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7 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2018
First, since Crystal Serenity goes to dry dock next month (October 2018), some of the comments may not be applicable. My wife and I took a Crystal river cruise last year (Danube) and were so impressed with the level of service and the ... Read More
First, since Crystal Serenity goes to dry dock next month (October 2018), some of the comments may not be applicable. My wife and I took a Crystal river cruise last year (Danube) and were so impressed with the level of service and the shore excursions that we booked the Italian/Greece cruise on Serenity. While we enjoyed the cruise, the level of service did not even compare to that of the river cruise. In talking to long-time Crystal cruisers (some over 10 trips), they say the quality has gone down since Crystal was sold and the bean counters took over. That is our opinion also—with just a few differences, we saw little to distinguish Crystal above other cruise lines. Pre-trip support was not that great. It was like pulling teeth to get transfer information (bot pre and post cruise). The only option I got was IF I booked their hotel, with pricing about 2 to 3 times what you can get online. I was given no transfer options post-cruise, yet found out once onboard they do offer transportation from the port (Civitacecchia) to the airport, but we had already arranged our own since we were not informed of that option beforehand. It does not show up in the list of excursions at the beginning or end of the cruise. This is completely different than the river cruise where you could easily select transportation before and after the cruise. While the Serenity might be an older ship, we found everything in good condition. The carpeting is very worn, particularly in the rooms, but it was not a problem. Everything else was in great shape which shows the continual maintenance. We had no issues at all anywhere on the ship where things were broken or didn’t work properly. Being older, some of the modern features found on other ships (interactive menu on the tv, real time billing information, electronic key fobs, et al) are obviously absent. But again, it did not detract from the cruise in any manner. The cruise was excellent. Upon boarding we found that one of the ports was changed (Zakynthos, Greece changed to Katakolon). Perhaps because it was an older ship, the tv information was never updated with this change, showing the original port and information and never the new port, even while docked. The shore excursion options were much more limited. Many of the ports selected required tendering, including this change. Crystal tends to fill the tenders to the maximum before they depart, so it gets stuffy and crowded. Return wasn’t as much of a problem as it becomes more staggered. Crystal ocean cruises do not offer any free excursions, as does the river cruise. Excursions are expensive, often 2-3 times what you can get online (TripAdvisor) or arrange on your own when in port. Like all ship excursions, they are convenient. We took some of the ship excursions, but arranged a couple on our own. Doing it on your own can result in a much smaller group (4-6 people), plus you can do several things vice the ship’s offering on usually just one major event (because of so many people). Food was excellent. If you want to dine at the specialty restaurants, you really need to book them before the cruise. We booked one before and tried to book one when we boarded, but they were full for the entire cruise. The buffet dining is open for breakfast and lunch, but not dinner. So if an excursion brings you back after your assigned dining period, you don’t have a lot of options (room service works). We had a very enjoyable time in the main dining room, and had great table companions. Service was excellent. The one major disappointment in dining is that Crystal has moved to a more common menu (among all the ships) and thus you will get no cuisine from the areas you are visiting. At several ports, there were some great specialty foods that they were known for (pastries, main dishes, appetizers, or even wine and beer). None of these were ever available on board the ship. Because the ship excursions are so time-condensed, you don’t even have time to sample them on the excursion. So you miss out on great local food. For the long-time Crystal cruisers, they said that Crystal used to offer local specialties but no longer do that, and instead board the entire cruise food at the embarkation point (controlled by headquarters in Los Angeles). So I guess every ship gets the exact same menu option on any given day. I think this is the biggest disappointment in the cruise as we would have liked to have tried more regional foods. We ended up canceling some shore excursions just so we could go into the city and try new foods (like a true Italian pizza margherita). Forget the weather forecast the ship provides. At one port they ship said it would be 69F and rainy. In actuality it was 86F and clear and sunny. The ship’s forecasts were never close. Use your own app to get the real weather. Internet is free, but it is extremely slow (think slower than dial up). There will be times when you can’t even check email because it is so slow. Finally, the entertainment was good, but focuses primarily on the ship’s dance team and singers. I think they only brought in outside entertainment twice. Other cruises we’ve been on they’ve brought in comedians, magicians, aerial acrobats, and many other different forms of entertainment. While the ship’s dance crew is good, it would have been nice to have something else to see. This may be why the lounge was rarely full, so it is easy to find a seat. Overall the cruise was very enjoyable. We were just disappointed somewhat in Crystal as we expected more based upon our river cruise experience. I guess they are two completely different cruises as the river cruise offered pre and post cruise transportation, free excursions, local foods, and more. For a ship of 1200, that may not have been practical from a bean counter perspective. The point is that the Crystal ocean cruise seems to be the same as any other major cruise line (Holland, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, MSC). Read Less
26 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2017
We love cruises and had been looking for one to Croatia. Our previous cruises had been with the big middle market lines - Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Princess, etc. We picked this 1-week Venice to Croatia cruise for three reasons. ... Read More
We love cruises and had been looking for one to Croatia. Our previous cruises had been with the big middle market lines - Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Princess, etc. We picked this 1-week Venice to Croatia cruise for three reasons. First, most of the big ships stop in only one or two ports in Croatia, but Esprit stops in six different ports on a one-week cruise. The small size (they refer to it as a yacht) enables them to go to the smaller places that are less crowded and often more enjoyable. Second, we went with a group hosted by a family that owns a winery in Napa that we love and are club members of. So there were a number of special dinners, receptions and wine tours that were offered as part of this particular cruise, and we even got to visit their sister winery in Croatia. Almost half the 61 passengers aboard were part of our winery group, but we met and made friends with every guest on the boat. Lastly, we wanted to try a smaller boat. Last year, we went on a brand new Royal Caribbean ship that had 4,500 passengers and 1,500 crew. Though it had lots of high tech entertainment, it was overcrowded and overwhelming. With a max of 62 passengers and 90+ crew, we thought Esprit would be a very different experience. And it was. Embarkation in Venice was a cinch. We embarked from the San Basilio port, easily reached by public water taxi from our hotel in Santa Croce. Check-in was relaxed - no crowds at all, and we could embark anytime during the afternoon. All suites are the same size except for one larger owner's suite. We opted for S3 222 which was close to reception, the 24-hr. self-serve food and beverage pantry, one of stairways, and the gangway. This made it easy to get on/off, or to use the stairways to dining and other activities. I saw one review here that claimed this cabin had a lot of ship noise and another that said it was pretty soundproof. We agree with the latter. Dinners were top notch. Open seating, great service, nice selection of wonderful dishes - just like eating in a five star restaurant every night. The quality of the food and service was so good that we always opted to eat dinner on the boat rather than on shore. As we celebrated my wife's birthday while on board, we asked the chef the day before to make a special dish we wanted, and it was no problem. The included wine was pretty good and always served in Reidel glasses. The wine selections varied each day (we also had complimentary wine available from our group's winery host on several nights). There is also a premium wine list with some excellent choices that cost extra. We didn't see anyone opt for those given the decent quality of the complimentary wine. We enjoyed the informal buffet breakfasts and lunches too. There was a large selection of foods given such a small number of guests, and the food quality and service was, of course, excellent. We discovered about 5 days into the cruise that in addition to the buffet, there is actually a breakfast menu where you can order Japanese breakfasts or poached eggs (e.g., eggs benedict). The pantry was stocked with fancy sandwiches, snacks, desserts, fruit, cookies, beverages, etc. There was also an outdoor grill that had pizza (not great IMHO), hamburgers, and especially good salmon burgers. And room service. The entertainment was rather limited, but that's not what we chose this cruise for. There was a singer/piano player that would perform songs on his own or by your request pre- and after dinner. As with other high-end lines, all drinks were complimentary, all the time. One night, there was an excellent local Croatian music group that entertained us before dinner. In terms of water activities, we only tried the jet skis which were fun (and complimentary). There is a two-seater submersible which we thought was a bit pricey for a 20 minute dive. But it's amazing that they even have one. Guests we spoke with who tried it were a bit disappointed in what they could see in the Adriatic. I suspect this will be great when the yacht repositions to the Caribbean. There were at least two complimentary shore excursions in every port, plus others that involved special activities (bicycling, kayaking, zip lines, or private tours) for an added fee. We always opted for the complimentary excursions and enjoyed all but one of them (as we didn't think that local guide was very good). There is always a host from the ship along with the local guide, making sure no one gets separated especially in crowded ports like Split. Each group seemed limited to about a max of 10 people - Crystal just adds more groups to the popular excursions. Transportation was always in new luxury vans. On one of the islands, our local guide was a professor who teaches Croatian history and culture at universities throughout Croatia. Needless to say, he was incredible. There were a couple of things that really impressed my wife and me. As you embark, they take your photo for your ID card. Within an hour, every staff member we passed on the ship greeted us by name on sight. Wow. I've read that Crystal employees have to go to a very extensive service training program before working on the boat. Many of the staff, including the ever present reception hostesses, Jackie and Kiki, had worked for Crystal on other ships for 12-14 years. It shows. The second thing might seem small, but when you are traveling for 3 weeks, it's not. Each cabin deck has a self-serve washer and dryer. That enabled us to pack fewer clothes for our trip, and change 2-3 times a day (important given the heat during our shore excursions). If you were off at dinner, you could simply ask your butler (available 24x7) to pick up your laundry for you, or to even press your clothes. No charge for any of this. Even though Crystal is more expensive than any other cruise line we've taken (and I think Esprit is more expensive than Crystal Symphony, Serenity, etc.), we are seriously thinking about booking another trip, or at least staying within the Crystal family. Read Less
14 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2017
I was very interested in visiting Croatia and I choose the Crystal Esprit because of its high ratings and the itinerary of the ship. We were not disappointed. The service on this ship was very personalized. We had two room cabin attendants ... Read More
I was very interested in visiting Croatia and I choose the Crystal Esprit because of its high ratings and the itinerary of the ship. We were not disappointed. The service on this ship was very personalized. We had two room cabin attendants and a butler. When we would go to breakfast our room was always cleaned by the time we got back from breakfast. The cabin was very comfortable, once we figured out how to get the cabin to a comfortable temperature. The ship was immaculate, no matter where you went, not a dish or plate left anywhere. The food was amazing. It was like eating in a five star Michelin restaurant every night. the chef checked every plate before it left the kitchen. They gave us the option of eating outside where there was only six tables so it was very intimate. Also they went out of their way to make rum raisin ice cream because one of the passengers asked for it. Also one night we had a wonderful Phillipine meal with two other couples because a couple we met asked them for this meal. They would cook anything as long as you gave them a days notice. The only disappointment was that we ordered French toast one morning for breakfast and it was soggy and not cooked completely. Although there was no scheduled entertainment they did bring on local talent that was very good. They also had music every night on the deck. The tours were amazing. Every port we were taken to two different towns, one by the port and one inland. They had small group tours only 10 to 12 per tour. The tour buses were very clean and new. The towns we visited were absolutely beautiful and interesting. Many of the towns were walled cities which were so beautiful. We even got the opportunity to jet shi on the Adriatic. It is a shame that this ship will transfer to the Caribbean in 2018 and 2019, Croatia was one of our best trips ever. Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2017
we chose this cruise because the ports of call were the ones we were looking for. also since the ship was smaller that most cruise ships, We were able to pull into Ports with very shallow Harbors. Therefore the ports of call were very ... Read More
we chose this cruise because the ports of call were the ones we were looking for. also since the ship was smaller that most cruise ships, We were able to pull into Ports with very shallow Harbors. Therefore the ports of call were very unique. Rarely did we pull into a port where You were competing with one of those mega-ships anchored outside a harbor. the service was exceptional. i think the crew to passenger ratio was at least 2 to 1. the crew seemed very stress free and it was reflected in the their service. on many cruises we've taken the crew would seemed to be to busy to help us out. most excursions on this cruise were included in the cruise fare. Getting the opportunity to dive in a bathyscape was a once in a lifetime experience. the paid excursion to a small olive oil factory in Parga Greece was 798$ for 2. we enjoyed several courses of freshly cooked courses, but it was still overpriced. Read Less
18 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2016
The Esprit was a wonderful a cruise as we could imagine. We have been loyal to Seabourn for several years, but the Esprit was on a par with any Seabourn cruise we've taken. The best thing about the Esprit is that it takes only 62 ... Read More
The Esprit was a wonderful a cruise as we could imagine. We have been loyal to Seabourn for several years, but the Esprit was on a par with any Seabourn cruise we've taken. The best thing about the Esprit is that it takes only 62 passengers. The ship is a beautiful reconstruction of an older ship. Its 285 sq. ft. staterooms have a clean line and comfortable beds. All staterooms have spacious walk-in showers. Above all that the service by a friendly personal crew is first rate. Every mean was superb: a 5-star dining experience of wonderful tastes and experienced dining room service. Most of the excursions are included in the price, as are all gratuities and beverages, alcoholic and non-alcoholic. There is nothing we could complain about. It is the wonderful Seabourn experience with a fraction of the guests, leading to close comradeship among us all. Seemingly no detail was left out, and no service request denied. Pants pressed in an hour? Free and no problem. We would return to the Esprit in a heartbeat when we are next interested in a cruise. Read Less
10 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2016
We have just disembarked from the Crystal Symphony in Rome after a 11 day cruise. We couldn't fault any part of the cruise and feel we have experienced a very professional event. The entertainment was always enjoyable. All the ... Read More
We have just disembarked from the Crystal Symphony in Rome after a 11 day cruise. We couldn't fault any part of the cruise and feel we have experienced a very professional event. The entertainment was always enjoyable. All the staff were friendly and efficient but especially would like to mention our 2 dinner waiters on Table 49 at the 2nd sitting, Salih and Viaos Both of them were amazing, efficient and lovely personalities. We looked forward to dining experience because of them. Our other waiter was Louis in the Palm Lounge. He looked after our party of 14 wonderfully and efficiently, we couldn't fault him and his co-worker. Because of their friendliness we went to the Palm Lounge every day. They contributed to making our 'Crystal' experience complete. And of course our maid on the 7th Floor Marcie, always bright and helpful. We would love to do another Crystal cruise. Read Less
28 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2016
We just came back from our cruise on the Crystal Esprit and enjoyed it very much. It’s a very new and interesting concept and they are still working out exactly what it is, I think. We thought it was terrific and would like to do it ... Read More
We just came back from our cruise on the Crystal Esprit and enjoyed it very much. It’s a very new and interesting concept and they are still working out exactly what it is, I think. We thought it was terrific and would like to do it again, but we’re also curious how it is going to evolve. Every person on board said they’d do it again but at the same time, everyone had certain “tweaks” they would like to see. I think it’s an interesting territory they are trying to inhabit, in between a “cruise” and the experience of being on a private yacht. Now it’s more the former but I think they will go more in the yacht direction over time. There are max 62 guests on board and we found it to be a more international crowd than usual for Crystal – roughly equal numbers of Americans and Australians, followed by Brits, with Canadians, Mexicans, Spanish and Italian guests also represented. Everyone spoke excellent English. Mostly couples, of ages varying from about 40 to about 80, though all with good mobility (no elevators on this ship). Some interesting groups, for example there were two young girls (10 and 13 respectively) each traveling with their grandparents (not traveling together, though I think they were happy to meet each other on board!); also 2 large multigenerational family groups (adults) celebrating special occasions. The itinerary was TERRIFIC – from the time we left Venice until we pulled into Dubrovnik we didn’t see another cruise ship, and it was great to be going into these tiny harbours and charming towns with all the sailboats. The weather was perfect, the sea was warm, and Croatia is just gorgeous. They have all kinds of watersport facilities on board that were underutilized because the Croatian government is still being very sticky about giving them permits to run the jet skis, submarine, etc. It’s clear this is something they’re working on, it the experience will be better when that is an option every day rather than just once or twice during the sailing. I understand that this part of the experience was much more dominant and "amazing" in the Seychelles, where they are much less restricted. All the shore excursions are “free” (ie included) and they were excellent, but again they were kind of conventional ships tours and that is also something they are working on. Most of them were full day tours with lunch included and most of the guests on board said they would prefer half-day tours that would allow them to relax on the ship, explore on their own or enjoy the watersports for the rest of the day. I suspect that will definitely be a tweak they will make in time. We went zip lining and white water rafting (all included). All the guides were excellent, the experiences were well-chosen and fabulous, and there was attention to our comfort (for example, the most popular excursion saw 30 of the 62 guests all going to Krka national park. Crystal COULD have put us all on one bus, but instead they sent us in 3 comfy mini-buses, each with our own guide. Classy call). Food was 100% up to Crystal standards and thus FABULOUS. The executive chef on board touches every plate. He runs a very tidy kitchen too! All the drinks are included, and we were impressed by the quality and selection of the “free” wines on the list too. All the stressors of cruising like embarkation, disembarkation and “rules” are basically gone. You walk on, they give you some champagne, someone shows you your room. At the end, they arrange “free” transport to the airport or your onward hotel and you leave at your convenience. None of this “red group in the show lounge by 7:15 to await embarkation instructions”. We didn’t even need to pack until the morning we left. "Entertainment" consisted of one piano player/singer; he seemed good but really no one much was looking to be entertained until we had bad weather on the last day. Most guests enjoyed gathering on deck for a drink and great conversation with other travelers. There were no real "enrichment" activities, and although I didn't really miss it, I do think having local lecturers come on board to tell us more about the history of Croatia would have been a bonus. There was also a great watersports team who as mentioned was underutilized; getting those watersports permits sorted out is clearly a priority for the captain. All in all, we enjoyed this very much (even more than our Crystal "big ship" experiences, and that is saying a LOT). I am very excited to see where else they may take this ship. The downside for me right now is that it seems to be going back to Croatia again next summer (good for you if you haven't done this fantastic itinerary yet; not so great for me as we are not big on repeating ports we've already visited). Hopefully they will seek out other smaller yachting areas to explore in the future. Oh - and contrary to a prior Seychelles review - we had virtually NO motion on board. Twice the captain warned us it might be a bit rocky; the first time it was very mild and the second we felt nothing. So, at least in these relatively sheltered waters, the Esprit is very stable and comfortable (even in a big thunderstorm which we did experience!). Read Less
23 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2016
First scheduled cruise for the newest addition to the Crystal family and can not say enough nice things about the experience. With room for something like 86 pax, an intimate experience is assured and it was!!! Great crew, no, very ... Read More
First scheduled cruise for the newest addition to the Crystal family and can not say enough nice things about the experience. With room for something like 86 pax, an intimate experience is assured and it was!!! Great crew, no, very great crew! Large cabins with great Wi-Fi and no interior cabins. Only three floors with no elevator, so if you are stair challenged, this may not be your choice. Saying that, everyone I saw aboard did not mind the little exercise this offered and kept most of the passengers away from the gym, so I could have it to myself!! Dining experience and the food - out of this world. First time I ever decided to return to ship while on a cruise when I had plenty of time ashore. Why, I just could not wait to see how they prepared lunch when each and every dinner was superb. Breakfast buffet was a visual treat to begin with and the staff noted the special dishes for each morning along with the beautiful spread on the buffet. Each cocktail hour had a marvelous piano player, freshly made apps and an array of adult beverages to start your evening. Wine list were the best I have seen and most of the servers were knowledgeable enough to offer suggestions to pair your meal with an appropriate libation. Shore excursions were all 1st class. For the first trip of the year, it was amazing they were able to pull everything off without a hitch. Every day the offer a free activity; all of which were very pleasing. On hitch, which I am sure they have rectified by now, was embarkation in Venice was not well noted on the documents. I guess they thought everyone would take their offer of transport directly to the yacht, which, I had not. The ports were beautiful. Who could not like the Croatia coast and the lovely small towns that grace the beautiful waters of the Adriatic Sea. Many opportunities to visit a guided tour of local wineries and sample not only their wine, but several even offered local apps or lunch. As a practicing income taxman experiencing his annual post-tax season "get away from it all" this was just about perfect - so much so, my next opportunity to come aboard the Esprit will be with my lovely wife!!! Read Less
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
Sail Date: May 2014
This was our fifth Crystal cruise and our third onboard the Crystal Serenity and, as it had recently undergone a multi-million pound refit, we were looking forward to seeing the changes. As our flight to Venice did not arrive until quite ... Read More
This was our fifth Crystal cruise and our third onboard the Crystal Serenity and, as it had recently undergone a multi-million pound refit, we were looking forward to seeing the changes. As our flight to Venice did not arrive until quite late in the evening ,we spent one night in a hotel near the airport prior to joining the ship the next morning. After a welcome night’s sleep and a good breakfast it was only a short private coach transfer, organised by our hotel, to the port. We would always recommend staying at least one night prior to the cruise either in, or near to, the embarkation port. Embarkation Day When we arrived at the port the embarkation desks were just about to open so we were soon processed and onboard the ship where the formal check in took place in the main lobby area and, as usual, this was done very quickly and efficiently. We were then free to have lunch in the Trident grill, which we washed down with a very welcome glass of champagne, and felt that our holiday had really begun. During lunch we were delighted to meet up again with some familiar and friendly faces, namely crew members whom we had met on previous cruises. This made us feel very welcome and as if we had come home again. By the time we had finished lunch, our stateroom was ready and we were able to unpack and relax in the sun by the pool. Our verandah stateroom was located on Deck 8, towards the bow of the ship. The Ship Thankfully the layout of the ship had not been changed as a result of the refit so we already were familiar with all the public areas. In view of the recent refit we had expected to find some dramatic changes , however, these seem to have been confined mostly to the refurbishment of the staterooms and the creation of the new ‘Tastes’ restaurant in the area around the former Trident pool. The staterooms looked very smart and well kept, however, the biggest improvement was the removal of the old Trident pool and the creation of the ‘Tastes’ restaurant. The old Trident pool was previously a bit of a dead space and the revamp (including screens, plants and new furniture) is a great innovation. As usual all the public areas throughout the ship were spotlessly clean and it never ceases to amaze us that this is all done without guests even being aware that it is happening. We did hear some negative comments about large rust marks at the bottom of the Seahorse pool which guests thought would have been addressed during the refit. Our Stateroom Stewardess looked after us very well and kept us well supplied with towels and ice. Food and drinks The standard of the food on board was excellent in all the eating venues as usual. We usually had breakfast outside at the excellent ‘Lido’ buffet where we could sit and view the port we were visiting that day. For lunch we varied between the ‘Lido’ buffet and the ‘Tastes’ restaurant and, when at the latter, always ensuring to get dessert from the extensive selection at the ‘Lido’. It is hard to single out any particular member of crew for praise, however, Bruno from Portugal was a delight with attentive service and always time for a chat. We had dinner every evening in the Main Dining Room, apart from three nights when we ate in the ‘Prego’ , ‘Silk Road’ and ‘Tastes’ restaurants. The menu choice and standard food in the main Dining Room was excellent and the experience was enhanced by our very efficient and jovial Head Waiter Zoltan – we loved his sense of humour. Our Spanish Sommelier was very attentive the standard of the wines served was first class. We went to ‘Prego’ once during the cruise in the company of two new- found friends and everyone thoroughly enjoyed both the food and the calm ambience. On another night we went to ‘Silk Road’ and were tempted to try dishes which we would not normally choose and it turned out to be a wonderful experience. We decided to try the less formal ‘Tastes’ restaurant on another evening, however, we found the menu a bit confusing and would not have rushed back again. We were told that the evening menu did not change from day to day and think that this may deter guests making a second visit. We indulged ourselves with afternoon tea in the Palm Court on a few occasions; however, our big vice was afternoon tea and cakes in ‘The Bistro’. We were aware that the Bistro was now open later in the evenings, however, by that stage we had usually eaten too much already so we did not make it there. It was clearly popular with guests who wanted to sit and relax with a cup of tea or coffee after dinner so the longer opening hours are definitely a welcome innovation. Our favourite bars were ‘Crystal Cove’ and ‘the Avenue Saloon’, mainly due to the great staff working there. We always had pre-dinner drinks in ‘Crystal Cove’ and had great craic with the bar staff, Afzal and Alex, who were not only very good at their job but they made us feel like old friends. We would invariably meet the same guests there every night as they also loved the relaxed, friendly atmosphere fostered by all the staff. We liked to go to the ‘Avenue Saloon’ after dinner as it was a very comfortable place to relax, chat with fellow guests and sing along to the piano. We also enjoyed a few late nights in the ‘Pulse’ nightclub, especially on the karaoke nights hosted by the lovely Hayley from the Reception desk. The Ports of Call All our previous Crystal cruises had been around the Mediterranean and we were looking forward to this particular cruise because it was visiting some ports new to us. Venice – We decided not to brave the crowds this time and just relax onboard, enjoying the peace and quiet while all the other guests went off sightseeing. A former Captain of the Crystal Serenity once said that ‘the ship can be your holiday destination in itself’ and we heartily agree with that sentiment. Kotor , Montenegro – We had been told that this was a very beautiful part of the world and they were correct. Sailing slowly between spectacular wooded landscapes was really magical and you could sense the excitement of the crew who hailed from the region. We docked just a stone’s throw from Kotor and it was a very picturesque place. Taormina, Sicily – We booked the Crystal transfer into the town and it was well worth the ride. A beautiful place with lots of character, cafes, bars and shops, including some very upmarket designer ones. Recommended viewing. Sorrento – We had been here several times before with Crystal, however, it was nice to get off the ship for a short while just to stretch the legs and have a little retail therapy. Civitavecchia, Italy- We did not want to visit Rome on this occasion so we opted for a post-breakfast stroll around Civitavecchia and a coffee before heading back to the ship for lunch. It is a much larger town than we had remembered but a few hours was enough time there. Monte Carlo/ Monaco – It was purely by accident that we found ourselves on this cruise which coincided with the Monte Carlo rally and there were lots of ‘petrol heads’ onboard who had booked this cruise especially to be there. Even though we were not race enthusiasts there was a growing sense of anticipation when we arrived in Monte Carlo on the day of the race. Unfortunately we were not moored in Monte Carlo bay, as on previous occasions, but just round the headland so we did not have the usual spectacular view of Monte Carlo, however, we were certainly made well aware of all the build up to the race. From early morning there was a constant shuttle of private helicopters overhead, undoubtedly carrying the rich and famous to their stretch limos and onto the race. It was fascinating to watch and the mind boggled at what it must all be costing! The following day we ventured into Monte Carlo hoping the place would have returned to normality and perhaps engage in a bit of star spotting, however, many areas were still sealed off and barriers were still being removed. Sorry to report no sightings of George Clooney or Nicole Scherzinger – maybe next time? Livorno – Unless you are heading to Florence, Livorno is not a pretty place to spend too much time in. Barcelona – Having visited the city many times before we used our last day of the cruise to have a wander around and enjoy some sangria and tapas with two fellow guests who had by now become firm friends. A lovely way to end to a very happy cruise. Entertainment It is a pity that the live band does not play every afternoon on the Lido deck at sail away, however, they did play on the ‘sea day’ and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it- even the crew working on deck got into the spirit and were dancing in the aisles! The Crew The crew, as ever, made the whole cruise special and, although we have mentioned by name those with whom we probably had the most contact, we must praise all crew for their efficiency, friendliness and patience. . They are Crystal’s biggest asset. Overall cruise experience This was a very relaxing and enjoyable cruise and we loved every minute. We met some great fellow passengers with whom we are still in contact and we look forward to planning our next Crystal cruise in 2015 when a certain someone will be celebrating a milestone birthday – and I do not mean a 21st. It is Crystal clear to see that this cruise line keeps up the excellent work!   Read Less
Sail Date: May 2014
Truly an exceptional experience in terms of being taken care of, feeling safe and completely content. The food is spectacular (not easily said since I am a gourmet home chef) . The staff go out of their way to make you feel welcome and ... Read More
Truly an exceptional experience in terms of being taken care of, feeling safe and completely content. The food is spectacular (not easily said since I am a gourmet home chef) . The staff go out of their way to make you feel welcome and at-home. The toughest part of a Crystal Cruise is the depressed feeling you get when you return to normal living and suddenly discover all that exceptional service has disappeared in Crystal's wake! We were very impressed with the way that Crystal seems to approach virtually any task. Whatever they do, they do it with class, excellent organization and customer safety in mind. If it is a Crystal event or excursion, you can be certain it is worth the price. We also greatly enjoyed having all gratuities and alcohol included in the booking fare. One other thing to mention: all of the people we met onboard were affable, well-mannered and educated. This is not the cruise line for frat parties, spoiled kids or noisy drunks.   Read Less
Sail Date: September 2013
My wife and I have always had a stereotypical opinion of what a cruise would be like having seen documentaries on the subject, portraying a negative view. So when the opportunity arose to try one we agreed with some trepadation. How wrong ... Read More
My wife and I have always had a stereotypical opinion of what a cruise would be like having seen documentaries on the subject, portraying a negative view. So when the opportunity arose to try one we agreed with some trepadation. How wrong we were! This cruise surpassed all expectations. We were greeted at the airport by three couriers who directed us to the transfer coach and from then on every detail was covered by a representitive. The cabin was comfortable with a sumptous kingsize bed and balcony. Our maid who looked after our cabin coudn't do enough for us and was always cheerful and attentive. Daily pamphlets were left detailing the next day's excursion. Many choices of restauraunts to choose from serving delicious food along with copious amounts of drink on offer throughout the day ( all inclusive). The excursions were plentiful and varied in choice, albeit a bit expensive! The entertainment was varied but nothing to write home about. All staff were extremely polite and helpful and always made us feel welcome. If there was one gripe it would be the long walk back from the Venice excursion boat that landed us at the quayside for us to walk back to the ship, which for a disabled person was a bit much! Many fellow passengers remarked that we have been spoiled by going on a first cruise at such a high standard which will make future cruise ships hard to beat. Would I go again, You bet. ( and I don't work for Chrystal). 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: 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
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: November 2011
This was my twenty second sailing with Crystal and my first with my partner Craig. We choose this cruise to celebrate his birthday and to visit some new ports of call; Venice and Dubrovnik. The balance of our ports were repeats of some ... Read More
This was my twenty second sailing with Crystal and my first with my partner Craig. We choose this cruise to celebrate his birthday and to visit some new ports of call; Venice and Dubrovnik. The balance of our ports were repeats of some favorites - Sicily, Sorrento, Rome, Florence and Barcelona. He had never been to Monte Carlo and the French Riviera towns of Nice and Eze. We were both pleased with our Crystal experience. Our flights from Miami on Alitalia were uneventful and our transfer to the ship was flawless, as always. We arrived in Venice midday, enjoyed lunch in the MDR and settled in to our cabin and exploring the ship, as we were docking overnight. The next morning we took the first of many shore excursions, doing a whirlwind introduction to Venice. This included a guided tour of Doge's Palace and a walking tour of the center square. Next was an hour long gondola ride followed by a demonstration of Murano glass blowing. We were enchanted by Venice, despite being in port with many other ships. Our sail-away was enhanced by welcome party hospitality for our V.Com group while we enjoyed views of Venice from the Palm Court. Our first dinner in the MDR was up to the usual Crystal standards. All was well with Serenity, sparkling from her drydock and renovation this spring. Our second full day was at sea with the usual abundance of choices of guest lecturers, and a cooking demonstration by Andre Soltner of the French Culinary Institute. Craig loved his demonstration of traditional french cooking and won a private lesson in the Galley with him that afternoon. That evening was our only formal night and the usual Captain's Welcome reception. This was where we first noticed a marked change in the usual demographics of the guests. This sailing was almost full with nearly 1,000 guests, but only 350 Society members. Formal attire and polite behavior was markedly absent among the many new to Crystal passengers. Matre'D Leo had his hands full attempting to enforce the dress codes in the dining room. Our second port of call was Dubrovnik, Croatia, where we did a culinary excursion to Cavtat, a stunning seaside fishing village on the Dalmation Coast. Here, Craig and I participated in a hands-on cooking lesson where we prepared our own feast of flambed shrimp, grilled stuffed baby squid and bananas cooked in rum. Each course was accompanied by a delicious Croatian wine. This was one of the best shore excursions of the many I have taken with Crystal. Our return to the ship included a tour of the walled city of Dubrovnik. This is a wonderfully scenic, friendly and safe country; someplace I shall return to someday. With two wonderful ports behind us, we enjoyed another sea day relaxing around the pool, which has been redecorated in the same fashion as the Symphony. All of the deluxe staterooms have been renovated with fresh, stylish soft goods, improved lighting and flat screen TV's with DVD players. The layouts of the staterooms have always worked well, seeming more spacious than their dimensions would predict. I had always sailed solo on Crystal before, but had no problem sharing our cabin with my partner. Those who complain that Crystal's accommodations are too cramped must surely be spoiled, or bring too many clothes for a two week sailing. We were totally comfortable in our balcony stateroom on Deck 8. Our stewardess, Petty, was outstanding. In Sicily we participated in our complimentary Vacation Vignettes tour which took us up Mt. Etna and on to a winery for a tasting and lunch. Again, the food and wines served were delicious and the bus ride was quite scenic. After our tour, we took the Crystal Shuttle into the lovely town of Tourramina, which is as scenic as anything on the Amalfi Coast. That evening, en route to Sorrento, Captain Glenn announced that our plans had changed due to anticipated strong winds and heavy seas. The next day we would be docking in Naples, rather than risk anchoring off of Sorrento. This change was met with many complaints from the guests, but I have always enjoyed Naples before. The remaining ports were repeats for me, with our overnight in Monaco being a real treat for Craig. There is so much to see and do in the Cote D'Azure that an overnight here was a welcome change from this port intensive cruise. We spent the first day walking about Monte Carlo and the second on a tour to Nice and Eze, which I enjoyed seeing for the second time. Our weather was perfect for the entire cruise, with the exception of one rainy, windy day in Naples. This is the perfect time of year to visit the Med and the Serenity remains one of my favorite ways to travel in complete luxury. The Serenity and Crystal still shine as brightly as ever, but in keeping their ships full they have had to attract a new type of cruiser; not the same as the Crystal of the past. 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: July 2010
This was my first cruise aboard the Serenity, my third cruise with Crystal Lines, and perhaps my 12th plus cruise experience. From beginning to end, my expectations were almost always exceeded. The arrival experience at the Venice Airport ... Read More
This was my first cruise aboard the Serenity, my third cruise with Crystal Lines, and perhaps my 12th plus cruise experience. From beginning to end, my expectations were almost always exceeded. The arrival experience at the Venice Airport culminated in a hassle-free entry to the Monaco and Grand Canal Hotel via bus and water taxi. Despite the 10:00 AM arrival, our room was ready, and St. Mark's Plaza was about 2 blocks away. Local restaurant recommendations by the Crystal representative did not prove helpful, and a mediocre margarita pizza and overly icy gelato at a sidewalk cafe were quickly forgotten in the endless parade of interesting travelers. Boarding, the next morning, was efficient and our cabin was central to the library, the Silk Road and we scarcely missed the absence of a balcony. My wife has limited endurance for the more vigorous activities, so we participated in the panoramic excursions. In Venice, she loved Cooking with the Contessa, and I substituted the panoramic cruise for the cancelled visit to the Lamborghini factory. We did not get off the ship in Kantakolon or Nafplion, and an untimely sever upper respiratory infection kept me cabin-bound in Nessebur, Bulgaria. Room service provided the soup and nutrition, and the movie selections, DVD's, MSNBC, BBC all passed the cabin time with little wanting. My wife and I are sushi and sashimi fanatics, and the quality and availability, as well as the service, are simply the finest around....anywhere! We ate at the Silk Road 5 times out of 11 opportunities, in all, and found the experience to fulfill our highest expectations. Service, everywhere, from Lido Breakfasts, to sandwiches for lunch in the dining room, to our rotating table for eight, for dinner, all were enjoyable. The Black Sea ports were particularly interesting to someone with an interest in military history. Our tour guide recited the Charge of the Light Brigade from memory and took us down to the British redoubt for a view of what they would have seen before their date with destiny. The waterfront at Yalta mixed Lenin with McDonalds' and the tiny beaches were filled with the bikini clad vacationers dotting nearly every square inch of the gravel. Odessa, with its celebrated steps, seen from below and above, and a trip inside the Opera House, sweltering though it was, and followed by Ukrainian folk dancers and a satisfying lunch, was hosted by Virtuoso, and they, too, did not disappoint. There was not enough time in Istanbul, our departure city, and the shopping experience proved to be too energy consuming for my wife, but my experience in the streets was fascinating, and all too brief. The departure from Istanbul was marred by airport restrooms that were worse than untidy, and with uncaring attendants! (Lady's Restroom....bring your own paper!) Crystal arranged our air transport with Delta, Los Angeles to Atlanta to Venice (less than mediocre) and Lufthansa, Istanbul to Munich to Los Angeles, superb, even in tourist! The speakers aboard were excellent led by Howard Fineman, on Presidents he has known, the Media, and Barack Obama, in particular, and Jay Wolff, who makes history seem like cabaret entertainment. We looked forward to the days at sea. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: June 2010
This is a review of our cruise on the Byzantine Odyssey cruise on the Crystal Serenity from June 25 - July 7 2010 with time spent pre-cruise in Venice and after disembarking in Athens. STATS AND STUFF We're a gay couple from San ... Read More
This is a review of our cruise on the Byzantine Odyssey cruise on the Crystal Serenity from June 25 - July 7 2010 with time spent pre-cruise in Venice and after disembarking in Athens. STATS AND STUFF We're a gay couple from San Francisco, ages 54 & 61. This was our first cruise on Crystal, but our 23rd cruise overall. We've cruised on most of the other cruise lines, but most frequently have enjoyed Cunard and HAL. Since this was our first Crystal cruise, this review will highlight "the Crystal difference" as well as give some advice for the various ports of call. THE SHIP The Crystal Serenity (68,870 GMT) was built in 2003 and holds only 1070 passengers (with a crew of 655). The ship is very comfortable, with no interior passenger cabins. Currently, the main dining room has two traditional seatings, but this is scheduled to change next year, with a more flexible dining concept. There are 2+ alternative restaurants: Prego for Italian food, and Silk Road for Asian items which also includes a sushi bar overseen by Nobu, the celebrity chef. Aside from tips, there is no extra charge for dining in these restaurants. Besides a well-designed buffet, there's a nice area called the Bistro for coffee and pastries as well as areas near the pool for ice cream, burgers and salads and such. Notably, the chefs in the dining room will happily accommodate special requests. Do you want a special dish, not on the menu? Ask the day before, and they'll prepare it if they can. There are three major public rooms, the single-deck Galaxy Showroom, the Stardust Lounge, for musical performances and dancing, and the Palm Court, the forward lookout bar, with a large dance floor and small stage. Additionally, there's the clubby Avenue Saloon, with dark wood paneling and leather, a disco, cigar lounge and casino. There are two pools (one with retractable dome) and a gym/spa. Additionally, the ship is equipped with a comfortable theatre, a large computer lab with separate classroom and the Studio, with electronic keyboards for music classes. On the same floor is the Vintage Room, where special dinners with tasting menus are served. Although the specific assortment of rooms might not be unusual for a ship this size, it's not the case of many competitors in the luxury market, which tend to use smaller more "boutiquey" ships. A unique feature of this ship is the location of the lifeboats. They're tucked beneath the promenade (outside the casino and theatre) Not only are there no obstructed view cabins - it avoids the common situation of cabins on the deck above the boats, where the views are horizon or lifeboats, but not the sea. Of course, this diminishes the revenue-generating space on the ship, but for passenger comfort, it can't be beat. THE PASSENGERS On this sailing, the ship was not full. There were 700+ passengers. As might be expected for a 12 night cruise of this type, there were a number in their 60s, 70s and above - but there were probably 50-100 (well-behaved) kids. Perhaps owing to the Japanese ownership of the line, there were a significant number of Asian passengers in the mix as well. THE CRYSTAL DIFFERENCE The passenger space and crew ratios are superb, as might be expected. One would expect a high level of service and that is certainly the case. There's another aspect to the warm, committed service that surprised me, and that was the attitude of the crew and staff to the company, itself. Time and again, in conversation, crew members volunteered how happy they were to be working for Crystal - and how well the company takes care of them. This attitude toward their employees clearly manifests itself in the attitude toward their jobs and to the passengers. Not only are the staff happy and service-oriented, they're extremely talented. Martin, the pianist in the Avenue Saloon, spent many years playing for the English Royal Family on their yacht, Britannia, and at Windsor Castle. The Berlitz Spanish instructor was responsible for all their programs in Central and South America. The list goes on. To a person, their credentials and knowledge are impressive. Continuing on this theme, I must note the production shows. They were excellent. Unlike shows we've seen on other lines, the entertainment was provided by the entertainers, not the stage or shtick. The company consists of two lead vocalists and an ensemble of eight singers and dancers. Yes, like Broadway, the chorus is multitalented - they sing too. There were a couple of other notable facets to the shows. One show, "My favorite Things" exclusively features the music of Rogers and Hammerstein. R&H Theatricals is notorious for keeping VERY tight control of the catalogue. (Think about it - have you EVER seen a R&H song in a showtune revue?). Finally, check the shoes! The two ladies in LA who create the shows for Crystal must like shoes. Unlike other lines, each of the many costume changes includes its own footwear. (This was pointed out during a backstage tour I attended) There were many other luxury touches included. Defying the fee-crazy trend of recent years, there is no charge for non-alcoholic beverages or ice cream (happily provided by the ever-available staff). In the well-designed cabins, there are full-size bottles of premium toiletries. The soft drinks, water and fresh fruit was replenished daily at no charge. Going ashore? Be sure to grab a complimentary bottle of water or beach towel inside the gangway. When you return, there's a chest of cold towels to refresh you. I must mention the seamstress. We noticed that a couple of buttons on our formal wear needed replacing. The solution? Five minutes after a call to the front desk, the ship's seamstress appeared at our cabin. A half hour later, the buttons were attached - no charge. Last, but certainly NOT least, I've got to mention my cruise critic posting and its aftermath. During the first dinner, things were a bit bumpy. No major problems, but the experience was not what I had been led to expect by the rave reviews and postings on Cruise Critic. (No significant issues at all - the experience would have been totally expected on a mainstream line) Unsure exactly how to calibrate my expectations, I posted a question on Cruise Critic before I decided if I should talk to the appropriate crew members. Talk about responsible service and going above-and-beyond! Hours later, on the next night, we had new dining room staff, and the maitre d' and dining room manager checked in repeatedly to ask if things were OK. (They were) Also the next day, I received a message from Victor, the Food and Beverage Manager, inviting me to discuss any concerns I might have. I sent him a note to thank him and reply that indeed, everything was wonderful. Later that day, a nice bottle of wine was delivered with a note from him. What had the potential for a small negative experience was quickly turned into an impressive display of proactive customer service and truly exceeding expectations. Again, I must mention a comment that illustrates how this attitude permeates the Crystal experience. A few nights later, during an amazing 4th of July deck party on our Istanbul overnight, I saw Victor, introduced myself, and complimented the great event put on by the people who work for him. He corrected me, crediting the people who work WITH him. PORTS AND EXCURSIONS I always recommend doing some research before leaving, in order to maximize the experience and help decide when it makes sense to spend extra for a ships tour or to do it on your own. One of the best starting places is always Cruise Critic (http://www.cruisecritic.com) Venice We departed from Venice. What can I say? We had heard Venice would be stinky (not true) crowded (not if you just walk a couple of blocks away from San Marco and the other tourists) and expensive (yeah, that one's accurate) -- but we were enchanted by this unique city of islands and canals. We stayed at the Hotel Al Codega. It's located on a little courtyard about midway between the Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge - yet surprisingly, there's only one little bridge to either destination. It was charming, quiet, and reasonably priced. We took a water taxi from the airport. Following 20+ hours of travel, this was money well spent. Standing up in the back of the luxurious boat as we sped across the lagoon to Venice was a spectacular experience. We didn't blow our money on a gondola ride - and we think this was a better use for those roughly 100 euros. (By the way, we DID ride in a gondola -- the next day we used a tronchetto to cross the Grand Canal for 1 euro) I mentioned that our hotel was located on a small courtyard. I was glad that I had checked it out using the street-view cams at Venice Connected, or I may have bypassed the little alley to the courtyard entirely. (http://www.veniceconnected.com) This site is a compendium of information and the best source for advance purchase of passes for museums and vaporetti (boats used for public transit) Venice Tours We took a number of tours - primarily not provided by the ship: Venice Backstreets Tour (http://www.theveniceexperience.com) - we took this walking tour an hour or two after arriving. Mike, the owner of the company took us around spots that most tourists would likely miss. Most importantly, he exposed us to the two key aspects to enjoying Venice. First - go down that little alley. Get lost. Be brave (there's no crime to speak of in the city) - if you think something interesting might be down that little street, go there! Second - take a break and have a spritz. Venetians' favorite cocktail, appropriate any time of day, a spritz, is a refreshing blend of prosecco, soda and Campari (bitter) or Aperol (orange) with a garnish of citrus and olive. All cafes serve them, and you'll get a knowing smile if you order one - especially with Campari. Another highly-recommended tour is the Secret Itineraries Tour of the Doge's Palace. This tour is only offered three times a day in English and must be booked in advance. (http://www.venice-museum.com). This tour takes you to the "secret floors" above the public areas of the palace, where the bureaucrats, and spies kept their records and reports - also prison cells and a torture chamber. It was absolutely fascinating. When you're online, you can also save a lot of time and avoid the LONG lines of tourists by pre-booking an entrance reservation to the don't-miss Basilica San Marco in advance (http://www.venetoinside.com/en/basilica_of_san_marco/) We usually enjoy taking boat tours of cities. From the rivers of St Petersburg to the canals of Amsterdam and Copenhagen, these tours inevitably give another perspective of the city, while allowing an hour or two to rest our tired feet. We found a tour in Venice. We were disappointed. Besides the cost (30 euro), they don't use specially designed river tourboats like in other cities. In Venice, these tours are done in water taxis - which are designed for many things (low bridge clearance, inside passenger luxury) but not for views from inside or audibility of the guide's comments. All-in-all, better to grab Rick Steve's guide and ride the vaporetto down the Grand Canal. Finally, on Saturday, we took a very special ship's excursion, called Venetian Artistry. Our first stop was the home of Bevilacqua, where we saw the looms which have been used for hundreds of years - still using the jacquard cards which store the patterns for their historic silk velvets. We then boarded our water taxi to Murano, to visit another historic producer of Venetian art - the Archimede Seguso factory, which is usually closed to the public. It was a spectacular, and very special, afternoon capped with a lunch catered by the top establishment in Venice - all of this was arranged and provided only by Crystal. Ravenna Closed on Sunday. We saw the beautiful mosaics and then returned to the ship. Not a highlight. Corfu Took the ships' excursion to the "sea caves" at Paleokastritsa with beach time and local snacks from a view spot. The sea caves were "sea niches" at best, but the boat time was pleasant, the beach was nice, the guide was interesting, the snacks were good - and the Greek beer we purchased was refreshing. The excursion was fine, but doing your own tour at this port would be OK too. Rhodes We downloaded a walking tour for this fascinating city. It was very well done. (http://www.discovery-walk.com) A highlight of our visit was the excellent Archeological Museum. It's much more extensive than it originally appears, with many garden areas. Bodrum We took a tour which had been offered by our travel agent. We visited the usual two sites: the old palace, now an excellent "underwater archeological museum" and the ruins of the mausoleum. It was a nice port. However, I'm told that the city is known as a major party town and to really experience Bodrum, one must be there in the evening. A number of passengers took an excursion to Ephesus - which is fascinating, but requires a loooong bus trip. Mykonos One of the highlights of the trip. We took a ship's excursion to the sacred island of Delos, which is just offshore of Mykonos. This island is uninhabited, but is completely a historic site. Only 20% has been excavated and that much is breathtaking. Our "Greek guidess" was wonderful and provided so much context for the many sights. While we did our trip as a ship excursion, tours are widely available, and the ferry to the island is public. After the tour,. We wandered the little city of Mykonos, climbing through the little white walkways and shops. We had a delightful lunch of seafood, lamb and more local beer in a little garden oasis. Fortunately, we were the only ship in port that day. There were five ships the day before, and I suspect the tiny town would have been overrun. Istanbul We loved Istanbul and look forward to returning. It's a fascinating city with so much to experience that our overnight stay just whetted our appetites - which considering the delicious Turkish food, is literally true. We arranged for a private tour with a gay tour guide -- specifically for the nightlife tour mentioned below. Although there's much that is exotic about Istanbul, it's quite approachable and a savvy cruiser could easily see the major sites on their own. As an alternative to large ship tours, there are a number of resources for small group and private tours besides the one we selected. In our two half-day tours, we saw the usual sights: Hagia Sophia (don't miss the views from the second story), Blue Mosque, the Cisterns (very cool!) and the Grand Bazaar and Topkapi Palace Museum. All were breathtaking, don't-miss experiences. However, we also ate a delicious lunch at one of the oldest restaurants in the city (it was more of a cafeteria, really). In our Istanbul Gay Nightlife tour, we visited six bars starting at 10:00 at night and returned to the ship before 3:00 (We could have stopped at more, but were pooped by the end). Our guide seemingly knew people at all the bars and on the streets. The venues ranged from a small cafe at the start of the evening (where a wedding party, including the bride in full white dress, arrived and started dancing to traditional Turkish music) to "atmospheric" bars up three dodgy flights of stairs, to a beautiful nightclub with a 10 piece band performing Turkish disco dance music - it's surprising how well a house beat matches Turkish music. (http://www.istanbulgay.com) If you have an overnight stop in Istanbul - do NOT stay on the ship all night. It's a short taxi ride to the Taksim district. This is where seemingly all of Istanbul goes in the evening to walk down the well-lit pedestrian street filled with shops, restaurants and bars. Athens We spent an extra three days in Athens after disembarking. This was a good choice. First, because it allowed us to see the major sites, secondly, because there was a general strike and some demonstrations on our second day - which allowed us to adjust our schedule to accommodate it. I wish I could add some advice to the usual suggestions, but I cannot. The Acropolis and Ancient Agora were breathtaking. The Parthenon Museum is exquisitely designed - with space set aside for those Elgin Marbles, should the British Museum ever return them. The National Museum is the other can't miss sight with an incomparable collection and superb signage and explanations to put it all in perspective. SUMMARY At this point, the usual question is "Will you do it again?" We most certainly will cruise Crystal again. As forewarned, indeed, we've been spoiled and found much to love about the Crystal experience. However, there's a wide world of cruising options and alternatives, so our future plans won't be exclusively with the line. For instance, our next cruises are likely to be a river cruise in Europe, what I'm calling a "big, dumb Caribbean cruise" on the Oasis/Allure of the seas and quite possibly another North Atlantic crossing - and none of these match the Crystal experience. It took about 25 years to try Crystal for our first time, but it'll be a small fraction of that before we sail on the line again. Will we revisit the ports? Yes, we will revisit Istanbul. We loved Venice and would enjoy seeing her again, but don't have the "unfulfilled" feeling about revisiting. Athens? Been there, done that. It was an amazing vacation. We adored the ship and many of the cities we visited. We learned a lot, had some amazing food, and drank a lot of local culture. Life is good! 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: May 2010
On the one hand, I don't want you to read this review, because we want to go on Crystal again, and don't want the ship to be sold out. On the other hand, the cruise was so nice, so special, that we feel we owe it to Crystal, and ... Read More
On the one hand, I don't want you to read this review, because we want to go on Crystal again, and don't want the ship to be sold out. On the other hand, the cruise was so nice, so special, that we feel we owe it to Crystal, and to potential cruisers to tell the truth. It was our first cruise in 20 years, and it was great. First, the service. Perfect. Everything you read on here is true. I've never met so many hard-working, friendly, efficient people in my life. Our on-ship experience was contrasted by the horrible service we had on our flight to Europe on American Airlines -- and we were flying business class. Richie, Clark, Benjamin, and our stewardess Malikova were too good to be true. Second, the food. Fabulous. I lived in Italy for six months, but the meal I had in the Italian restaurant, Prego, was better than any Italian restaurant I have ever eaten in -- and that includes all of Italy. Third, the spa. Fabulous. Enough said. Was everything perfect? Of course not. The classes on board --piano, computer, Italian language, bridge -- were so basic, as to be of little or no value to all but the absolute beginner. I would have liked some more intermediate and advanced classes, and I'm hardly an expert in any of those fields. Also, the report we received from fellow cruisers was that some of the shore excursions could have been better. Also, in the restaurant, when we asked for champagne, I thought it was a little tacky that they brought us the most expensive champagne, without giving us an option for the more "moderate" choice champagne. But these are minor quibbles. This is a truly great cruise line, that really knows how to do it right. If you take a Crystal Cruise, and you are bored, or unhappy, it is not the fault of Crystal. Look inside yourself. This is a first-class operation all the way. Enjoy! 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
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: August 2007
RE: Sailing 8/19/07 Booking 953766 Cruise 7320 G320 10085 , My name is Karen Joyce Baker. I recently sailed on Crystal Cruise Lines ship, Serenity 8/19/07-8/31/07. I am a journalist. As I planned my travels, my intention was to write an ... Read More
RE: Sailing 8/19/07 Booking 953766 Cruise 7320 G320 10085 , My name is Karen Joyce Baker. I recently sailed on Crystal Cruise Lines ship, Serenity 8/19/07-8/31/07. I am a journalist. As I planned my travels, my intention was to write an article for my local paper, about my experiences as a baby boomer with physical disabilities and a wheelchair, traveling in Europe and to Israel by myself. My hope was to encourage others who share similar challenges. My itinerary included a cruise of the Mediterranean on Crystal Cruise Line's ship, Serenity. My reason for choosing Crystal was based on the assurances I received from my travel agent and from the Crystal staff that I would get all the help I would need On arrival in Venice, where I was scheduled to embark on the cruise, I was booked to stay in a Crystal arranged hotel, the Westin Excelsior, for two nights prior to sailing. As part of the package I was to have transportation to the hotel by Starwood. I went to the Starwood office before 7:00PM and found that it was closed. Instead, I was met by three "locals," who spoke very little English and who started to push my chair toward a small boat, telling me it was the only transportation to my hotel. They would not stop pushing me, so I applied the brakes on my wheelchair and yelled for help. Luckily the pier manager came to my rescue. Can you imagine my fear? Because I am vulnerable traveling in a wheelchair, I had paid extra to ensure that I would always be met at airports and transferred safely to my local destinations. The connections in Venice, made in relation to Crystal Cruise Lines, were awful and did not live up to promises. Eventually, after over an hour of waiting, I arrived at the hotel via a large public commuter boat. My feet were very swollen from all the stress and waiting, and the result was that I had to stay in my hotel with my feet elevated for the next 24 hours, losing what opportunity I had to see Venice. Prior to embarking on the Serenity, because I was concerned about the difficulty and safety of shore excursions, I had gone online and downloaded all the excursions and studied them, to determine which excursions would be appropriate for me. When I tried to make a phone appointment with the excursion desk I was ignored and my emails went unanswered. My travel agent got a message stating someone from the excursions would speak to me as soon as I boarded the ship . . . "not to worry." With this in mind, I boarded the ship early for my excursions appointment. We met for about an hour, and went through each excursion. For each trip there was a reason for me not to go: steps, walking too much, no wheelchair accessibility, etc. I am not sure that I could get on a bus (no wheelchair lift of course, but steps about 13" high). Why was no lift provided for me when you were informed I would be traveling with a wheelchair? Why was I told there were excursions for me when there were none? Why did I pay thousands of dollars extra for a cruise which could not accommodate me? Did anyone say "Let's look at these destinations so we can provide assistance for her on and off the ship?" or, "How can we accommodate her?" My first evening meal on the ship, I dressed up, fixed my hair, took extra special time applying my make-up-after all, this was the first time I was going to meet my dinner partners with whom I would share meals for the next 12 days. I had a young man wheel me to the dining room (too far for me to walk from my room). I was anxious to meet my "dinner partners," and guess what: I was seated at a table by myself. I was dumbfounded. There were available places, so if my table was empty, give me a choice: a later seating, other people to dine with, but don't put a single, partially-baled lady at a table by herself her first night on the ship! Screw you Crystal-I wanted to leave and get my money back! The next day I explained to my stewardess, Juliana that I had been in Venice for two days and not seen Venice. The ramp was too difficult for me, the larger tender boat not available, no excursion suitable for me, etc. Juliana said, "It's a sin not to see Venice." She returned with Aries, my Venice guide, who spoke enough English to take me around, and had enough work experience to know how to get there. We had a wonderful afternoon. I see now how this first excursion led me to future trips which I arranged. The next day we were at sea so I had a chance to do some studying. I also asked to be taken around the ship so I could find places on my own. I stopped on Deck 6 mid ship to use the handicap women's toilet Much to my chagrin I could not stand up, the toilet seat was so low, and the bar to my right did not serve me well at all. I had to yell "Help", and my helper had to come into the bathroom and help me off the seat. Now I was looking at going back to my room every time I needed the rest room. For the next excursion I was told that the concierge would help me. The help consisted of my use of a phone. The concierge said he could not advise me on any trips, nor could he help me in any way. He suggested that I would do best using "Goggle" to make my own arrangements. If I needed to confirm by phone or fax I could use the desk phone. If I wanted a crew member to go on an excursion with me to push the wheelchair and assist me, a crew member from the Philippines would be available at a cost of $30.00 per hour. The excursion desk was willing to book me tours for $1200 to $1500 per day, for a private car and guide. After what I spent to book Crystal (about $11,000), I could not afford those costs, so instead I spent $300 for computer online time for the next few days, and went to work, trying to locate a guide and a car, available at such short notice. The gods were with me. How did Crystal help Karen with her excursions? They gave me Ritchie... A young man from the Philippines who had enough English to be pleasant and helpful, His fee was $30.00 per hour, their was no negotiating. I had a helper now all I needed was a guide with an air conditioned car that could accommodate a wheel chair. I spent the next few hours doing research and booking guides for Dubrovnik, Taormina, Sorrento, Rome and Livonia. I was very fortunate ,I had wonderful guides and delightful days.(accept for Rome ) The most congenial guide Mariano Floriento info@pleasantravel.com I booked him for two days. in Sorrento. I was able to have an excursion which I arranged, at each port. My free time was spent on the computer, so I cannot tell about any of the day time events. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2006
Having lurked on Cruise Critic for some time I thought it best to join the community. My first Crystal cruise was a wonderful experience, from start to finish. Voyage 6324 was an 11-night journey with embarkation in Venice on 1 October. ... Read More
Having lurked on Cruise Critic for some time I thought it best to join the community. My first Crystal cruise was a wonderful experience, from start to finish. Voyage 6324 was an 11-night journey with embarkation in Venice on 1 October. Guest registration in Venice occurs at the Maritima, a massive new building at the edge of the piers where cruise ships dock. Our group of four found its way there via a private water taxi from our hotel (the Ca'Pisani, which I recommend highly). Registration was quick and effortless and very soon we were on board where we were greeted by a phalanx of white-suited officers and staff, one of whom, a delightful young woman who would become one of our favorites, escorted us to our cabins on Seabreeze Deck 9. Others have written about Serenity cabins. My impression is that a great deal of useful space has been packed into 269 square feet. Favorite feature: the bath and great shower. Next favorite: comfy bed! If you have never enjoyed a Bon Voyage from Venice on Crystal, this must be one of the line's most glamorous departures. As Louis Armstrong's voice began, the ship's claxons boomed and white-gloved waiters offered champagne. Slowly we backed out of our berth as the vessel's turning pods moved the aft portion of the ship to port; then we were ready for our grand parade down the Guidecca Canal. This was one of the most memorable experiences of our trip. Our first night was on the Adriatic and a bit bumpy though not uncomfortably so. We had a terrific meal at Prego, enjoyed the dancers and singers first show, then headed to bed. The next morning we were gliding slowly into port at Dubrovnik albeit in a driving rain. At sea the following day we celebrated the author's birthday complete with a cake at dinner, singing waiters and strolling violinists. While I usually disdain such overt displays this time I was all for it. The main dining room was sometimes noisy, but the food and the service never failed to impress this travel industry veteran. Our senior waiter, Kestas, and server Gabriela were a perfect match, parrying one another's thoughts and remembering our group's favorites. Oleg, our wine steward, was a bundle of energy who confessed a love of Red Bull as his way to not only stay awake but also alert! Manager Franz and maitre'd Josef were consummate professionals. Our next port was Corfu where we enjoyed a full tour of the island with a very chatty (and I do mean "very") guide, complete with lunch in one of the resort towns before returning to the ship. The sailaway from Corfu took us past a huge old fort and the portion of a town where the British once called the shots. Each morning on board we enjoyed rising early. My cousin did the "walking at sea" thing on the Promenade Deck. My sister, brother-in-law and I opted for "vegetable mode", meaning we placed ourselves in the care of the absolutely superb deck stewards Raymond, Alvin, Clark and Benjamin. One of these young fellows (Clark) was nicknamed "Superman"; Alvin and Raymond were "The Chipmunks". Their infectious smiles and desire to please meant that every morning we were led to our favorite outdoor table on the Lido, our coffee was brought to us and a watchful eye kept on us in case we desired refills. We loved the breakfast buffet too. Very complete, everything hot and delicious, staff pleasant and courteous. Cruising through the Straits of Messina was a glorious adventure. A guiding captain had been brought on board to help steer us through the narrow straits. Our Master, captain Glenn Edvardsen, had announced we would be passing through the Straits at 3:45 pm and sure enough, as the time approached, we noted the tip of Sicily to port and the south of Italy to starboard. It was a brilliantly clear afternoon with only a few high clouds. Our group had spent several hours enjoying the pool and as we glided through the Straits my brother-in-law and I busily snapped photos. That evening we enjoyed another excellent dinner in the Main Dining Room. Naples is not one of my favorite cities though friends tell me it is improving its image. I opted to take my family on a self-escorted tour of Capri that day which turned out to be another of our favorite experiences. I'd visited this idyllic isle once before with a dear friend who has since passed away; my return, on a glorious October morning, was nostalgic, to say the least. Rather overrun by tourists (and the occasional escorted Crystal tour group!), even in October, Capri is nevertheless a "must see". We walked and walked, then cabbed it to lunch in the tiny hamlet of Marina Piccola where vistas of the Faraglioni are unobstructed. After lunch we jumped aboard a crammed orange Mercedes bus for the long ride all the way to the top of the island where the town of Anacapri awaits. Back on board the evening's menu in the dining room was highlighted by creations from a visiting chef who had boarded in Napoli. Fun and delicioso! After Naples, the remainder of our cruise seemed to fly by. We had a terrific day in Tuscany in the fortified city of San Gimignano and two perfect days along the French Riviera where we explored Monte Carlo, Nice and Eze. Others have commented on the dress codes aboard Serenity. We found no one who appeared under-dressed. At night many men were either in suits or tuxes; the woman were always in gowns or other evening wear. Daytime outfits were inoffensive though frankly I wasn't focused on what people were wearing, preferring instead to spend my time enjoying other scenery. What makes Serenity great? I'd say it is two things: a beautiful, well-designed ship where passengers always feel at home and outstanding six-star service. To a person the staff are focused on you and that is a rarity in any travel environment. The food is good while not always "over the top", except in the specialty restaurants where we were delighted with the food quality as well as the service. Another more subjective observation perhaps is that the atmosphere aboard is that of a refined, well run, low key luxury resort. Guests are never an interruption; indeed, guests are the purpose. Having stayed in many supposed five-star properties over the years I can honestly say I have never experienced such uniformly outstanding service as witnessed on the Serenity. We have booked 8301, Passage to Panama, a 15-night positioning voyage from Miami to Los Angeles, the port from which Serenity begins her 2008 World Voyage. I'll report on the experience when we return. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2004
First, let me preface this review by acknowledging that I was a cruise skeptic - and, a first-time cruiser. My travel philosophy has always been simple: I would rather be exploring the streets of Rome than being stuck on a boat playing ... Read More
First, let me preface this review by acknowledging that I was a cruise skeptic - and, a first-time cruiser. My travel philosophy has always been simple: I would rather be exploring the streets of Rome than being stuck on a boat playing Bingo. We began our adventure on August 30 in Venice, Italy. Embarkation was a breeze. Easier than checking into a hotel. From the moment we boarded the Serenity, the much vaunted Crystal service was evident. We were helped with our luggage and encouraged to have lunch in the main dining room, where complimentary champagne was poured, refilled, and refilled again. Standard cabins on Deck 7, though somewhat small, were well-designed and exceptionally appointed. Bathrooms featured double sinks, a shower with surprisingly good water pressure, and Aveda amenities with Frette bathrobes. Storage space was ample throughout. Clothes hangers were scarce, a situation promptly rectified by Erica, our stewardess, who would prove throughout the duration of the cruise, to be gracious, accommodating, and professional. From there on, it was all about the Food. In addition to the ports of embarkation and disembarkation - Venice and Rome, respectively, the deciding factor in selecting Crystal (rather than Radisson Seven Seas Voyager) was the food. Specifically, it was the inclusion of a restaurant by famed chef Nobu Matsuhisa. Nobu is one of our favorite restaurants in New York. Ah, the black cod in miso, the sashimi salad, the rock shrimp tempura, the sushi! The idea that we could eat at Nobu, or, rather, "Silk Road," as often as we wanted (actually, as often as we could get in!), was too tantalizing to pass up! Imagine the added bonus then, much to our surprise, that we also loved the Serenity's other specialty restaurant, Prego. Fortunately, we were blessed to have as our waiter, the inimitable Estephan, who (with a wink here, a nod there) expertly navigated us through the menu. The mushroom soup appetizer, as well as several of the seafood pastas, were superb. The main dining room, at least at dinner, was a bit of a disappointment. It seemed to be typical, unimaginative cruise fare, though on a higher level. One meal of coq au vin was particularly below par - dry and flavorless. The lobster, however, was succulent (and ample in supply)! Steaks were good, though unexceptional. Still, it hardly mattered because we were walking (waddling?) in foodie heaven, alternating most of our nights between Silk Road and Prego. Decisions, decisions! Other notable dining venues were Tastes, which featured Wolfgang Puck's renowned Chinois Chinese Chicken Salad (and, better here than at Puck's stateside restaurants); Trident Grill which offered excellent steak sandwiches, burgers and fries, et.al.; the Bistro, a comfortable spot for outstanding specialty coffees - and, a snack or two; High Tea at the Palm Court, with the usual assortment of scones, pastry, and mini-sandwiches; and, of course, the Lido, which provided the ship with its requisite (albeit mostly routine) buffet. Service throughout the ship continued to impress - understated, helpful, friendly, rarely cloying or condescending. Public spaces were comfortable, tastefully (though not lavishly) designed. No garish colors. No discordant notes. Still, some improvements could be made, particularly on Deck 6. Shopping, which is touted to be akin to Rodeo Drive, is surprisingly limited and most in need of a face-lift. Not only did I not find anything I wanted to buy, I wasn't even compelled to window shop! The casino is rather small (and, too brightly lit!), and the slot machines, operated by Caesars Palace, should be expanded. The Cigar club is a waste, too exclusionary, and should be converted into a space more guests could enjoy. The Disco is far too small and seems an afterthought. Perhaps, afterhours, it should be moved to the Palm Court on Deck 12? Also, lacking throughout the ship's public spaces, is soft, ambient music. As for shore excursions, for the most part, we decided to venture off on our own. In Palma de Mallorca, Spain, we took the complimentary shuttle bus from the pier into town and walked; in Cannes, we took the train to Monte Carlo; in Florence (and, later in Rome) we hired a private limousine company, ItalyLimousine.It, for the day. I highly recommend the latter - our driver was waiting for us at the pier, sign in hand, the vehicle was comfortable, the tour was highly informative and enjoyable, and the rates were comparatively reasonable. After one of these excursions, I always found myself (much to my own surprise) anxious to reboard the Crystal Serenity. By the end of our 11-day adventure, I cannot say that I have become a cruise convert. I can, however, say that I have become a Crystal Serenity convert. While I would still rather be exploring the streets of Rome than be stuck on a boat playing Bingo (which, by the way, I begrudgingly did!) - I would rather be having a martini at the Crystal Cove, and then dining at Nobu Matsuhisa's Silk Road than doing just about anything, anywhere. Read Less
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