystal selects their crew because of their love of people. And it is the crew and their stellar service that separates Crystal from all other cruise lines. Our stewardesses, waiters, servers, spa employees, concierge and front desk staff and even the librarian could not do enough for us --they greeted us with smiles and warm welcomes at every meeting. The artistically presented five star cuisine also differentiates Crystal as well. I can honestly say that nearly every morsel I ate in our 12 days aboard was excellent. From fresh squeezed juices every morning at breakfast to the bananas foster our head waiter Augusto made for us table side by request after dinner, the meals were memorable. I particularly appreciated the use of fresh ingredients, prime meats, not overly salty sauces, the most perfectly prepared risotto I've had anywhere, amazing soups, fresh made pastas and desserts that were as beautiful as they were delicious. Sommeliers in all dining venues were knowledgeable, upbeat and added greatly to the overall dining experiences. Specialty restaurants Prego and Nobu's Silk Road served up meals among the best I've eaten anywhere in my life. I could write an entire review about the Prego cuisine, presentation, ambiance and service!! We attended both optional formal nights in the Crystal dining room and found them to be a delightful change of pace. Another thing Crystal excels at is offering choices. From the pillow menu from which one chooses their preferred pillows, to the multiple dining options at each meal my every desire was met...and then some! The lime and ginger salt rub I experienced in the spa was one of the singular happiest hours of my life. It was so amazing in fact that I booked the same treatment later that day for a friend with whom I was traveling, and he agreed it was one of the very best experiences of his life as well. For those contemplating cruising.....I would very highly suggest Crystal. Contrary to most things I've experienced in life, with Crystal Cruises, you really can 'believe the hype.' I cannot wait to return to sea with them. Though this was my first Crystal voyage, most all passengers I met were on their 2nd, 10th or 15th Crystal Cruise. Now I 'get it.' Someone asked me last week if I could change one thing about our voyage or Crystal Cruises what would it be.......I'm still thinking. The only thing that comes to mind is that one or two of the chocolate desserts was too sweet for my taste. If that's the worst thing I can say about 12 days in heaven, that's pretty darn good. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: August 2012
Having been on both five and six star lines, I have a pretty good idea of how a star rating should translate into the level of food, service, and accommodations on a ship. Despite my best efforts to truly appreciate Crystal, a few aspects ... Read More
Having been on both five and six star lines, I have a pretty good idea of how a star rating should translate into the level of food, service, and accommodations on a ship. Despite my best efforts to truly appreciate Crystal, a few aspects of the above criteria were disappointing. We (my wife and I) took this twelve day cruise in the Med mostly because of the great itinerary, which included half of every city in Europe we had ever hoped to see, and because the other lines rarely offer a Venice to Barcelona itinerary. Initially we were very impressed, both by the staterooms, which are about 20% larger than what we're used to, and the friendliness of he staff, who try to get to know you rather than just saying "hello" as you pass by. In these two points, Crystal is great. The food, while very good, was actually no better than Royal Caribbean, despite the fact that Crystal costs about three times as much as Royal. Yes, Crystal is all inclusive (other than excursions, more on that in a moment,) which justifiably accounts for about a 25% bump in the cost of a cruise, but at the end of your meal, you won't put down your fork and think, "Wow, that really was worth three times more." Which brings us to shore excursions. If you've ever been appalled by the 200% mark-up on most cruise lines' excursions, but bit the bullet anyway because you wanted to make sure the cruise ship would wait for you, you haven't seen "nuthin" yet. The best I could figure, Crystal's mark up is probably in the neighborhood of 350%, and even that may be conservative. For this reason alone, if you're trying to decide between six star lines, go with Regent Seven Seas, which, for about the same price or a few dollars more, includes all excursions as well. If you're interested in the best value for your money, period, go with Royal Caribbean (or sister line Celebrity). Would I sail with Crystal again? Yes, but only if they follow Regent's lead and include excursions. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2011
As very experienced travelers, I tend to always look for the best value and usually book directly with airlines, hotels, etc. I found that the price of the cruise we booked was no cheaper booking online vs using a travel agent so we found ... Read More
As very experienced travelers, I tend to always look for the best value and usually book directly with airlines, hotels, etc. I found that the price of the cruise we booked was no cheaper booking online vs using a travel agent so we found an excellent local TA who had personally been to all of the ports we went to and had been on many cruises as well. We felt if you can get that level of expertise without additional expense it was the best way to go. Positives- The overall cruise lived up to our expectations and far exceeded them in some numerous areas. The entire ship was meticulously maintained with everything in excellent working order and virtually nothing showing any visible wear & tear including all public area seating, surfaces, flooring, windows, railings, etc. Cleanliness is apparently a top priority as well as there was no spills or dirt seen in any area including corners, nooks & crannies which commonly get overlooked. Our A-class cabin on Deck 9 was excellent with promised queen bed actually king bed width which was a pleasant surprise. Well designed storage and use of cabin space. Though the cabin is somewhat small, it was comfortable with a nicely appointed bath. Outstanding cabin service twice per day provided by very a cheerful stewardess from South Africa. Throughout the ship, crew members went out of their way to be polite and helpful. This was especially true on Deck 12 around the pool and in the casual dining areas where crew members were very attentive to customer needs, introducing themselves and checking continually to see if you needed anything. These crew members appeared to adopt passengers and greet you whenever you came into their area. The food on the ship was outstanding regardless if it was from the Lido or Bistro buffets, made-to-order pool area dining options, Crystal Dining Room or Prego. Prego & the Crystal Dining Room have an elegant design and an appealing look to them while Silk Road felt like a very stark large space with tables and little character. To me Prego is the superior restaurant on the ship while Silk Road was a disappointment. Areas that could be improved- The embarkation process in Venice was unsatisfactory. Many Crystal cruise passengers arrive at the cruise terminal via water taxi which has a scheduled arrival every 30-minutes and I expected someone to meet us along with other passengers on the dock and assist in some way like a larger less exclusive cruise ship at the same terminal who immediately took their passengers luggage on the dock. After searching for some sign of Crystal there was a young man with a sign standing up a ramp to the road who informed us that a shuttle bus would be by in 20-30 minutes or we could walk to the terminal(200-300 yards). About 20-passengers schlepped their luggage to the terminal which did not make a good 1st impression. As Open Dining by Reservation guests, It is a nice benefit to begin making dinner reservations once final payment was made however Crystal needs to advise guests which nights they are having theme dinners in the Crystal Dining Room. We had booked Prego & Silk Road on theme nights and had to reschedule once onboard but could only get acceptable times at the end of the cruise. Cocktail parties ie; Cruise Critic, Signature need to be communicated prior to the cruise. While Crystal offers the Open Dining by Reservation dinner reservation option you run the ship based on early & late dining. Announcements onboard as well as special activities in the evening refer to early & late seating. The #1 complaint I had with Crystal was the lack of information regarding confirmation of prepaid gratuities and shipboard credit. Since Crystal did not provide any of this important information prior to the cruise I ask my TA to confirm. He contacted Crystal and received confirmation from the various departments responsible for the credits and forwarded copies to me. In spite of his efforts, upon arrival Oct. 1 I found that I was missing shipboard credits that Crystal HQ had confirmed and it took 2 separate requests and 5-days to resolve the problem even though I presented them with written documentation. Crystals onboard activities are a star attraction with the Computer University equipped with the latest computers and a knowledgeable staff and special presenters who professionally help users and present classes. I expected the Taylor Made golf clinics to achieve the same high standards and the instructor lived up to those high standards however the groups were too large (30 or more people at each session) to provide any personal attention and none of the Taylor Made clubs were of current designs. In addition I expected a cruise line like Crystal to have golf simulators rather than nets with targets. We were really looking forward to the tours we had signed up for and although they all involved motor coach transportation we thought that Crystal would somehow take the group tour experience to a higher level. The tours were all very enjoyable with sights we truly enjoyed. Looking back on the tours, we had an unrealistic expectation as we realized that all cruise ship group tours use similar motor coaches, guides and visit the same places in the various ports. Our only suggestion involves grouping guests with good walking ability separately from guests who have limitations. This came to light on the Rome tour when at our 1st stop, the Coliseum the tour guide determined that the majority of the group was not able to climb the stairs to the upper levels and correctly modified the tour plans. She offered those of us with more stamina the opportunity to briefly explore the upper areas. We were accompanied by the Crystal tour helper but were unsuccessful in finding stairs that were open as none of the three of us knew where to go. When you have multiple groups for a given tour I suggest that Crystal make special provisions for those guest with limitations. A real tour frustration occurred in crowded venues like the Vatican. The tour guide continually stopped to count guests and on more than one occasion stalled the tours progress to locate guests who had separated from the group. While you dont want to lose anyone, reducing the experience of +25 other people seems inappropriate. A viable solution would be to provide an if you get separated meeting place & time plus on this tour there were two additional people assisting the tour guide so they could look for the missing guests while the tour proceeds. Friends who were part of another group said they had to wait 30-minutes at one point while missing guests were located. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2010
I have taken a couple of weeks to reflect on my first experience on Crystal cruises. I think, all told, I am glad for the experience, but it did not live up to the very high standards I had set based on other reviews and the boards. The ... Read More
I have taken a couple of weeks to reflect on my first experience on Crystal cruises. I think, all told, I am glad for the experience, but it did not live up to the very high standards I had set based on other reviews and the boards. The good (and very good): -Our agent had secured early boarding for us, so that was great. We arrived at about 12:15. There was no one else in line, and we were escorted to lunch and then had a little time to explore before we were able to access our cabin. When we did get to our cabin, our luggage was already waiting, and we were unpacked and enjoying the ship by 3pm. -Our head waiter and senior waiter were an absolute treat. Our head waiter especially went way out of his way to ensure we had a wonderful dining experience every night. -Our stewardess was lovely. She tried really hard to accommodate our every need, although the ship did not have certain things which surprised me (like green apples and pretzels--??). -Having Marvin Hamlisch on board for a performance was a delight. -We also enjoyed the special NFL greats speaker series. -The main pool is very nice; and there were always chairs available to sit and enjoy the day -The food in the main dining room was very good; better than many mainland restaurants, actually. We thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of the cruise...especially the "special" desserts that the head waiter prepared each night. -The European itinerary was perfect; exactly what we were looking for! -The cruise director on board was simply phenomenal...a real joy to meet! -We really enjoyed the daily Reflections...especially the introductions to each of the ports. -The excursions were well thought out and put together, albeit a little pricey. The one time there was a problem with one, they did refund part of the price, which was appreciated. -We thoroughly enjoyed most of the other guests we met...a treat since we were not sure what to expect (we are in our late 30's/early 40's) The not very good: (ps: I have names of the individuals below, if someone from Crystal is reading this and is interested) CABINS: -The couches in the cabins uncomfortable, and they are itchy when you sit on them with shorts...I know they are supposed to be getting leather ones very soon, which will be a LOT more comfortable. -The beds are actually pretty uncomfortable. It took a couple of nights before I realized I could ask for another featherbed to make it softer. That helped a lot. -The scent of the Aveda products in the bathroom was overwhelming, and I was very surprised that there were no other options. I ended up buying something on the shore. I think Crystal might investigate "scentless" options for passengers with sensitive skin/allergies, or at least one of Aveda's milder scents for passengers who prefer them. -The cabin doors are unbelievably thin...even conversation at a normal volume in the hallway can be heard in the rooms...as can the kids who kept running up and down the hallways. DINING: -The couple of nights with "open seating" in the main dining room were the worst nights for us, since the service was so spotty. There were also some service challenges on the Lido deck in terms of getting food in a timely fashion for both lunch and dinner. -There were some incredibly rude waiters in Prego--the specialty restaurant. Both nights I was there they were actually making fun of other passengers. I could not believe it, and actually reported it to the guest hostess on board since it made me so uncomfortable. She told me the dining manager would get in touch with me, but he never did. BOOKING AGAIN: -I wanted to take advantage of the on-board booking discount, and I got the feeling that the woman who was working at that desk did not care if I booked again or not. It was a stark contrast to how she had been talking to the older couple right before me...and quite disappointing. PUBLIC AREAS/LAUNDRY: -The ship does not have any comfortable places to sit to just read a book in the evening, except the bar in the main lobby, but the smoke often chased me away. In fact, ALL of the bars have smoking, which for me is an obstacle to enjoying the space. I wonder if Crystal might consider creating a non-smoking bar??? -A lot of the public areas seem a little dated; I am hoping this is rectified soon! -The laundry room ran out of dryer sheets quickly and were not replaced. Also, Crystal should place signs in the laundry rooms reminding guests to be aware of the timing of their washers and dryers. Especially when one machine is out of order (which it was for the entire cruise), the ability for quick "turn-over" is only respectful, although some passengers had no qualms about leaving their laundry for hours at a time and returning whenever it suited them (and then they had the nerve to complain about people removing their items!). NOT CRYSTAL'S FAULT, BUT STILL AFFECTED OUR TRIP: On this voyage, there were over 100 children, ranging in age from a couple of months to teenagers. The older kids were actually pretty good (except for running up and down the halls at night), but the parents really let their little kids run rampant around the ship and pool area. They were throwing toys in the pool, almost hitting other guests, and they were running around playing tag, and yelling, etc. Since they were with their parents, there was nothing Guest Services could do (or so they told me). But this is NOT a playground at home!! Again, a simple reminder in the daily cruise reflections might have made a positive difference. I made this suggestion, too, but it was ignored. So, all in all, I am glad for the experience. I did like it better than Regent, with whom we have sailed twice (Tahiti and Alaska trips). But, I am not looking to rush back either...I do have my $100 deposit down, so perhaps 2012...we'll see. At least now I have a more realistic expectation for my experience that should help next time... Read Less
Sail Date: June 2010
The Mediterranean cruise on Crystal was a mixed experience. The positives were many including the speciality restaurant Silk, the excellent fitness centre and instructors, the wonderful breakfasts and the willingness of the kitchen to meet ... Read More
The Mediterranean cruise on Crystal was a mixed experience. The positives were many including the speciality restaurant Silk, the excellent fitness centre and instructors, the wonderful breakfasts and the willingness of the kitchen to meet different requests, the good humour of many of the staff, the quality of the cabin and the ease of embarkation. On the other hand, there were some unexpected downsides which surprised me. The following are the downsides I experienced. I did not like the ship decor- it seemed a little tired and too 'glitzy' -in the style of Las Vegas rather than a Banyon Tree Resort. The beds were not great. In fact, my husband had to have a board put under his bed because the mattress sagged so much that it gave him a bad back. While this was facilitated by the staff, there was no acknowledgement or apology for this. Unlike other ships, the library never seemed to be open at the times I wanted it to be and this was an annoyance at times. Another small discontent was that the lunches often seemed rushed. The main restaurant and the buffet were open only from 12.00 until 1.30pm and this seemed too short a time when we wanted to go for a morning excursion and come back for lunch. I had also expected that there would be some opportunity to have a low calorie lunch and dinner options, but other than the lovely Japanese food which was available at the speciality restaurant, Silk, there was less available than I had hoped. Admittedly, there were some low carb versions of desserts but they seemed to be mainly made of cream and were high calorie. Another gripe was that the speakers were a bit disappointing. There was one excellent speaker who gave some good talks about the Crusades and other history relevant topics but two of the speakers were quite disappointing. Normally i love the lectures on board but one speaker actually justified rendition (torture) when talking on a terrorism related topic. I prefer lectures which are relevant to the places we are visiting. There was no daily briefing about the ports we were about to visit. Despite the gratuities policy, the service was no better than on other five and six star lines I have cruised with which had gratuities included. Despite the many positives about the ship, I will probably be reluctant to travel with Crystal in the future as I have enjoyed some 5 star lines (eg Celebrity Xpedition) and 6 star lines more. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2009
I'm finding this review a little difficult to start since it's really hard to put into words why Crystal continues to garner awards such as the Conde' Nast Traveler best large-ship cruise line for 16 consecutive years and ... Read More
I'm finding this review a little difficult to start since it's really hard to put into words why Crystal continues to garner awards such as the Conde' Nast Traveler best large-ship cruise line for 16 consecutive years and the Travel + Leisure for 14 consecutive years. Until you sail the line, it's hard to say. CABIN - We were in a B Veranda cabin on deck eight, starboard side Aft in 8125. The cabin was smaller than our entry-level suite on the Regent Voyager, but it was certainly very nice. There was no curtain to separate the sitting area, but there was a comfortable loveseat, adjustable table and a chair along with a small desk. Although there was no walk-in closet (they have them in the Penthouse suites), the closet was large and automatically lighted with plenty of quality hangers. The TV was not flat and a bit too high for my liking but had good reception and plenty of channels (I like that every day they gave you a new list of the channels with what movies were playing). The bedding was very nice with great pillows and a pillow menu. The mini-refrigerator was stocked with sodas and mini-Perrier (you can also have beer if you are in a Penthouse or higher). The dEcor was a bit non-descript for my taste, but was fine. The deck chairs were not loungers but they did recline. The bathroom was smaller than the Voyager, but had a nice shower and double sink along with big bottles of Aveda amenities and plush large towels! FOOD - As I said in previous reviews, my husband and I travel a lot and love good food. We did come with high expectations of the Crystal dining and they were met! We were reluctant to go back to set seating but it worked out fine for us (especially since I was on the cruise for the last three nights by myself) (you can go the section on day-to-day for more on the why of that and how it worked out). We had interesting tablemates and so enjoyed our evenings. The food was very good in all venues of the ship including the main dining room, the Lido and the two specialty restaurants (for which there is no extra charge). Prego is a fine dining Italian experience and Silk Road, the creation of celebrity Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, is simply amazing (and it has a sushi bar). Since my husband is an oenophile, we had to try the special dinner at the Vintage Room. This is a private dining room on deck 7 that will hold 14, which you can reserve just for your group or just join other guests for an amazing dining experience of food paired with reserve wines, and all hosted by Head Sommelier Ales Machac. The menu with the wine pairings was really quite special. They also provided beautiful souvenir packages with our names, the menu, the wine descriptions and a list of the guests. The special lunch buffets (Asian and Mediterranean) around the Neptune Pool were beautifully presented and delicious and the Grand Gala Buffet on Deck Five was simply stunning (the cakes were too pretty to eat). Room service is available 24 hours a day and those in Penthouse and higher can even order from the Specialty restaurants. Although the breakfast food was good I would say that breakfast offered more interest and variety on Regent. STAFF/SERVICE - Here is where Crystal really shines! With Crystal's two ships, it's not about the hardware but the software and that is their crew and staff! It's what you don't see that creates a sensation. Truly amazing! Throughout the ship the service was impeccable and friendly and felt genuinely so. From the servers at the pool and Lido to the Cruise Director and Captain - it was truly a difference that is hard to beat. The Guest space ratio is 64, so it never feels crowded and the staff to guest ratio is 0.61 (655 crew for 1070 guests). Time and again other guests said the same thing - that the crew remembers your name (and your partner's) (I don't know how they do it even remembering several years later when guest return). It's really more than that as they somehow make you feel like welcome guests rather than paying customers. SHIP - I had recently toured the refurbished Crystal Symphony in New York so was anxious to compare the Serenity. The Serenity is larger (11,000 more tons) but only has 540 cabins (vs. 470 on the Symphony). There are no inside cabins (on either ship) and the ship is laid out very well with a lot of intimate public spaces. I loved that there is a true 360 degree Promenade for walking (wide teak with benches to sit and watch the ocean). I really like that the Aft section of the ship was not full of cabins so that decks 6 through 12 had space in the back for lounging or other activities sheltered from the wind (golf nets, shuffle board, and just tables and loungers). What is lost in a larger guest capacity (vs. Regent Voyager or the much smaller Seabourn triplets), is gained in some lovely indoor spaces like the real Movie Theatre, the Palm Court with it's Sunset bar and the many places for the onboard enrichment including a large room for the Yamaha keyboard classes and a large room for the Computer University@Sea classes. This ship still has its indoor pool (the roof can be opened but I think it is not done so frequently). The indoor pool on the Symphony was just removed, as this is the area used for the specialty buffet lunches. There is also golf nets at the back and full size paddle tennis. I did miss having a pool bar to relax and socialize and meet other guests but pool side service was more than amazing. But the Sunset Bar, Avenue Saloon (with talented pianist Colin Salter) and the Crystal Cove (with great pianist John Mentis) are all great places to enjoy a cocktail and meet other guests while enjoying good music. INTERNET - This ship is equipped for wireless Internet and we could use our laptop in the cabin (but it was faster in the public areas as our cabin was too far aft) but the Computer lent Ethernet cords to use in the cabins. There was nothing on their plan between 2 hours (too little) and ten so it was a little expensive but unavoidable. The computer center was staffed for extended hours with knowledgeable and friendly experts who would even help with iPhone, blackberries and other mobile devices. ENTERTAINMENT - Here is another area where Crystal is superior to other lines. Their onboard entertainment is very good and the Crystal Ensemble of Singers and Dancers are quite talented. We enjoyed all the production shows (and liked doing the backstage tour with the Line Leaders - we really got a sense of why the crew is so great since Crystal treats them so well) The Galaxy Orchestra is very good. The Headline entertainers brought on board for the sailing were also quite good - I especially enjoyed the Mind Reader Marc Paul and the singer Petrina Johnson from the West End of London One nice thing about the two set seating arrangement is that there are early and late shows so we got to see them (vs. the one show on an open seating ship that never seemed to work for our dinner times) The Ambassador Host program is very popular and the gentlemen are cultured and all good dancers. I thought it was an interesting statement about the line that they flew in cost two extra gentleman hosts at a considerable when the contingent of single women were visibly unhappy having to wait for a dancing partner! Although he may not be classified as "entertainment" I have to give kudos to the great cruise director, Rick Spath. ENRICHMENT - Crystal is known for the enrichment options on board and they are plentiful - everything from the Odyssey@Sea, Yamaha classes, Berlitz, Bridge and on every sailing a PGA golf pro offer so much to do and to learn and is wonderful for sea days. The guest lecturers were very good and well above the caliber offered on other lines. We had the privilege of having Dr. Jennie Congleton the destination lecturer at our table who was very knowledgeable and a great presenter. CASINO - Although I am not a gambler I thought the casino was well placed and had a lot to offer from the typical slots to blackjack and craps. My husband even entered and won the Blackjack tournament so that was nice! SHOPS - Unlike the typical shops on the larger Major cruise lines, Crystal's three shops had more interesting fare although I admit the price points were higher (they carried Hermes scarves, Joseph Ribkoff, and even Judith Leiber bags) (I bought a Crystal tee-shirt!) Facets, the upscale jewelry store, even had a special designer on board and we enjoyed her company one night for dinner. She is Rhonda Faber Green and her collections were beautiful. SPA/GYM - The gym is very nice with up to date equipment including individual TV's, a Kinesis wall workout system and a nice area for classes (with two Fitness Directors). Their array of optional classes such as spin, cardio, Pilates and yoga are all were complementary. And all the machines were working with TVs on the cardio and were constantly set up with water, towels and headphones. I also tried the Walk on Water and the Nordic fitness on the Promenade deck and enjoyed that. THEME - Crystal is also known for offering various Theme cruises throughout the year and I was excited that ours was Focus on Photography. This was probably the only disappointment of the cruise. I had thought (as others did) that there would be more substance to the theme. The one speaker was very good but there were only 3 short lectures and no classes. We did get to meet with her in the Palm Court in the afternoon and she offered suggestions on our cameras and answered questions. She even said she would have loved to have done a photography excursion. (The fact that there was another Master Portrait photographer onboard, Simon John, to take portraits was not for me a selling point) MISC - It's wonderful not to be disturbed with constant announcements. Although the demographics of the passengers can vary by dates and itineraries this one was interesting since Americans were the smallest group on board - (almost 1/3 of the ship were Asian and the rest European and South American.) The library was nice and well stocked with books, DVDs and CDS. I did like that the price on Regent included the gratuities as I don't enjoy the "stress" of the last day(s) trying to make sure the right staff are compensated properly. But it's not a negative about Crystal per se. I also thought that their daily bulletin, Reflections, was very good with maps, great information, write-ups on the guest speakers and entertainers and well organized. The first day it included a concise schedule of the itinerary but only the dress code, the evening program and the dining room dinner theme. Crystal also participates in the Five & Alive charity and publicizes it nicely to the guests who can donate easily with envelopes in the cabin. So far they have raised over $90,000 - Five & Alive information PORTS AND EXCURSIONS - This cruise was port intensive but it was also a great itinerary because of the three Sea days! We were not sure how the weather might be in November but we were lucky and it was mild and mostly sunny. The Canary Islands were warm as they are generally temperate year round. If you want more information you can go to the day by day section. The ports we thought were highlights were: Barcelona - We were just here on a port stop in September so it was nice not to take an excursion but just to walk the Ramblas and explore on our own. We really enjoy discovering the wonderful local Tapas restaurant. Malaga - We loved this port not for Malaga but for Granada for the Alhambra! Arrecife, Canary Islands - This volcanic island was quite interesting and we loved our camel ride. Funchal, Maderia, Portugal - A beautiful port with lots to do and enjoy and the memorable basket toboggan ride down the steep streets! EXCEEDED EXPECTATIONS: • Service and Staff - that's an understatement • Food - Consistently great in all venues and the specialty opportunities were quite memorable • ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT - gosh other than the Theme minor disappointment, there really isn't any. Crystal truly does everything to make their guests have an enjoyable cruise experience. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2009
Recently, between 11 and 29 June 2009, my wife, 6½ year-old daughter, and I took an 18-day vacation to Europe. The vacation consisted of three main parts: 1) flying to and spending 3 pre-cruise days in Venice, 2) taking a 14-day ... Read More
Recently, between 11 and 29 June 2009, my wife, 6½ year-old daughter, and I took an 18-day vacation to Europe. The vacation consisted of three main parts: 1) flying to and spending 3 pre-cruise days in Venice, 2) taking a 14-day Mediterranean cruise from Venice to Barcelona onboard the Crystal Serenity, and 3) flying back to the US with a one-day post-cruise stopover in San Juan Puerto Rico. As we did all the planning for the vacation we knew that we wanted to see as much of Venice and the other ports of call (Dubrovnik, Corfu, Taormina, Sorrento/Amalfi Coast, Rome, Cinque Terra, Pisa/Florence, Monaco, St Tropez and Barcelona) as practical. But we also knew that we would have to do so within the constraints of the ship's shore time (normally 10 hours in each port - nominally from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM) and the touring abilities of our daughter - who is a good traveler and would be taking her 4th cruise. As we looked at the Crystal Serenity's shore excursions it became clear that they fell into main two categories, 60-person bus tours and special activities for small groups (e.g. touring the Lamborghini factory, taking a hot air balloon ride in Padua, etc.,). Neither of these options really fit what we needed. The bus tours offered no flexibility and conjured up visions of us at the back of the group with our daughter, unable to really see the sights or hear the guide. The special activities were clearly targeted at adults - so they were out too. The other thing that we took note of was the cost of the shore excursions which averaged $220/person (after excluding the most expensive excursions which cost between $1,500/person and $8,999/person). So armed with these constraints we began to look for alternatives that were available in the cities we were visiting, could be done in 10 hours, would be fun (or at least tolerable) for a 6½ year-old, and would cost around $700/day (~500 Euros/day). The obvious answer was to take the Crystal excursions where they made sense and to set up private tours at the other locations. But finding a reputable tour company that was not exorbitantly expensive proved to be challenging. My first step was to contact my travel agent who had taken the time to understand what we wanted from our vacation and had done a superb job recommending and setting up the cruise, hotels and other assorted details - Nancy Yale - the President of Cruise Resort & World Travel - http://www.bookavacation.com/ . Nancy contacted the tour provider that she normally uses in Italy - and, although reputable, they were more expensive than we were willing to pay - especially since we needed to setup between 6 and 10 tours which had the potential of adding another $5,000 - $10,000 to the total cost of the vacation. So while Nancy and Pat Raftery (her office manager who was going on a 10-day trip to Italy) checked other options I began an internet search. Of course, as many of us find on the internet, sometimes there is just too much information and it is hard to differentiate a reputable company from a fly-by-night operation. Luckily I stumbled across a post by Elizabeth Mandarino - the Senior VP of World Travel - http://corporate.worldtravelinc.com/ - that highly recommended a tour company owned by Marco Tavola named "Rome Connection". Although Nancy and Pat proposed some other alternatives that might have worked out fine, we decided to use Rome Connection based largely on Liz's strong recommendation and the details on Marco's website - http://www.romeconnection.com/. The recommendation and company turned out to be just what we were looking for, and the fact that Liz trusted Marco so much made me feel considerably better about the whole process. Especially since I knew that if the private tours flopped the entire vacation would probably be a disaster. After examining the tour options in detail we decided to take the Crystal excursions in Dubrovnik and Corfu, a Virtuoso (http://www.virtuoso.com/) excursion in Barcelona, and to "go it alone" in Monte Carlo and St Tropez. That meant that we needed Marco to setup drivers, guides and itineraries in Venice, Taormina, Sorrento/Amalfi Coast, Rome, Cinque Terra, Pisa, and Florence. Although Marco's company is based in Rome, he has a vetted network of other companies throughout Italy that he continually works with so he knows who they are and knows that they will meet his exacting standards. What this allowed us to do was to specify what we wanted to Marco and to then have him contact the appropriate people in each city to work the details. Using email made it all very easy. Marco drafted initial itineraries and costs for each city based on our broad guidelines and emailed them to us. We emailed back our comments and the specifics of the ship's port times. Marco then finalized the itineraries and costs (which averaged 540 Euros/day). Based on Marco's responsiveness, professionalism, and knowledge of the sights that fit within our travel constraints, I knew that we were on the right track from the initial response that I received from him. So how did it all work out? In a word - FABULOUS!! On 11 June we flew from Boston to Venice on Iberia. Thirteen hours after leaving Boston we were standing in Venice. Iberia was great and the only challenge of the entire trip was getting our daughter to hurry up on the long walk from the far end of the international terminal to the opposite far end of the domestic terminal in the Madrid airport. After arriving in Venice at 1:00 PM we collected our luggage and walked 5-10 minutes to the water taxi/bus stop located near the Marco Polo airport. We then took a water taxi to our hotel - Palazzo Sant'Angelo - http://www.sinahotels.com/eng/palazzosantangelo_home.htm . The Water taxi cost 100 Euros, but since it took us, and our 9 pieces of luggage, directly to the hotel's landing the price difference (58 Euros more than the water bus) was worth it. The Palazzo Sant'Angelo was recommended by Nancy and proved to be a great choice for the hotel. It is located on the Grand Canal within a 10 minute walk from the Rialto Bridge, Saint Marks' Square, the Accademia museum and almost every other sight we were interested in seeing during our stay in Venice. Since it only has 14 rooms it is also quiet which allowed us to quickly get over our jet lag. During our three days in Venice Marco had arranged for a guide, Elisabetta, to show us Venice for half the day on Saturday and half the day on Monday. Elisabetta met us promptly on Saturday morning and, after a brief discussion of what we wanted to see and what she recommended, Elisabetta took us on a tour of the city; to include the Basilica di San Marco, the Doge's Palace, the fish/fruit market and many other places that were off the beaten path. One of the nice things was that Elisabetta tried hard to engage our daughter and to make sure that she was involved in the tour - not just dragged along. Among other things, Elisabetta also knew just where to go to get our daughter a Venetian mask that she could actually wear instead of just use for decoration. Another souvenir crisis averted. At the last minute we were told that the ship would depart from Venice at 12:00 PM on Monday instead of 2:00 PM. This meant that we needed to adjust our plans since we had intended on touring with Elisabetta on Monday morning. As expected one of the advantages of setting up a private tour was that Elisabetta was able to adjust her schedule so that she could be with us on Sunday afternoon instead of Monday morning. So we changed plans, toured the area and Academia museum on Sunday afternoon (the fact that Elisabetta knew her Art History certainly enhanced the tour and the discussions) and then returned to the hotel, collected our luggage and took a water taxi from the Hotel's front door to the Crystal Serenity. After returning home we found out that Elisabetta was even recommended in Rick Steves' Venice 2009 book - we could see why. Ahh - the Crystal Serenity - what can I say about Crystal and their great product. We have been on 10 cruises ranging from a 7 day Caribbean cruises to a 21 day Bangkok to Sydney cruise. We have been on Crystal, Windstar, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Princess and NCL. Of all of them Crystal is our favorite. You get all of the large ship amenities without all of the large ship crowds. You get staff personnel that actually try to learn your names and preferences so that they can help you instead of just passing you along. You get casual elegance (you can be casual, the ship and staff are elegant). For our 14-day cruise we actually took two 7-day back-to-back cruises; the "Adriatic Adventure" and "Renaissance Rendezvous" (cruise #9312 from Venice to Rome and #9313 from Rome to Barcelona). As expected, the ship was wonderful, the staff was helpful, the ports of call were interesting, the food was ever present and delicious, the weather was perfect (during 18 days we only saw 30 minutes of rain in Rome), the entertainment was lively, the children's program was fun and we all had a great time. Although I have heard that some people with children shy away from Crystal since they do not have all of the allegedly "required" children's amenities (e.g. water slides, rock climbing walls, ice skating rinks, cannonball contests, etc.,) my daughter loved their program since it was focused on counselors doing activities with the kids; not just parking the kids by the pool. My daughter got to make crafts, play hide and seek, have a scavenger hunt, tour the bridge, tour the backstage with the dancers, have a pajama party, play music, decorate cookies, and do all sorts of other fun things. In fact she enjoyed the program so much that when we were in Monte Carlo she was upset that we did not go back to the ship for the Animal Mask making activity. To their credit one of the counselors sat with her one-on-one later that night so that she could make her animal masks. So what about all of the other the private tours that we had arranged? They were all perfect. In fact everything worked out better than we could have hoped. All of the driver/guides were personable, professional, flexible, interesting and knowledgeable about the area and sights. In all of the locations the driver was waiting for us with a recent-year Mercedes sedan as we came off the ship (or tender as applicable). From there they asked what we wanted to see so that we could flesh out the high-level itinerary, finalized the overall plan for the day, and then started the tour. With all of our drivers/guides as we drove we were able to talk about the area, living in Italy, Italy in general, and whatever other topics came up. This made even the travel time between the sights enjoyable and interesting. In Taormina we were met by Alessandro. We then drove up the mountain to see Castelmola. From there you could see the entire area to include Mount Etna and the coastlines. Since we had taken a car (which was faster than a bus) we were just finishing up when a bus from the ship arrived. So we got to see the small town of Castelmola when there were literally no other tourists around while they got to see it in a crowd that they brought with them. From there we drove to the even smaller town of Forza d'Agro to see the sights and the two beautiful churches there. Unfortunately, all of the winding roads gave our daughter a headache. But once again being on a private tour paid off since we were able to sit in the town square, have some bread and gelato and color while her headache cleared. Then we drove back to Taormina where Alessandro dropped us off in the town center; a place that a bus could never have reached since they have to park in the town's single designated parking area. From there we strolled through the shops, had lunch, and toured the outdoor Greco-Roman amphitheater until it was time to return to the ship. When we compared notes with other people on the ship it was clear that not only did we get to more locations, but we also had more time (to include quality time) at each of the locations. In Sorrento we were met by Fulvio as we got off the tender. From there we drove to Herculaneum (since my wife and I had previously been to Pompeii) and were met by Andrea - a guide set up by Marco and Fulvio who knew the details of Herculaneum. As with many cruise shore excursions the good news was that we were at Herculaneum, the bad news was that we had only allocated 2 hours and had a 6½ year old with us. But Andrea understood the situation and hit the highlights. For those who have not been to Herculaneum it is smaller, but much better preserved than Pompeii; well worth seeing. From there Fulvio drove us toward the Amalfi coast and Positano. Along the way we mentioned that our daughter was looking for a special souvenir. So Fulvio made a detour to an inlaid wood factory/showroom. There she found a musical jewelry box that did the trick. While we were at the showroom Fulvio inquired about what we would like to do for lunch and since we were looking for local fare he recommended a restaurant on the mountain overlooking Positano. It sounded good so he called ahead to set it up. Once there we had the local sampler lunch (antipasto, pasta, dessert - thank God no meat course since we would have been to full to eat it). Following lunch we drove to Positano where Fulvio dropped us off in the middle of the town. We then walked through the town until we hit the beach. The coastline view, the bougainvilleas and the houses perched on the cliffs were beautiful. Charming town - but I am not sure that I would want to live there since the only road only goes one way through the town, so if you have to drive somewhere you have to make a complete circle of the town's winding road. In Rome Marco himself met us dockside and was our guide for the day. When we woke up it was raining fairly hard, but by 8:00 AM when we left the ship the sky had cleared and the sun was out. Since the ship docked at Civitavecchia we had a 1 hour drive to Rome (~75 km). Once again taking a private tour paid off. We left the ship and were on the road before anyone else. Then, since we were in a car we traveled faster and in Rome were allowed to drive in lanes where private cars could not go. This allowed Marco to literally drive us up to the front door of every sight we wanted to see. First we stopped at the Basilica of Saint Paul. Just stunning. Then we headed to the Colosseum. Prior to arriving at the Colosseum Marco purchased the tickets for entry so that we did not have to stand in line at the Colosseum. In fact, since we were with Marco we parked directly across the street and were allowed to bypass the lines and enter immediately. What a timesaver. As we left the Colosseum my daughter needed two things - a bathroom and a gelato. Marco knew just where to go. Once again flexibility paid off. From there we saw the Circus Maximus, Aventin Hill, Trevi Fountain (where we got rained on for the only time in 18 days - at least the rain allowed me to get good pictures of the fountain since all of the sightseers were standing in stores or under awnings), Forum, Pantheon, Spanish Steps and Saint John Lateran Cathedral (another stunning church). As we were driving we discussed various things and somehow got on the topic of Leonardo da Vinci. Marco said that there was a small Leonardo da Vinci museum with working exhibits in Rome. Our daughter thought that this would be interesting so we asked Marco to take us there. It was a nice unplanned side visit since it had mechanical devices that you could actually try out. In between all the sightseeing Marco took us to the Hostaria Antica Roma http://www.anticaroma.it/ - on the Appian Way for lunch. The chef was very interesting and accommodating, the food was great and the location was unique since the restaurant's interior holds the centuries old "Augustus' Freedman Monument" which was commissioned by the Roman Emperor to honor slaves who had earned their freedom. Finally we had to leave Rome and head back to the ship, but on the way back my daughter needed a souvenir of Rome. It was now 6:00 Sunday evening, and there were not many stores open for shopping. But once again Marco knew where to go. He took us to a street with three souvenir shops next to each other and my daughter found two beautiful "Roma" scarves. I cannot emphasize enough how much more of the city sights we saw compared to the people that took the standard bus tours or tried to see Rome on their own. The fact that Marco knew exactly where to go, could park the car literally right outside the site we were stopping to see, knew how to gauge our (and our daughter's) level of interest, and had the ability to be flexible as the day progressed was invaluable to the tour and our enjoyment. In both Cinque Terra (Porto Venere) and Pisa/Florence (Livorno) Francesco was our guide. Francesco met us as we got off the tender in Porto Venere and off we went on the winding roads toward the five towns of Cinque Terra - http://www.lecinqueterre.org/eng/ . First we stopped at Riomaggiore. As with many European roads they got narrower as we drove away from the major cities. By the time we got to Riomaggiore it was clear that it would be hard, if not impossible, to even get there in a tour bus. In Riomaggiore Francesco parked the car that top of the town and then walked with us to the start of the Via dell'Amore, a paved walkway that hugs the coastline and connects the five towns of Cinque Terra. From there we continued walking to Manarola where we took in the sights and had some gelato. We then caught the local train, passed through Corniglia, and got off in Vernazza where Francesco was waiting with the car. As we walked through Vernazza we came across a playground which allowed our daughter to stop and play for awhile. We then drove to the last town, Monterosso. The road from Vernazza to Monterosso wound up and down the hillside and at times was barely wide enough for the Mercedes to make it through; a bus would never have made it. In Monterosso Francesco dropped us off at one end of the town then drove around to the other side to meet us after we were done strolling, sightseeing and having lunch. Having seen all the sights that time allowed we headed back to Porto Venere where we walked through the small town and climbed to Castello Doria, a 16th century castle overlooking the port. Once again the amount of sights that we had time to see, the amount of time we got to spend sightseeing instead of "working the logistics" and the trouble free nature of the day due to the private tour made everything so much more enjoyable. We had time to enjoy 4 of the 5 towns in Cinque Terra. Other people that we talked to only saw two of them and spent much more time just getting there and back. For our last day in Italy we had scheduled to see both Pisa and Florence. Although both Nancy and Marco had said the Pisa was beautiful, the also both recommended that we spend only 1 or 2 hours there. Consequently we decided to compress both Pisa and Florence into one day and spent the prior day solely in Cinque Terra. Luckily on this day the ship was in port from 8:00 AM until 9:00 PM. As with the day before, Francesco met us as we got off the ship. However this time he met us in Livorno instead of Porto Venere. From there we drove to Pisa. As expected it is beautiful, not just the tower, but the entire square. One can only imagine how majestically impressive it would have been to a farmer from the countryside eight hundred years ago when it was first built. As we were finishing up our sightseeing and preparing to leave I noticed that the number of people in the square was significantly increasing. When we had arrived there were hardly any other people around, now, as the tour busses arrived, it began to get harder to shoot a photo that did not have people in the field of view. Needless to say, we were glad that touring with Francesco had allowed us to get there first. From Pisa we drove to Florence. Once again, being in a private tour car allowed us to enter the city faster and to drive where busses were not allowed to go. Francesco drove us to the Palazzo Vecchio where we met Simone, our guide for the Uffizi museum. As Marco had done in Rome, Simone had already purchased the tickets for the Uffizi and we entered without any waiting in line. For the next two hours we toured the museum. Of course there is so much to see that we could have spent the entire day (or days), but we only had two hours in the schedule. From there we drove to the Accademia to see Michelangelo's David. Here people were standing in line for 3-4 hours to get tickets to enter. Once again Francesco and Simone had already purchased our tickets (tied to a specific entry time), so after a 10-15 minute wait we were allowed to enter. From here we went to the Loggia del Mercato Nuovo (outdoor market area) to sightsee and have lunch. Here there were artists reproducing artistic masterpieces on the street pavement; very interesting. Following lunch we drove up to the Piazzale Michelangelo which overlooks the entire city of Florence. From here you could really get a perspective of everything; this is really a must do in Florence. Next Francesco dropped us off on the Piazza de' Pitti so that we could walk across the Ponte Vecchio (the covered bridge) to the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte. After seeing the baptistery and all of the stunning mosaics, we met Francesco and headed back to the ship. As with Rome the ability of the private tour to focus on what we wanted to see and to easily go where we wanted to go significantly increased the number of sights that we got to see and the amount of quality time that we got to spend at the sights. On the 28th we finally left the Crystal Serenity and began our trip home. Due to the airplane schedule we flew Iberia from Barcelona to Madrid and then from Madrid to San Juan. Arriving at 7:00 PM we cleared customs and took a cab to the Ritz Carlton Hotel which had been recommended and booked by Nancy - http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/SanJuan/ . Again this proved to be a great suggestion. The hotel was a 10 minute cab ride from the airport, so we quickly got there and began to unwind from the day of traveling. While my wife went to sleep my daughter and I went to the hotel's beautiful swimming pool to relax and unwind. Then, after a few hours of sleep, we were all up and on the hotel's beach before anyone else had even gotten out of bed. But all good things must end - so on the 29th we boarded a American Airlines plane and flew home. Incidentally, the plane left San Juan two hours late due to weather in the Boston area. This was the only glitch on our entire 18 day trip- a fact that I ascribe to good planning, good recommendations from caring travel agents (Nancy, Liz and Marco), and good travel providers (Iberia, Crystal, Rome Connection, Palazzo Sant'Angelo, Ritz Carlton). Bottomline: Our 18 day European vacation/cruise was great and everything worked better than we could have hoped. The cruise, hotel and other travel arrangements suggested and made by Nancy Yale were wonderful. The Italian tour company highly recommended by Liz Mandarino could not have been better. The service provided by Marco Tavola's Rome Connection and his affiliates was exemplary, very cost effective and allowed us to see far more of each city than we would have been able to if we have taken the 60-person bus tours. Along with the airline travel and cruise arrangements I viewed the private tours as one of the three "make or break" components of the vacation; they surpassed our expectations. I cannot recommend Rome Connection highly enough. If you need a driver in Italy, do yourself a favor and call Marco - http://www.romeconnection.com/. The ship and hospitality provided by Crystal proved why they are always so highly recommended when compared to their competitors. So, if you are looking for a wonderful vacation, you might want to consider these travel agents and companies as part of your plan. They certainly helped us have an unforgettable vacation. Ciao, Read Less
Crystal Serenity Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.4
Dining 5.0 4.4
Entertainment 5.0 4.1
Public Rooms 5.0 4.6
Fitness Recreation 5.0 4.3
Family 4.0 4.3
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.8
Enrichment 5.0 4.2
Service 4.5 4.6
Value For Money 4.0 3.9
Rates 5.0 4.1

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