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58 Crystal Serenity Cruise Reviews

My mother, who is in her 80s, asked me to join her on this cruise. The itinerary and level of service created outstanding memories, as we might not have this opportunity again. I had been on the Crystal Symphony before, but never the ... Read More
My mother, who is in her 80s, asked me to join her on this cruise. The itinerary and level of service created outstanding memories, as we might not have this opportunity again. I had been on the Crystal Symphony before, but never the Crystal Serenity. The Crystal Serenity is a beautiful ship, and is extremely well maintained. We left out of New York, which is a mixed blessing. While the sail out is inspiring, getting to the pier, even on a Saturday (as offered by this itinerary, is daunting. It took me over an hour from Newark airport and took my mother over 1.5 hours from LGA to reach the cruise port. Still, the scheduled late departure (11 pm) allowed me to fly in from the west coast on the day of the cruise, rather than the day before. That schedule also eased the stress, as there was never a doubt that I could reach the ship before the scheduled boarding time. Crystal made embarkation very easy. There was a small line at the x-ray machine, but no other lines whatsoever. It was nice to check in on the ship itself. Staff was welcoming, and the cabin attendant did a great job of explaining the features of the cabin. As I had the cabin to myself, there was plenty of storage in my oceanview cabin. It might have been a bit tight for two people. Upon boarding, it became very apparent that there was a large group on board. I have always believed that cruise lines should warn the other passengers about large groups on their cruise, as such groups inevitably take over the ship, making areas inaccessible and making advertised features of the ship not available. It turned out there were actually two bridge groups books, totaling some 350 of the 900 passengers. The first evidence of the large group was that the groups had taken absolutely every main (early) dining opportunity, including the specialty restaurants. I have some health issues that require me to retire relatively early each evening, so late dining is not an option. My mother an I were waitlisted for main dining (despite booking 15 months ahead) and although we had informed Crystal of my health issue, the maître d' was unable to clear the waitlist upon boarding. He recommended that we come to the dining room at main seating and he would try to squeeze us in somewhere. He was in fact quite gracious when we arrive at main seating the first night and did give us a table. The second night he seated us at a table for 8 where two of the passengers were dining elsewhere. We had calculated that we could reserve space elsewhere, but we did not clear the waitlist anywhere. As Crystal does not open the buffet in the evening (families should be warned of this), the only options were to be squeezed in to a different table each night or to order from the extremely limited room service menu. Had this issue remained where it was on night 2, you would be reading a one or two star review. However, and kudos the Crystal for this, on the wifi logon site (and kudos to Crystal for providing an hour per day of free wifi), there is a feedback button, and I used it to express my concerns. Ten minutes after I sent my concern in, a waitlist cleared at Silk Road and we were seated there at 6 pm. The next night, a waitlist cleared at Prego for 7 pm. We were then seated at Captain's table the following night and, voila, the waitlist cleared at Tastes on the following night. I have never seen a cruise line work so hard to address a concern. Having a system to report a concern to the corporate office while still onboard is commendable. Responding immediately and so thoroughly is incredible! The group of passengers onboard was older (averaged mid to late 70s), and composed mainly of retired professionals and executives. There were just two children on board, both infants. Many of the passengers apparently do not understand the meaning of "casual" as the dressed in suits and ties and even formal wear on some nights. I guess that they were disappointed that there were no formal nights on the cruise, but I received many condescending looks when dressed appropriately (Tommy Bahama button down shirt, dark Dockers and loafers). If cruise lines can refuse to seat shorts after 6 pm, they should also refuse to seat ties and gowns. The food in the main dining room was very good, and the service was excellent. While the service was excellent in Silk Road and Prego, the food was disappointing. It was not as good as the main dining room, and I never like to get sushi that is not cold. At Tastes, the food was very good but the service was not up to the standard set on the rest of the ship. The entertainment was likewise variable. The singers and dancers were talented, and the Broadway tribute was a great show. The comedian was pretty good, but the other production show and the first and last night shows were just average. The house band was exceptional. I had concerns about the cabin that was assigned on a guarantee. It was an Oceanview cabin that was guaranteed to be mid ship. Technically it was (last room before the forward elevators), and I had been concerned that it might be noisy, as the doors to the promenade deck were adjacent to my room. It was not noisy at all, and in fact the only noise issue on the entire trip was on the final night with porters loading baggage. I would book this room again, as it was close to everything. The voyage was definitely rocky in parts, but I had very little movement in this cabin. Crystal always handles its shore excursions well, providing escorts and water to enhance the excursion. Our excursion in Bar Harbor was very good, even though the fog blocked many of the usually outstanding views. Still, the guide was great. The Baie-Comeau walking excursion was not as good, as the stuck us on a non-air conditioned, very tightly spaced school bus at the end to go back to the ship, and sat us there for 25 minutes. apparently, that bus also served as the shuttle from town to the ship, and as it was to be the last one, it waited for returning passengers. The advertised excursion described itself as including transportation to and from the start of the walking tour. If the plan was to rely on shuttles, it should have stated that. While the ship was completely booked, it never felt crowded. Unlike other lines, there was no need to arrive early for shows, although this may be due to the presence of large groups. With regard to those groups, other than the main dining issue, I did not feel the lack of facilities during their presence. Crystal handled the groups well. I had signed up for a number of computer classes, but almost none were given due to a lack of sea days. The lecturers were, as always, outstanding. My mother is an avid dancer and says that the four dance hosts on this cruise were the best she has ever experienced. Read Less
Sail Date September 2016
We had a wonderful 10 days despite the weather on our Crystal cruise to Alaska. We would prefer open seating rather than assigned 6 pm every night at the same table. It would be great to mingle with more people and dining with new ... Read More
We had a wonderful 10 days despite the weather on our Crystal cruise to Alaska. We would prefer open seating rather than assigned 6 pm every night at the same table. It would be great to mingle with more people and dining with new people on a regular basis would make that happen. The Breakfast and lunch buffets on deck 12 were very good. But dinner was a disappointment. I was so surprised that I was unable to dine on a good piece of salmon cooked to perfection on an Alaskan cruise. The shore excursions that we participated in were excellent. The guides were well informed, enthusiastic and enjoyable to be with. Unfortunately, due to inclement weather, a couple of shore excursions were cancelled. I wish that we had additional lectures, as they were wonderful. Since the weather made it impossible for some excursions to go out, it would have been helpful to have additional lectures (repeats of those that were at inconvenient times (ie too close to early dinner)). Computer classes were helpful and enjoyable. Under the circumstances (weather), we could have had a few more classes as well! Entertainment mixed reviews. The dancers were wonderful as were some of the singers! Some of the other entertainers were not quite as good. Need some additional exciting entertainment. The Room Divisions Manager, Director of Activities, Captain, as well as other high level staff were always friendly. They went out of their way to make sure that we were enjoying the cruise. Read Less
Sail Date August 2016
Having taken many cruises on Silversea and Seabourn, this was my first Crystal experience, and although being mindful that while it is unfair to compare directly the Crystal product to the other two (due to Crystal's larger ship ... Read More
Having taken many cruises on Silversea and Seabourn, this was my first Crystal experience, and although being mindful that while it is unfair to compare directly the Crystal product to the other two (due to Crystal's larger ship capacity), given price, marketing and general feedback I read, I had high expectations. Overall the experience was very good, and I must say, that in terms of dining, Crystal were as good, or due to specialist dining venues, a touch better compared to Seabourn (my preference to date) - impressive given the increased capacity of the ship. With the exception of the main dining room, which I found noisy and frenetic at times, just OK food, with very inconsistent service, the specialist dining options of Prego and Silk Road were exceptional, as was the relaxed Tastes. One disappointment was afternoon tea. Tried it once and then to forget. Nothing compared with those on Seabourn and Silversea which really are lavish and exceptional daily events. Crystal's waiter service offering a small selection of boring sandwiches and cakes that you could find in the Bistro was extremely lack lustre. Customer service was overall very good, although it lacked some of the very personal touches on Seabourn that come with a smaller passenger number. Overall though I found the staff helpful and professional. One thing that I did note however (although this had no personal impact) was that our Cruise Director was the most low key, ineffective I have ever experienced, and seemed purely there to drift around the ship, open and close the entertainment, and record a daily briefing video. I'm sure he was doing a lot more, but we never saw it. We opted for the Penthouse Verandah. Lovely cabin, with plenty of space and storage, and our butler did a great job. Well worth the extra spend. Two things really left me disappointed. Overall, after the last refit, the ship is lovely, with a nice mix of traditional, modern and contemporary decor, all well maintained. I found the standard and style though was let down by an inconsistency in some of the public areas, for example the main dining room, casino most of all Palm Court. I was speechless at the decor in the Palm Court - potentially the most stunning space on the ship, on top deck with views forward. To me it seemed that during the last refurbishment, when they got there, Crystal ran out of money. The wicker furniture, fixed seating, and tired planting looked completely out of place with other public areas. The half empty pebble planters with plastic plants at the entrances were just dreadful. Did they put all this furniture together from other sources? It looked like something from the 80's. It did not even fill the space well. It looked tired and uninviting. Such a shame. My biggest issue and one that left me absolutely furious was disembarkation in Seward. Our pre-cruise documentation stated specifically that no flights could be booked from Anchorage International before 1400, due to docking time at 0800 and the long surface transfer from the ship. I was not at all happy given the implications for myself and my cruise companion, but duly complied. He was returning to Newport Beach California, and I was returning to Portugal via London. This restriction meant that I was unable to catch a flight form Anchorage to connect with any non-stop flights out of the US western seaboard that day to London, for a connection to Portugal. I therefore decided to travel back to Los Angeles with my friend, stay overnight and leave the next day. Given a schedule change by Delta, the only way for us to do that was at 1507 with Delta to Seattle, and with a change to Alaska Airlines, arriving LA at 0030 the following day! When we received our disembarkation details on the ship, 2 days before arrival, I was stunned to see that the ship was not arriving at 0800 but earlier. Indeed, our coach departure time was given as 0705!!!!!!!! I immediately queried this with the concierge, and to my further amazement, when challenged, he confirmed that some passengers had flights at 1215. I was absolutely furious. No explanation was given, only a suggestion to change my flights. When I explained that due to flight fare rules and change penalties, not least availability, that was not an option. I just got a blank expression. The result was that we arrived at the airport at 1030. We sat in the departure lounge and heard the boarding of a direct Alaska flight to LA, and even worse, a direct flight to Orange County (serving Newport Beach). So....we got up at 0600, had an exhausting day, arriving at LA at 0030, in to our hotel by 0200...wasting time, a day vacation for me,and money...and for no reason at all, had Crystal been accurate in their pre-cruise information. Strange that I have not been invited by Crystal to give feedback on this cruise (as today you cannot by a case of Coke without an online satisfaction survey), but I will be complaining about this. It was a horrible end to what had overall been a good experience. Would I go Crystal again? If the itinerary was good, and the fare competitive, possibly, but I have to say that I will probably be holding on with great excitement for the new launches of Silversea's Silver Muse, and Seaboard's Encore and Ovation. All three look stunning, and with products and service that I have always enjoyed tremendously. Read Less
Sail Date August 2016
We had a great time, but as quite a few other reviews suggest, Crystal is slipping. The service in the main dining room was atrocious. The server was so confused by the orders that my wife something with lobster, which she is very ... Read More
We had a great time, but as quite a few other reviews suggest, Crystal is slipping. The service in the main dining room was atrocious. The server was so confused by the orders that my wife something with lobster, which she is very allergic to, and so Heidi was sick all night. I would have expected at least a token from the ship. The rest of the time, service was just garden-variety mediocre, with no one coming by etc. I've had much better service on Disney and even NCL. To a lesser extent, it was clear throughout the ship that "tips included" means "we don't have to try that hard." Of course people did things they were supposed to, but it was perfunctory. The Bistro and Lido Deck were prime examples of lackluster service. Some cost-cutting is apparent, too. They used to have lavish lunch buffets with ice sculptures. None now. The ship is also looking dated, especially the common rooms and the atrium. Celebrity Solstice Class has a better hard product. Pluses: both speciality restaurants, Vintage Room (though it's overpriced given that food and wine are already included), logistics (embarkation, etc.). The shows are still great. The piano player in Avenue Saloon (Perry) was fantastic. The speakers and classes are still a cut above. Needless to say, it was still a great cruise, but the slipping standards are disappointing. Read Less
Sail Date July 2016
This was a repeat cruise for me, having done one very similar on Crystal Symphony in 2011, but this time with my mother and sister. Very little to criticise really, other than what seemed like 100 out of control children on board, perhaps ... Read More
This was a repeat cruise for me, having done one very similar on Crystal Symphony in 2011, but this time with my mother and sister. Very little to criticise really, other than what seemed like 100 out of control children on board, perhaps not Crystal's fault but we thought they could have done more to stop them running up and downstairs, along corridors and pushing in front for everything, who knows where their parents were? Embarkation was very stressful, we were directed to a queue which we waited in for nearly an hour, only to then be told it was only for US residents and we didn't need to be in it. Once we got into the right queue we waited for another hour until I managed to get us put to front, owing to my mothers age. Otherwise we would still be waiting, not a great start!! But otherwise everything was up to normal Crystal standards (this was cruise number eight with them). Food was good, although MDR very noisy as it always seems to be, on a couple of occasions Crystal made things difficult by timetabling tours and departures which forced everyone to try and have lunch at the same time, that could easily have been avoided. Although this was billed as a wine and food festival it was nothing like that - one cooking demonstration from Nobu who we couldn't understand, and that was just about assembling sushi - and that was it!! That's hardly a "festival" Crystal.Housekeeping was excellent, we especially enjoyed Palm Court (although I personally think the one on Symphony is way more sophisticated.) Does anyone else think their reception staff are rude and unhelpful, they always seem the same, forced smiles and no warmth and when something goes wrong not interested in sorting out, I think I've found this the case on every cruise I have done with them - yet all the other staff are amazingly friendly, helpful and cheerful. I like the way they get to know you so quickly and remember names and preferences, pretty impressive for a ship with 1,000 guests, especially as this cruise was absolutely full. All in all another very pleasant experience on a wonderful ship, small niggles notwithstanding. Read Less
Sail Date July 2016
We booked this cruise while on Serenity in Europe in August of 2014. My wife does not like to fly over water, so she thought a round trip from San Francisco to Hawaii was a perfect cruise for us. It afforded us plenty of time on board ... Read More
We booked this cruise while on Serenity in Europe in August of 2014. My wife does not like to fly over water, so she thought a round trip from San Francisco to Hawaii was a perfect cruise for us. It afforded us plenty of time on board and just a short flight to SFO to embark. We have done seven Crystal cruises, the first five being absolutely wonderful on Insignia. On number six in Europe, August 2014, we noticed that many small things had disappeared and were so longer provided unless you asked. Most were not of any major consequence, but many small things add up. One major thing we did notice was that the wait staff seemed to be hurried most of the time. Waiters no longer had the time to chat. On that cruise the meals were all hot and the food was still excellent as usual on a luxury line like Crystal. This last cruise after a Chinese company purchased Crystal no longer had hot food. The wait staff was more harried than ever and the service suffered. Our head waiter was miffed when we pointed out to him that our food was not always hot. The maitre 'd wanted to know who our waiter was but we refused to tell him. We do not feel it is the fault of the wait staff, other than having too many tables to service. The guest speakers on Crystal were the high light of this cruise. We had two show business lecturers, a former U.S. senator, an international law professor, an Hawaiian historian, and a biologist. All were great speakers, knowledgeable, and entertaining. This is one area where Crystal excels. With the cost of a Crystal cruise being rather high, we have decided to leave Crystal for good. Our next cruise is with Silversea and we have heard many good things about them. We have also been on Oceania where the food is as good or better than Crystal and it was always hot. Oceania is also in our future plans. I guess because of the number of sea days on this cruise, it was very popular with senior citizens. Many, though, were very challenged in the mobility area. There were numerous walkers and electric scooters on board. This is what my wife and I have to look forward to, but we want to travel as long as our legs hold up. Our cabin was always clean and the stewardess was always prompt. Read Less
Sail Date May 2016
This was my first Crystal cruise, a short-notice, easy-going, well-priced, discounted test run cruise out of my home port I did solo before considering booking anything longer on this line with my husband. My goal was to compare it with ... Read More
This was my first Crystal cruise, a short-notice, easy-going, well-priced, discounted test run cruise out of my home port I did solo before considering booking anything longer on this line with my husband. My goal was to compare it with other luxury lines I have been on a few times, including Silver Sea, Regent, Seabourn, and Hapag Lloyd’s Europa 2 (and I will soon also be trying the sister luxury ship MS Europa on HL). I have also cruised Holland America a couple times on special big group cruises (one more coming up in the fall), and with AMA Waterways, for just under a dozen cruises total since 2011. I have plans to continue cruising 3-4x/year, mostly on luxury lines, ocean or river (and possibly an expedition) as long as my health allows me to continue to do so (I am in my early 60’s with some chronic health problems). I have no loyalty to any particular line, as I continue to sample, so I have no biases, but then also do not usually get the great discounts and privileges loyalty programs bring, which can create a different perspective. More extensive details of this overall worthwhile and pleasant cruise including some of my experiences are on Cruise Critic at the following site , on a communal thread started by frequent Crystal cruiser Keith1010 (who also wrote a separate formal review), called “Live from Crystal Serenity May 6, Coastal Vistas Voyage” (his thread also includes links to his blog which has many wonderfully detailed pictures he took of the ship and ports). http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2352821 I start chiming into Keith1010’s thread periodically with my own commentary starting at post #31. EMBARKATION: this took longer than I expected for a luxury cruise (1.5 hours from port arrival to my getting on), but on analysis of what happened I believe the problems were primarily due to San Francisco port and port worker issues, and mostly cannot be blamed on Crystal (details are in the thread) DECOR AND ATMOSPHERE: As with all luxury lines, the housekeeping in the cabin and pubic venues was immaculate, very clean, and public spaces were light and airy. Unlike on Seabourn, where most furniture is stiff though chic, I found the furniture in public venues on the Serenity to be much more comfortable, while still stylish. The mattress in my cabin was fantastic, even in stormy seas, the most comfortable I have had, soft and forgiving to my musculoskeletal problems. FELLOW PASSENGER AND CREW DEMOGRAPHICS The passenger mix on this itinerary appeared to be primarily English-speaking Americans and Canadians, but there were also quite a few Chinese and Japanese speakers. This was not surprising, given that the San Francisco and Vancouver areas have very large Asian descent populations, both native-born and immigrant. I did not hear many British or Australian accents, as I often heard on Silver Sea and on Seabourn (likely the short itinerary and long distance from home played a role here) . Other European accents and languages amongst passengers were not as common either. A passenger list was available from reception, which listed opt-in passengers' general place of residence (e.g., “California”, or “British Columbia”), thus providing general information about passengers if people chose to disclose, without breaching privacy. There was also a sizable group of people on board who had something to do with Crystal marketing or sales. Most people were well-dressed in designer casual attire day and night, though some wore neat T-shirts and jeans, some put on coat and tie for dinner, and some ladies wore fancier outfits. No one looked like a slob. The ship also appeared to be gay and lesbian friendly (passengers as well as personnel), as all luxury lines are these days. I also noticed a Friends of Bill W. meeting option posted. The cruise was over Mother’s Day, so although most passengers were middle-aged or elderly, there were some extended happy families on board celebrating. There were very few small children. Some passengers were in wheelchairs and appeared to be appropriately accommodated. The crew were primarily Eastern European (various countries, based on their name tags, accents, and languages I recognized) with variable skill sets) or of Asian origin (e.g., there were quite a few well-trained Filipinos, who are also common on Silver Sea and Regent and Holland America). QUALITY OF FOOD AND WINE Overall, food and wine offerings were good, some exceptions. The included wines and champagne I tried (Jacquart) were almost all very drinkable to excellent, and I did not feel compelled to order more off a special wine menu, though might have done so if with my husband and thus able to finish a bottle in one sitting. Cocktails I had were also nicely done. Main dining room (MDR) dinner food was good, with excellent service, though my experience there was limited and the menus did not seem particularly original. MDR boarding lunch was not so good food or service-wise (see my comments on the thread), but again, limited experience. The Tastes small plates venue which I tried 3 times was my favorite, both for creative food and atmosphere (you dine as you look at the sea). Don't miss the dinner choice Arctic Black Cod and Lobster corn and fennel chowder! The Bistro small snack place was cute, even closer to a view of the sea, with running buffet selections of cold salmon, cheeses, and cookies throughout the day, and fancy coffees or other drinks. The Lido lunch buffet was decent if you knew what to get, and the American style breakfast buffet in the Lido appeared adequate. I was unable to get into the highly rated Japanese restaurant, and skipped Prego, the Italian restaurant, so I could go to Tastes again. SERVICE To start, I liked Crystal’s website, very organized, easy to navigate, compared with other luxury lines, solo prices were posted. I booked off the site into a window view cabin (got upgraded last minute to a balcony cabin), and also booked my excursions there. I might not have booked this cruise, on impulse, if the site were a problem (did not use my TA ). Reception personnel were friendly and helpful. The cabin stewardess was terrific. There is room for improvement in some dining room service personnel training, especially on organization, and attention to solo customers (see the thread for details). ENTERTAINMENT Though I generally prefer classical music, or non-lounge modern music style entertainment, the non-classical major offerings on this cruise, which were Vegas and Broadway style, were fine (I went to 4 of 5 shows and enjoyed all, at various levels). It is clear Crystal puts great effort into productions. Pianist Jamie Fox did Billy Joel songs with a good band (nice horn section), and Lovena Fox enthusiastically belted out assorted soul and pop numbers. The acrobat duo Donovan and Rebecca was also fun to watch. There were many other minor entertainment offerings and activities I did not sample, e.g., a movie venue, Trivia, various lessons. INTERNET One hour internet per day was included in the cruise price, and it worked reasonably well throughout the cruise. I use internet a lot when I cruise (to connect to work, and also to read about things I see), so when in port, I also supplemented access using my existing cell service, which I would not have been able to do far out at sea. Internet could get expensive on Crystal, if not near ports, as there was no “unlimited” plan like Seabourn offers that makes up for slow service periods. Internet and its speed and cost is a challenge on all lines. ENRICHMENT There were two listed speakers, one was an older former Newsweek journalist who talked about the upcoming U.S. presidential election, and other president issues, and one of whom talked about the ports. I would prefer not to hear opinions about contentious U.S. politics while on cruises, and would have preferred other talks, but I understand some people enjoy this sort of thing (discussions of politics are banned on Cruise Critic for a reason). These talks could also be heard on TV in your room, recorded. SPA, GYM and CASINO — I did not sample these other than just walking by PORTS AND EXCURSIONS Astoria, Seattle, and Victoria, B.C. are all beautiful, colorful and worthwhile ports with many activity options. On the two excursions I took with Crystal, the buses were comfortable and the guides were fine, no problems (see the thread for some details). Excursion prices were reasonable and were well-organized. COMPARED WITH OTHER LUXURY LINES, there are pros and cons: SIZE: With about 1000 passengers, though not huge, the ship is bigger, less personal (at least for someone who is not a frequent guest). On the smaller English-language luxury ships, crew usually knew who I was (there they are trained to memorize 300-500 names and faces) and addressed me in a friendly manner by name, which did not happen here at all other than with my efficient and friendly stewardess. More importantly, my anonymity at times seemed to lead to service problems more often than it should have on a luxury line, especially when alone in dining venues (e.g., getting drinks and table service requests fulfilled and attention was sometimes challenging, and not infrequently, there was confusion for unclear reasons, not a luxury experience). Not uncommonly I felt like I was a burden on some of the non-smiling, busy or just chatting servers who ignored me. However, if I were a more frequent cruiser, or in a more expensive cabin, or on a VIP list, or more assertive in personality (or perhaps if I were with my husband), this issue would likely resolve itself. DINING AND SERVICE : The larger size of this ship allows a greater number of dining venues to be open at varying times, which I welcomed, as I tend to be a “grazer” who is often interested in food in small amounts at unusual times rather than fixed time breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can start with 5:30 AM early risers coffee and danish or cereal, move on to a big American style breakfast buffet in the Lido until 10, or eat in the MDR, or have late risers food in Tastes or The Bistro, lunch in the Lido or MDR from 12-2:30, grill food at the Trident most of the day (though it is line-up cafeteria serving), and afternoon tea snacks at 4 (great cakes). The MDR has 2 seatings, 6 and 8:30, at assigned tables, then later on you can also get some snacks at the bars that are carried around (basic items). Assigned seating with fixed dining times is something I understand deters many luxury cruisers from Crystal and is the main reason my husband and I had not tried this line to date (that and the cabin size, see below). It could be a problem on a long cruise if you do not like your tablemates (mine were fortunately great, 7 other interesting and pleasant people, plus the cruise was short and I also went to other venues). It could also be unfortunate if you are a couple but still want to be randomly assigned to sit with others, to meet more people, when you choose to go dine. There is also a “dining by reservation” option now, but I don’t know how well that works as I did not use it or know what kind of tables you land up at there, or with how many others. On SS, Regent and SB, one thing I liked was being able to choose short-notice to either dine alone with my husband, or join group tables, depending on mood, and being able to walk into the main restaurant whenever we wanted during open hours, not an option here for the MDR. Specialty restaurants required reservation (some hard to get, even weeks in advance on this short cruise), and the Lido buffet was not open at dinner. SHOWS — generally, there are more options for bigger and better shows on a ship this size than on smaller ships. Instead of just 6-8 people on stage, like on Silver Sea, there were as many as 18 contributing to a show here (some details are in the thread). However, as I prefer classical music , and the performances were not classical, the size of the performing group, or its famousness in popular music, is not the only consideration in evaluating show quality. On the 516 passenger Europa 2, there were world-class classical musicians, and on our last Silver Spirit cruise in 2015 there was a fantastic classical pianist, though the overall number of hired entertainers was small . Varying tastes in music may make Crystal more, or less, appealing to people, depending on what music is offered on other cruises, and if they care at all about entertainment. CABIN SIZE AND PRICE — I had a small but efficient cabin far forward in the bow, 226 square feet, plus a 43 square foot balcony with two comfortable chairs with cushions and a little table. To compare, the base cabin on Silver Spirit with veranda is 376 square feet. As a solo, my Crystal cabin was just fine (I kept some of my stuff on the other half of the bed just to have easy access, and also had closet and drawer space to spare ). But if I were traveling with my husband or a friend, it would feel a bit cramped on a longer cruise so we would likely want to get the next level up in size on Crystal, which is a penthouse suite, actually bigger than we need (and would have to pay for it). Looking at the price points on a two-week cruise we were considering in 2018, for example, (assuming no unexpected discounts or upgrades) that would be thousands of dollars more than for a happy-compromise sized mid-ship veranda cabin on Silver Sea. Thus, Crystal in a PH would be more expensive overall than cruising on Silver Sea or Seabourn, and I am not sure I could justify paying the price for things we do not value that much (like a Crystal butler, bigger suite hallways and sitting areas, and a bigger balcony). SUMMARY I give the cruise a 4 out of 5 stars overall on the available scale, though I would prefer to give a 3.8 because of some service issues (3 would be too harsh), and it is so difficult to judge a line based just on a five-day solo newbie experience. I would consider cruising on the Crystal Serenity again (or on its future ships or river boats), on the right itinerary and for the right price, to get more experience. Right now I have three more cruises lined up, in 2016 and early 2017, with Seabourn and Hapag Lloyd, lines to which I gave 5/5 stars, though they have their own set of disadvantages. Read Less
Sail Date May 2016
We choose this cruise as I always wanted to go to Greece. We have sailed with Crystal many times. Initially we were ending up in Instanbul. They changed that as the cruise line deemed it not safe. The CEO of Crystal was on that cruise ... Read More
We choose this cruise as I always wanted to go to Greece. We have sailed with Crystal many times. Initially we were ending up in Instanbul. They changed that as the cruise line deemed it not safe. The CEO of Crystal was on that cruise so that may have had something the do with it. It as changed Athens to Athens. It was a good cruise but cost us a lot to Change airfares etc to accommodate this. The ports were all nice, it was a perfect time to go, right before Grrek Easter. The weather was perfect, it wasn't crowded yet and all the islands were beautiful. Negatives were no sea days which we had originally. Not getting to go to Istanbul was very disappointing. If I had to do it again, I might have cancelled. But it's Crystal and they do a wonderful job always. The food and wine is wonderful. The service is the best. The specialty restaurants are grea. Read Less
Sail Date April 2016
I went on this cruise with a group of girl friends and we had a very good time. However, I will say that the ship was a big disappointment for me. Crystal is supposed to be nicer than the standard large cruise ships, and I was ... Read More
I went on this cruise with a group of girl friends and we had a very good time. However, I will say that the ship was a big disappointment for me. Crystal is supposed to be nicer than the standard large cruise ships, and I was disappointed that the ship was old and a bit worn around the edges. I've been on nicer ships which are supposedly not as highly rated. I will say that the food was excellent in pretty much every venue. Especially the Asian specialty restaurant. The ambassadors were very nice and fun to dance with. I liked that everything was included, with not extras to pay for on board. The entertainment was also very poor compared to other cruises I have been on. Cheesy acts, marginal talent. The classical musical trio was really good though. One bad spot in service was the DJ for the night club. Rude, bad attitude, and not welcoming at all. He doesn't belong on a cruise ship. Read Less
Sail Date October 2015
Having cruised on Seabourn, Regent, Oceania and other lines that I won't mention, I finally decided to give Crystal a try after hearing from a friend how good the service was on Crystal. I had refrained from going on this ship ... Read More
Having cruised on Seabourn, Regent, Oceania and other lines that I won't mention, I finally decided to give Crystal a try after hearing from a friend how good the service was on Crystal. I had refrained from going on this ship because I thought the patronage might be a bit old for me. But, we booked it with some younger friends and so I felt that I had my safety net. Hands down this was the best wait staff I have encountered on a cruise ship. The moment we were on board, Ricky was waiting on us, friendly, and helpful. He immediately new our names, and throughout the cruise greeted us with our names and gave us our drinks. He was exceptional, but the rest of our waiters were great. So my friend was correct about the service. I never saw one person scowl or look grumpy, they were all extremely pleasant. The not so great. Veranda rooms are tiny compared to Seabourn and Regent. We should have booked a suite, so please do that, or not. The cruise itself I knew would not be exciting, but my main reason for going on the cruise was to visit Quebec. Great city, got off the ship early in the morning and wandered through the old part of the city. Beautiful. Went up to take a city tour which was great. Walked back down and noticed that now there were many large cruise ships in port, so about 6,000 people milling about, but not smartly, ha. Nothing to do with Crystal, just the nature of cruising now. To get to the improvement part. Dining is set, 6:00 or 8:30. I much prefer open dining but apparently Crystal cannot accommodate this. I was assigned late dining and begged to be changed to no avail. I ended up paying for specialty restaurants to eat at a more reasonable hour, which was fine, just please, please don't make me wait till 8:30. So really, between the small room and the dining hour, things were ok. The piano player was great, and if you are a night owl the karaoke was fun. Trivia was a disaster!!! They ask a question and offer multiple choice answers. The questions were so hard, even guessing there were teams that got less than 25% correct. There was no interaction between the staff member and the teams. No joking around, no comraderie amongst the teams. In other words, no fun. But I know this only impacts a few. By the way, saw the cruise director once and he was a nice guy, but interaction between passengers and entertainment needs to improve. You really cannot complain about cruising, after all, you are waited on and pampered. Read Less
Sail Date September 2015
This was our third cruise and first on Crystal Serenity so we are fairly new to cruising. We embarked in Rome and the process was effortless. Disembarkation in Istanbul was terrible. We left the ship about 9:30 am and stood in line for ... Read More
This was our third cruise and first on Crystal Serenity so we are fairly new to cruising. We embarked in Rome and the process was effortless. Disembarkation in Istanbul was terrible. We left the ship about 9:30 am and stood in line for about two hours to go through passport control. We had prearranged transportation to our hotel in Istanbul and that was perfect although a bit chaotic. I was disappointment in both restaurants. The food at Prego was ordinary at best as was the service. I really enjoyed Tastes. We chose the open seating because we preferred to be free to dine when we wish. Our friends were disappointed that with open dining, we would be seated as a twosome or foursome when we ate together. In hindsight, they would have enjoyed sitting at a table for 8 so they could to meet new people. We would enjoy either. The ship was simply perfect for us. The weather this time of year couldn't have been better. I arranged most of our excursions independently of the ship and they were perfect. The Port of Sorrento was lovely. I have been to Pompeii and Capri before, so my husband and I chose to wonder on our own. Capri was crazy crowded and with several ships in port, it was a nightmare of chaos. Sorrento was lovely the next day as I think most people take the other excursions and miss how lovely Sorrento is. Entertainment was good, although we preferred to go to our room and relax after a busy, busy day. Overall a wonderful cruise. Read Less
Sail Date May 2015
The strength of Crystal Serenity (1,000 passengers) lies in its sea days and onboard entertainment, rather than its limited offerings onshore. My wife and I took this “Classic Atlantic Crossing” to maximize those sea days. Cruise V5308 ... Read More
The strength of Crystal Serenity (1,000 passengers) lies in its sea days and onboard entertainment, rather than its limited offerings onshore. My wife and I took this “Classic Atlantic Crossing” to maximize those sea days. Cruise V5308 (Miami to Lisbon in May 2015) stopped enroute at Bermuda and the Azores. There’s a lot to like about the Serenity, and Crystal’s performance was acceptable in most respects. I’d hold up a paddle with an “8” (out of 10) for this cruise. Like much in life, we savor what’s there and overlook what’s not. Crystal definitely markets a club that people want to join. In an onboard video, Crystal’s president boasts a waiting list of 700 for one of Serenity’s cruises in 2016. And, in an April interview with CNBC, Crystal’s president described her target market as follows: “Our top two percent of the world’s wealthiest are who our guests are. Many of them have numerous homes around the world. They have private yachts. Yet they still choose to cruise on Crystal for the luxury brand experience that we can give them. . . They’re not price sensitive. They have everything, and they want really wonderful experiences.” (See http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000373868 ) One reviewer last fall, while pleased with the product, noted that “Crystal's marketing hype is over the top, so we came in with very high expectations.” In contrast, online chat threads sometimes voice a missing “wow” between what was experienced and what was promised by Crystal’s ads and advocates. But the myth of pampered perfection (that lore of “six” or “seven” stars) is simply not a realistic expectation for this gracefully-aging little ship. We think of Serenity as a well-kept boutique hotel where everyone knows your name, rather than a floating palace of perfection. Our approach is to enjoy what’s there, things both large and small. ENTERTAINMENT: For music lovers and musicians, Crystal's entertainment manager (Christopher Escamilla) pulled out all the stops on this one. Virtuoso performers paid authentic tribute to Frank Sinatra, Billy Joel, Patsy Cline, Carlos Santana, and Wolfgang Mozart. Lecturers on the business of Hollywood and Broadway included actors, talent agents, film historians, a choreographer, a makeup artist, and a celebrity photographer. And then there were daily sets from the pianists, dance band, and incredibly-versatile Russian string quartet. All supplemented every few days with dance productions and musical comedians backed up by Serenity’s jazz band. We take Crystal to visit places we’d otherwise never see. Christopher’s entertainment program -- right down to his fun theme decor for the venues -- was woven together as a two-week backstory for the mysterious world of films, stage, and music. The “wow” was definitely there for us, and this is the kind of program that we just seem to keep talking about after we get home. As part of this, the little ship was saturated with live music and the insider stories behind it. And, like traveling with the circus, the Crystal norm was for the performers to walk, talk, and dine among us like any other passenger. It was probably heaven on earth for amateur musicians, who sure had their chance to hang out with the masters. And such low-key, everyday access is also typical of Serenity cruises with themes like jazz or ballroom dance (big band). Even the ship's two captains kept us entertained. Serenity's former captain (Glenn Edvardsen) circulated as the cruise’s honorary host and delighted passengers with memories of his career on the high seas (including my inquiry about rogue waves). Serenity's current captain (Birger Vorland) concluded his daily passenger briefings with a few minutes of the science behind the navigation. I always look forward to the day's episode, and at my request he included the story of the rare "green flash" at sunset that I keep hoping to see. (He assures us that it really does exist.) I much appreciated the free wireless access to 300+ videos of past enrichment lectures on the Serenity (from the prior day to several years back). Past destination lectures can be quite helpful for researching future travel. And there’s no more unresolved wondering about that lecture you were too busy to attend in person. But Crystal’s online portal needs to label these videos by topic, rather than just by the name of the lecturer. DINING: The formal dining room (Deck 5) will go beyond the published dinner menu if you alert your head waiter the night before. Some possibilities for such off-menu orders are family style meat entrees, group salads made tableside, favorite desserts, lobsters, steaks, and custom juice squeezes. The highlight of our formal dining was the special Bavarian cuisine that head waiter Franz arranged at the request of our table (Salzburger nockerl, wiener roast braten, Linzer torte). Franz is from Austria and entertained us with the local story of these dishes, which inspired me to study up further at http://germanfood.about.com. Franz is one of the reasons that we keep coming back to Crystal, and online postings by others indeed note his famous desserts. We also found such personalized attention to dining details in the ship’s other venues. If you hate the herded feedings for which the cruise industry is stereotyped, then Serenity is your antidote. For instance, maitre d’ Antonio patiently taught my wife how to use chopsticks in the Japanese restaurant (Deck 6). Though we eventually had a breakthrough on this, the learning curve initially required a little cleanup of a bean or two that hit the floor. Up at the Trident Bar (Deck 12), waiter Bryan introduced me to his drink of choice (“red ice tea”) from his thirsty youth as a pro soccer player. Lloyd found a jar of Ovaltine for me, a drink from my own childhood. Bartenders Musa and Jonathan remembered my wife’s personal recipe for an adult beverage. This personal attention in Serenity’s dining gives us the lasting memories, long after we’ve forgotten what was on the day’s menu. THE POSSIBILITY OF PRIVACY: Cruisers sometimes lament that they can never get away from people on the smaller ships. They thought they were purchasing a cruise -- not a cult -- and they feel like less would be more. But cruising need not mean crowding. Serenity was somehow built with “endless” nooks and crannies in which one can limit contact with other humans to the desired degree. In the formal dining room, breakfast and the late (8:30 pm) dinner seating are the lower density (and more leisurely) times to eat. (If you want to switch to late on a special night, just ask the maitre d’.) In the Italian restaurant (Prego), reserve one of the few back tables. In the Japanese restaurant (Silk Road), reserve inner tables 15 to 18 unless you want “family style” talk with your neighbors. In the evening, Tastes Cafe functions like outdoor sidewalk dining (plenty of space up there). Of course, you can always order room service and eat on your verandah if you really want to get away from it all. On the other hand, you may have more privacy than you want if you’re addicted to continuous social media. Though Crystal’s president boasts of serving “Silicon Valley billionaires” (CNBC), Serenity’s Internet access isn’t part of the avowed six (or seven) star luxury. Real power users (we’re not) may consider the ship to be an Internet isolation ward. But we found Serenity’s Internet access to be acceptable for our purposes this time around. With a little patience, we were always able to get the basics: email, commercial websites, updates of virus protection. My daily tests with speedtest.net indicated fluctuating speeds in the general range of 2 to 4 Mbps. In an onboard video, Crystal’s president explains the efforts on her watch to improve Internet access. But, with some frustration, she also reminds passengers that they “are on vacation” and may need to wait until they get can get better access onshore. This is consistent with the periodic reminders in onboard bulletins that Crystal’s maritime access simply won’t be just like home. We really don’t come here for the Internet. But the level of access may be more critical to other types of users: (1) the non-retired whose travel is conditioned on predictable “telework;” (2) caregivers whose travel is conditioned on a lifeline to dependents back home (that ailing child or parent); (3) the generation that lives for social media exchanges. I’ll have to leave it to other reviewers to compare the access available on other ships. PORT STOP: BERMUDA (May 2015) We took this Atlantic crossing for the sea days, and there were two stops along the way: Bermuda and the Azores. We only went ashore at Bermuda. On Crystal’s website, the headline for this cruise advertised that “[a]n overnight stay in Bermuda, famous for its pink sand beaches and kelly green golf courses, highlights a luxuriously peaceful Atlantic crossing.” Nevertheless, Bermuda was sort of a problem port for Serenity. While Bermuda has several cruise ship docks, Serenity instead anchored quite a ways out in the Great Sound. A local ferry boat (capacity 750) was then used for the ride to shore, rather than the ship’s own tenders (much smaller). While tenders would have run continuously, the ferry only ran every two hours. In this scenario, be prepared to be patient with the ride to shore (basically a 90-minute project). Though the ride itself is about 45 minutes, the bottlenecks of herding 500+ riders at once can effectively double your time to get ashore. And, given the demographics of the Crystal crowd, our mobility inevitably ranges from senior marathoners to canes and walkers. Of course, we’d rather endure the 90-minute ferrying project than the grounding suffered by the NCL Norwegian Dawn after it left Bermuda’s dock last month. Though I’m not convinced that there’s a Bermuda Triangle, another NCL ship ran aground at Bermuda back in 2006. Crystal rounds up the usual contractors for the shore excursions at its port stops. But we seldom book them unless we want the security of the group for a particular location. In Bermuda, we instead bought a two-day “transportation pass” that let us explore the island at our own pace. Despite all of Bermuda’s mystique as remote, isolated, and subtropical, it’s still only 22 miles long and a mile or two wide. A two-day pass on the public transportation system (buses and small ferries) will take you wherever you want to go. (See www.bermudabuses.bm and www.marineandports.bm ) But they don’t take American Express at the bus terminal, and only coins (not bills) are accepted on the buses if you don’t buy a pass. At one end of the island is the Dockyard area, which includes the large maritime museum, local crafts (like glass-blowing), a pool of dolphins (you can join them), and a miniature golf course representing 18 famous holes of the U.S., Scotland, and Bermuda (yup, courses like St. Andrews, Augusta, and Gleneagles). At the other end of the island is the village of St. Georges, a World Heritage Site a lot like colonial Williamsburg. For an overview, take a historical walking tour during the day (free or US $5) or the “haunted history” ghost walk at night (US $30 and can sell out). (See www.stgeorgesfoundation.org; www.hauntedhistorybda.com; www.facebook.com/hauntedhistorybda ) And, in the middle of the island is Hamilton, with its big-city stores, its art museum, and the dock where the ferry landed Serenity’s passengers. Given the heritage of the British Crown, our initial plan was to do the famous afternoon tea at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess Hotel. But they won’t do the tea there until remodeling is completed this summer. (Sometimes there are also afternoon teas at the perfume factory in St. Georges and the cafe at the Bermuda Botanical Gardens.) The island is saturated with 90 old forts, 150 caves, and over 20 little niche museums. These small museums address such diverse topics as oceanography, botany, the U.S. Civil War, lighthouses, Black history, perfume making, and two centuries of ladies’ hats. You can pick a museum, ride the city bus, and take your time chatting with the curator (who may turn out to be a “certified local character”). This focused, self-paced approach worked better for us than a frantic whirlwind circuit with a large tour group. But if public transportation just isn’t your thing, there are at least three local guides that you might hire to take you directly to the site of your choice. Heidi Cowen is the granddaughter of a lighthouse keeper (bermudafootsteps@logic.bm). Tim Rogers is a historian and naturalist (trogers@northrock.bm). Robert Chandler is a teacher, naturalist, and author (rkchandler@ibl.bm). A dozen of those 90 old forts function as active historic sites, and they’re scattered along the length of the island. If that’s your topic of interest, narrow down your final picks by studying “Bermuda Forts 1612-1957,” authored by museum director Edward Harris (and available from Amazon). As independent travelers, we’ve seldom been able to get these kinds of local tips from Crystal’s onboard staff. (This aspect of their “six star” service is apparently limited to signing you up for their contractor’s tours and, of course, for future Crystal cruises.) Nor I have found even high-end travel agents to be much help on this (though they assert access to some nebulous network of insiders around the planet). We usually end up hacking our own trail through the unknown jungles of port stop tourism. But, for Bermuda, it’s easy enough to make your own picks from several detailed publications at www.gotobermuda.com: (1) the printable map at “Maps & Brochures;” (2) “Historic Town of St. George” booklet at “Maps & Brochures;” (3) “Bermuda East to West” booklet at the long unlinked address of www.gotobermuda.com/uploadedFiles/CommonContent/CommonAssets/East_to_West_sm.pdf. And those ubiquitous hotel tourism booklets (we use ‘em) are online at www.experiencebermuda.com (“Digital Editions”). The bible on Bermuda is the 360-page Moon guidebook authored by a local. And there’s the exhaustive online encyclopedia of all things Bermuda by another local author (see www.bermuda-online.org ). Maps beyond the free online one (pub. 2014) include the ITM 1:14,500 (pub. 2005), available from Amazon, and the Horsfield MediaCom 1:20,000 (pub. 2008), available in the bookstores across the street from the Hamilton ferry dock. (See www.bookstore.bm and www.brown.bm/departments/bookmart ) The latter map has the most detailed labeling for streets and history. And if you really want to max out those suitcases, local history books are also available at the Book Cellar (St. Georges), Robertson’s Drug Store (St. Georges), and the Bermuda Historical Society (Hamilton). John Cox works at the latter’s museum on Tuesdays if you want to meet the prolific author. Read Less
Sail Date May 2015
This was our 13 cruise on crystal all have been on symphony, this was our first on Serenity. This was our third crossing that lectures were over the top the shows were also good. I thought the food service in the main dinning room ... Read More
This was our 13 cruise on crystal all have been on symphony, this was our first on Serenity. This was our third crossing that lectures were over the top the shows were also good. I thought the food service in the main dinning room was ok not great. The presentations of the plates had no garnish at all. We were in Penthouse with a regular suite not worth the money. Flowers were dead most of the time. Service was nothing to write home about. The seas were very calm the Captain was delightful. The ship was very clean as clean as you can get with all the people on board. But I would sail symphony any time. Read Less
Sail Date May 2015
Our first Crystal cruise; we began cruising in 1998 and have taken at least one a year since, 8 with Oceania. The Serenity is a beautiful ship, meticulously maintained and extremely comfortable. The sea days offered many activities, ... Read More
Our first Crystal cruise; we began cruising in 1998 and have taken at least one a year since, 8 with Oceania. The Serenity is a beautiful ship, meticulously maintained and extremely comfortable. The sea days offered many activities, great lecturers, current films etc. Our stateroom was compact and there was plenty of storage. The bathroom had a tub - risky getting in and out - and the two vanity sinks were convenient. The guests were friendly, active, well-traveled and easy to chat with. The crew and staff are exceptional, many are long time employees and their eagerness to help and their friendly nature added to our enjoyment. Our sole complaint is with the dining policy. We chose late sitting and a table for 4, thinking we would meet another couple. Another couple never joined us yet our table remained set for four. Our table was next to several large tables of 8 and the area was noisy. The serving staff seemed to rush around, were eager to finish their shift. This was not the leisurely dining we expected aboard a Crystal ship. After 3 dinners in the dining room, we dined at Tastes, the informal restaurant placed where the covered pool use to be. Tastes became our restaurant of choice. No additional fee is required but reservations are. Tastes offered us a limited and unique menu; leisurely dining, a quiet atmosphere and we were not rushed. We also dined at Prego 3 times, nothing exceptional; we also dined once at Silk Road, the Asian restaurant, and the smell of raw fish was upsetting. We could not understand why tables were empty in the specialty restaurants and the dining room was crowded and noisy. Guests could not just walk in at the last minute to dine in the specialty restaurants. No sharing of tables as offered on Oceania ships. Guests we spoke to who selected the dining by reservation also complained about being seated near a serving station or in a noisy area. We asked for a different table for 2 and were told none were available. Fortunately we had Tastes. We cancelled next year's cruise aboard the Symphony when we were told there is no Tastes restaurant on that ship. For us to return to Crystal and their new ship due out in 2018, the dining policy needs to be changed. Open seating and any time dining has to be implemented. The set dining time is out of date. We were told the galley can't handle the any time open seating concept. On a different note, formal attire for women need not be a long gown; many women were dressed in slacks with a "dressy" tunic. I wish I knew that before packing! Read Less
Sail Date May 2015
We departed from Perth, Australia for one of the segments of Crystal's 2015 World Cruise. This was our 15th cruise, and we have sailed on 10 different lines. We chose based upon itinerary, and chose this one since it transported us ... Read More
We departed from Perth, Australia for one of the segments of Crystal's 2015 World Cruise. This was our 15th cruise, and we have sailed on 10 different lines. We chose based upon itinerary, and chose this one since it transported us to Africa where we have begun a land-based tour of South Africa and Madagascar. We are two retired gents in our mid-60s, and we enjoy ocean crossings and exploring the world. Service: Truly excellent without any bowing or scraping. I often noticed how the Crystal staff made all situations, no matter how complicated or demanding, very smooth and easy. Embarkation and Disembarkation: The simplest and smoothest we have every experienced. One minor problem in a port, but again, ridiculously quick and smooth. Ship: In very good condition. Many well-designed public spaces. The only time we felt crowded was when folks were waited outside the dining room for dinner. See below for my cabin review. Enrichment Program: The absolute best we have ever experienced. We loved the lecture series with many talks at a very high level. Our attention spans never failed and we were often challenged by the thought-provoking content. Destination lectures provided very good information and preparation. Internet: Of course it is slow and you will have trouble up-loading your photos or doing anything that requires band width. But this is exactly the same as on every other cruise line. The big benefit on Crystal is that Crystal Society members (you join automatically after your first Crystal cruise) are given one free hour for each day on board. This was a major benefit for us, allowing us to avoid any internet costs, and making the Crystal experience more all-inclusive. Beverages: Excellent, from the fresh juices, to the specialty coffees, to all the booze and wine, all-inclusive. So bottoms up! Food: Since we are foodies from the San Francisco area, this is a make-or-break area for us, and we were generally pleased. The stand-out for us was Tastes, the small plates venue on the Lido deck which features world cuisine. Our only complaint was that they don't vary the menu, so after 2 visits, we had sampled all the small plates. Dinner and lunch in the main dining room were always quite good, with lots of variety and even some ethnic dishes, which we appreciated. We did have a special meal with some friends, a series of Indian curries, which was lackluster. Breakfast and lunch buffets in the Lido were good enough with lots of variety, but a few things to avoid, such as the super-greasy bacon. The specialty restos were a big disappointment. Silk Road lacked any wow factor; I just don't understand the rave reviews. But poor, poor Prego is desperately in need of a make-over. The interior design looks like a New Jersey suburban Italian resto that Tony Soprano might frequent. The Prego food quality was sadly just a step above the Olive Garden. Come on, Crystal, you can do better than that! Entertainment: There was an excellent concert pianist, and we enjoyed Ms. Calvert's Patsy Cline show. And one night in the Cove we were brought to tears by a smooth jazz jam that included a floating bunch of the best musicians on board, a transcending experience. Otherwise the entertainment was same old, same old cruise ship material. Does Belinda King book the acts and script the shows, like she does for other lines? Here is where we do not fit the typical cruise ship demographic, and where I will probably get a lot of push back from others. But we search for something more modern, more edgy, maybe a bit younger. The nadir was a salute to British rock from the 60s where the troupe did an endless group sing of 20-second bits from dozens and dozens of songs, very much like the dull introductions to "American Idol" episodes. I almost lost it during the dumbed-down medley of Rolling Stones' songs, which was like a "Saturday Night Live" parody of what one would expect on a cruise ship. At one time that music stood for something. Where did we go wrong? The Big Issue: We boarded the 4th segment of a 6-segment World Cruise, joining hundreds and hundreds of folks who were on for the full 100 days. Many of these passengers had taken many Crystal world cruises before. They had bonded, knew each other, and seemed to stay within their own groups of friends. Very natural, of course, but this was hard for us, and try as we might, we found it very hard to meet people. Believe me, this did not ruin our experience, but we very, very often felt left out. We did meet a few people and had a few good conversations, but over the course of 21 days, we were pretty much on our own. It was more than a bit alienating. I would caution others who are considering one or two segments midway through a Crystal world cruise. You might have a bit of trouble connecting with others. So would I cruise Crystal again? Certainly for the right itinerary, and we would definitely consider an Atlantic crossing. But I think I would avoid a segment of a world cruise. In fact, we have made a deposit on the 2016 World Cruise mainly because of the incredible itinerary and because we got a very good deal. But we are now about 95% sure that we will cancel and spend our travel dollars elsewhere. I don't think I could make it through 102 days of struggling to connect with the closed group of frequent world cruisers. Read Less
Sail Date March 2015
The Crystal Serenity (1,000 passengers) is a good fit for the independent traveler who hates herding. My wife and I use it often as our platform to (1) meet interesting people, (2) hear virtuoso musicians, (3) find new places worth a ... Read More
The Crystal Serenity (1,000 passengers) is a good fit for the independent traveler who hates herding. My wife and I use it often as our platform to (1) meet interesting people, (2) hear virtuoso musicians, (3) find new places worth a return, and (4) access isolated places we’d otherwise never see. There’s a lot to like about the Serenity, and we got our money’s worth on cruise V5303 (Lima to Auckland in Feb. 2015). Crystal’s performance was acceptable in most respects, and I’d hold up a paddle with an “8” (out of 10) for this cruise. Like much in life, we savor what’s there and overlook what’s not. Crystal definitely markets a club that people want to join. Bloggers cite long wait lists to see who eventually makes the cut to cruise with Crystal. Online chat threads sometimes voice an “expectation gap” between what was experienced and what was promised by Crystal’s well placed ads and promoters. But the myth of pampered perfection (that lore of five or “six” stars) is simply not a realistic expectation for this gracefully-aging little ship. We think of Serenity as a well-kept boutique hotel where everyone knows your name, rather than a floating palace of perfection. In fact, Crystal’s advertising seems to be realistically retooling Crystal’s reputation from a clubhouse for the elite to an ocean of opportunities for writing your own story. And we keep coming back for the latter because we find Crystal a comfortable choice for our type of travel. Realities of the Route We did this cruise because we wanted lots of sea days -- and we got ‘em. Billed as “Mysteries of the South Pacific,” it was that legendary tropical route of explorers, authors, artists, and Hollywood. We crossed the Pacific with those unhurried sea days, and the possibility of pit stops at some storied islands (Easter, Pitcairn, Tahiti, Rarotonga). Though the crossing itself is pretty routine, finding these remote specks of land is only the beginning. Survival in tendering is still where the crew earns their “green jackets” among the masters. For two centuries, nature has commonly frustrated shore visits at the islands along this route. If you’re going for the port stops rather than the journey, other travel alternatives (discussed below) are a better bet. Reliable access to the Internet disappeared between Easter Island and Tahiti. Studious passengers no doubt thought of those ancient Polynesians who were the space travelers of their day. Theirs was a one-way resettlement in the far unknown with, unlike E.T., no hope to ever phone home. A Super Bowl Send-Off For holidays like Christmas and Super Bowl Sunday, it’s always a disputable call as to whether to spend them on a cruise ship or somewhere else (the “no place like home” dilemma). And we live in Phoenix, where the big game was actually played this year. This cruise embarked out of Lima just before Super Bowl Sunday. But Crystal made it all better with live big-screen coverage, an authentic tailgating buffet, and great sports bar decorating. For the price of two Super Bowl tickets, we got a cruise across the Pacific. Plus a better view, more comfortable seats, and better food than we would have had in the Phoenix stadium. Dining: Secrets of the Missing Menus We took this cruise for the sea days, and Crystal’s venues for leisurely (unherded) meals were part of that choice. And it’s not just about the food: meals are where we meet lots of interesting people and trade travel tips. Online chat threads sometimes express disappointment with Crystal’s dining. Perhaps this flows from the natural tension between one’s personal taste and a passive expectation of pampered perfection. But a more realistic approach would be to view the small ship as several blocks of “neighborhood” dining possibilities. The ship is big enough to support a variety, and small enough to routinely adapt to diner requests. Without investing in a penthouse suite (we don’t), you can come close to having a personal chef if you know the “missing menu” for each venue. The formal dining room (Deck 5) will go beyond the published dinner menu if you alert your head waiter the night before. In this Crystal cruise, as before, we’ve enjoyed custom (off-menu) orders for lobsters, steaks, group salads, family-style meat dishes, and special desserts. Like many Americans, we prefer dinner at 6 pm rather than 8:30 pm. This lets us see the first performance of the evening’s entertainment, rather than the later one for the night owls. But this has the side effect of a further choice concerning the shows. The musician’s first performance feels like the traditional full-house auditorium concert. But the second show often ends up as a smaller audience with a less formal “jazz club” atmosphere, with more up close and personal interaction with the virtuoso. As in the past, our choice for a great-tasting breakfast continues to be the less attended one in the formal dining room. Right from the menu, you can build your own eclectic smorgasbord of personal favorites -- from Japanese cod, to corned beef hash, to Ovaltine, to cooked-to-order waffles, to fresh berries, to muffins as good as the donut shop treats back home. It’s the kind of long, leisurely breakfast that’s perfect for a sea day, or when the masses are off to their shore excursions. But don’t underestimate the informal dining that’s available for lunch and dinner up on Deck 12. Tastes Cafe has the best service that we’ve experienced at any restaurant on land or sea, thanks to the combined efforts up there of Clark, Rosanno, Bryan, Lloyd, and Luigi. Just like the old Cheers show, where anyone knows your name, drink, and chair of choice. In fact, the attentive service of these particular employees is a main reason that we continue to cruise on Crystal. And we found the most flavorful beef and lamb on the ship up at Tastes. But don’t order yet; there’s more distinctive dining amidst the nooks and crannies of Deck 12. Scoops ice cream bar has quite the fan base, with that old-fashioned, made-to-order, soda fountain nostalgia. In fact, the line at Scoops is an event in itself as Lucky deftly chats with all -- and you watch what he’s crafting for everybody else (sort of an ice cream piano bar where I’ll often have what she’s having). Over at the Trident Grill, Andy is the master of multi-tasking and makes our favorite hamburger (yes, anywhere). Like the ice cream bar, this is a bit of American nostalgia. Andy is curator of the comfort food that was cooked to order in small town cafes before the fast food chains took over. On the other hand, my wife would argue that Jordan at the Bistro (Deck 6) must, from my perspective, be second to the captain as the most essential crew member. Every day, Jordan uses his off-menu skills to simulate the Starbucks drink that starts my day at home. Star Parties with an Astronaut Lots of sea days mean an onboard focus, rather than just a ride to the next shore excursion. Serenity’s small size gives it the flexibility to offer spontaneous extras. The ancients’ celestial navigation surfaced during the “star parties” that a visiting astronaut and Serenity’s resident astronomer periodically convened on darkened Deck 13. The cruise director even brought out his laptop with an app that graphically explained the sky at the ship’s position in real time (sort of a floating planetarium). With only about a dozen passengers present, the session that I attended was a much more personal star party than those ubiquitous land-based ones (where a long line jockeys for a glancing look through a telescope). For the daily schedule of visible satellites, see www.heavens-above.com, www.calsky.com, and www.aerospace.org. And though the Pacific no longer defines our universe, one of the astronaut’s lectures cautioned that the most critical navigation puzzle of all still remains on the plotting board. Unless we can learn to intercept asteroids (specks in space), close calls will eventually escalate to a collision that presses the reset button for life on earth. Until I heard his lecture of hopeful solutions, I had just assumed that humans were long-term sitting ducks without recourse (facing the solar system’s version of a rogue wave). While contemplating the constellations, falling stars, orbiting satellites, and menacing asteroids, I somehow forgot that Crystal is no longer putting chocolates on the pillows. Crystal often stops at locations with an observatory, and they may wish to try distinctive shore excursions to those facilities. Even during the day, the view, grounds, or historical building can be memorable. Port Stop: Easter Island (Feb. 2015) Easter Island is a draw for cruisers because (1) it has hundreds of those UNESCO stone heads (moai) and (2) getting to it is a travel milestone in itself (like the Poles, Everest, and the Northwest Passage). Your t-shirt with a head tells the world that you did it, but may signal that you wanted to log the event more than the experience. It’s also one of the world’s very studied places. Rabid studiers can read about its lesser known history of high drama that has occurred before and after the heads. Slavery, revolt, escapes, marooning, flying, and a secret US base are all part of the legacy if you know where to look. On the other hand, Chilean concert pianist Mahani Teave started on Easter Island, which is pretty inspirational given the scarcity of pianos and music teachers in her childhood (see www.mahaniteave.com). And now she’s opened the island’s music school that she never had. Perhaps Crystal could schedule her for some onboard concerts during a future world cruise. Frankly, the rocky, treeless terrain looks more like the barren Aleutians than tropical Polynesia. While Easter Island still has the heat and humidity of Polynesia, a flight to good old Kauai would be a better bet unless you’re into the heads or the history. There are thousands of archeological sites on Easter Island. If you’re really here for the heads, the best bet is take the LAN flight (not a cruise) and schedule a guide per the intensity of your interest. For instance, the island’s only foreign diplomat (the British consul) moonlights as a travel book writer and guide service. He has offerings that range from hours to days, depending upon just how much you want to know about this nuance of archeology (see www.easterislandspirit.com). But we just weren’t into the heads and instead walked into town in search of the novelty stamping of our passports that was reportedly available at the post office. Because it was closed at that hour, we substituted the coveted keepsake of a refrigerator magnet from the island’s three markets (Mercado, Feria, Caleta). It’s a long sweaty walk from the tender, and we’d invest in a cab if we did it again. Easter Island has been a tough tender for famous seamen over two centuries. For cruise ships on tight schedules, it’s a really iffy stop with one navigation reference cautioning: “The weather is never good for more than a few days at a time at Isla de Pascua [Easter Island]. Ships anchoring off the island should be ready to sail on short notice. . .” (NGA Pub. 125) Whatsinport.com advises that “[r]ough seas often prevent tender boat service and shore visits.” And Grant McCall’s book notes “the often elderly passengers on cruise ships who are unable to negotiate the tricky dinghy trip to shore” (ouch!). Like the ascents of notorious peaks, sometimes you get that weather window -- and often you don’t. Nature is indifferent to the prestige of a ship or an explorer. But Serenity was able to tender everyone over and back on this visit, with no injuries worse than a sunburn. It was an E-ride for those that took it, with a dance of deckhands carefully inching each passenger into the bouncing tenders. I’ve never felt so closely protected in my life, and I appreciated those deckhands even more when I read of the recent tendering death on the Queen Elizabeth. For those who want to seriously study up, see the website for the Easter Island Foundation (islandheritage.org), the Rapa Nui Journal, and the ITM 1:30,000 map of the island available from Amazon. Port Stop: Pitcairn Island (Feb. 2015) Fabled Pitcairn Island (pop. about 50) traffics in its lore of Mutiny-on-the-Bounty. Crystal is among the dozen or so cruise lines that occasionally include a “cruise-by” on their itineraries. A few (but not Crystal) actually tender passengers ashore. However, two recent developments could dramatically change the lack of shore visits. The European Union has invested in a new dock at Pitcairn, with construction in progress visible during our cruise-by. And amidst much National Geographic publicity, the UK has just designated the ocean around Pitcairn as the world’s largest marine sanctuary (sort of a national park under water). The UK’s need to aggressively service (guard) this new preserve could justify the big shifts in accessibility seen in other remote places -- solutions like fast ferries, amphibious seaplanes, or an off-island airstrip. While this is just speculation on my part, there was indeed Cold War planning for an airfield on a neighboring island that Pitcairners have often visited with their small boats. Though a postage stamp back in 2000 remembered that project, construction never occurred and Pitcairn lacks an airstrip to this day. So, if you’re confident that you still have decades of travel ahead, one option is to postpone your cruise by Pitcairn for a few years while the invisible hand of the market sorts all this out. But there was no expectation of a shore excursion for Serenity at this point, with only its captain, cruise director, and doctor actually setting foot on the island. Instead, Pitcairn continued its long trading tradition of bringing a “longboat” of residents out to any passing ship. The Pitcairners set up their souvenir booths for five hours onboard, gave two slide shows, and sent us on our way with a concert of island songs. My wife and I did our best to support Pitcairn’s economy through our purchase of books, stamps, carvings, DVDs, and a map. Each onboard trader told us a story about life on Pitcairn that we’ll remember long after our trinkets. We always savor a chat with our travel purchases, and we had more of this interaction at the onboard booths than we often get on the bussed tours at other port stops. The onboard market was dominated by the island’s miro wood carvings, the ever-popular t-shirts, and the many series of postage stamps that are actually the main export. Before stamp collectors hit the booths, they can review the online catalog at www.stamps.gov.pn. But don’t overlook this brief access to several hard-to-get publications if you’re scouting a more rigorous return to Pitcairn down the road. The government’s latest Guide to Pitcairn (2013) is a nicely-done book of history, geography, and the current state of modern infrastructure (US $10). David Evans’ self-published “Pitkern Ilan” (rest assured it’s in English) is the detailed guidebook of what to see and do (US $5). And the most detailed map (2013) is expectedly that published by an islander (US $10). The government’s Guide to Pitcairn reminds us that “the custom of exchanging goods of approximately equal value still continues.” Future cruisers to Pitcairn might barter well with old National Geographics about the island. American thrift stores and used book shops sell them for a dollar or two, while Pitcairners price them for visitors at US $40. You could conceivably trade up to a unique carving for a stack of those old yellow-bordered magazines if your luggage allows. Hundreds of Serenity passengers lined the rail to wave goodbye to the dwarfed longboat (a bit reminiscent of little Havre-Saint-Pierre, Quebec, where the cars all honked their farewell to Serenity last fall). The ship then circled Pitcairn’s six-mile perimeter for our final photo op. The lack of a shore visit meant that we missed Bounty artifacts displayed in the museum and scattered around the island. We also missed the botany trail and the elderly community pet, a giant tortoise (“Miss T”) that a sailing ship dropped off 60 years ago. Miss T the tortoise has free-range run of her own forest, and the honor of a postcard, stamp series, YouTube video, and (of course) dot-pn website. She also has her own Pitcairn law that carries jail time if you’re mean to her, and it requires a report to authorities if she looks sick. All of this effectively makes her a protected species of one, or at least a beloved “emotional support animal.” More than a brief cruise-by may be in your future if Pitcairn’s everyday life is your version of “priceless,” experiences like fishing, diving, hiking, birding, socializing, and visiting Miss T. This is a “Northern Exposure” sort of place, and the same travel niche that seeks out lighthouse retreats and Alaskan bush hamlets will probably enjoy a stay at Pitcairn. If you really want to spend such quality time on Pitcairn, its tourism agency can connect you with the two-day boat ride (from Mangareva) and lodging for a stay that lasts from a few days to a few months (see www.visitpitcairn.pn). And that lodging traditionally includes all meals and your host’s guiding as an island insider. On the other hand, if you’re more into the history than the place itself, the Pitcairners and their “Bounty saga” are more easily accessed at Australia’s Norfolk Island. Most Pitcairners resettled there over a century ago and, unlike Pitcairn Island itself, there is air service for tourists. Crystal is scheduled to visit Norfolk Island in 2018. And the first colony of the mutineers was actually on Tubuai over in Tahiti (also accessible by air). There they started Fort George (with even a moat and drawbridge), but the locals drove them out after two battles (hence the name Bloody Bay). Though a very nasty chapter in the Bounty saga (around 70 islanders killed), it didn’t make the movies. Crystal may wish to add historian Mark Eddowes to its cadre of lecturers to provide the Tahitians’ rest of the story on all of this Bounty business. In fact, a passenger on our cruise had published a travel guide to 101 places around the world that have Bounty/Pitcairn sites or artifacts (see eptours.com/CD.htm or the e-book at Amazon). And his wife had moderated a conference at the Pitcairn Islands Study Center (California), which may have the largest library on the topic if you really want to study up without leaving the US. (See 2012bpc.com for free download of the lectures.) Like the Galapagos and Easter Island, Pitcairn is one of those remote spots that’s been studied to death. Its worldwide notoriety began with the Bounty and continues to this day as the Crown and its last Pacific colony grapple over who gets to write the rules. American media from Vanity Fair to the Wall Street Journal have reported upon Pitcairn since the prosecutions of the past decade. (In UK euphemisms, Northern Ireland had “the troubles” and Pitcairn had “the trials.”) Just last November, the UK issued its latest court decision affirming its international rights to police the Pitcairners (see all 165 pages at www.pitcairn.pn/Laws). An onsite contingent of UK reps continues to watch over a handful of aging couples, one child, and one tortoise. As an epilogue to this memorable “non-shore excursion,” I tried to visit the island’s distant administrative headquarters when we reached Auckland. On the 17th floor of a downtown skyscraper (151 Queen St.), I found a plain door labeled as the “Pitcairn Island Office.” A note asked that the British consulate be entrusted with any deliveries. Perhaps the face behind that door was at lunch, or perhaps the island simply doesn’t need daily supervision at this level of the Crown’s bureaucracy. Port Stop: Papeete, Tahiti (Feb. 2015) Crystal rounds up the usual contractors for the shore excursions at its port stops. But we seldom book them unless we want the security of the herd for a particular location. Instead we directly seek out our own “certified local character,” our label of honor for a guide that’s both quite the entertainer and an expert in a distinctive subject matter. Finding the “character” is dependent upon how much advance research you (or your travel agent) are willing to do. Examples of leads would be historical societies, authors, ghost walks, and foodie tours. It may or may not be a private tour. Our man in Tahiti was William Leeteg (tahiti-adventure-eagle-tour.com). Email him well in advance and he will circle the whole island (70 miles) with as much of the backstory as you’d like to hear. He does all tours himself in his own air-conditioned van and quotes his price when emailed (he charged us a very reasonable US $50 a person). He’s fluent in English, not surprising since he was schooled in California and Hawaii (and can even connect you with an Elvis imitator in Papeete). Yup, William is the son of that controversial painter Edgar Leeteg (sometimes promoted as “the American Gauguin”). Edgar’s masterpieces include Christ, Navajo Indians, and Polynesian women (often topless). When James Michener wrote “Rascals in Paradise,” the last chapter was indeed entitled “Leeteg, the Legend.” William’s regular group tour (4 hours) includes stops at Maraa Grotto (Gauguin swam here), Vaipahi Garden (waterfall), Venus Point (Matavai Bay and lighthouse), the Blow Hole, and Taharaa Lookout (panoramic photo op). However, if you want him to concentrate on his father the artist, or Paul Gauguin, you should book a private tour with him that includes sites related to their lives. William, like his late father, is his own man and his own boss. As he shows you the landmarks, he offers his personal insights rather than a scripted tourist-tale for mass consumption. And that’s just what we’re looking for in a certified local character. The US Center for Disease Control cautions travelers to Tahiti about mosquito-borne chikungunya. “There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat chikungunya virus infection.” We used ordinary insect repellent, didn’t get bitten, and developed no symptoms. Port Stop: Rarotonga, Cook Islands (Feb. 2015) The stop at Rarotonga didn’t happen for us, consistent with Cruise Critic’s observation that “ships often miss calls here due to rough water conditions.” Serenity spared our stomachs from an extreme tender ride and proceeded on to New Zealand. For those insistent upon visiting Rarotonga, air travel would seem the best bet given the chronic uncertainty of tendering. Read Less
Sail Date January 2015
My wife and I have been on many cruises, probably over 50. This was our first "World Cruise" and our first Crystal Cruise. I will try to summarize our thoughts on this with the great and the not so great. Great: The food is ... Read More
My wife and I have been on many cruises, probably over 50. This was our first "World Cruise" and our first Crystal Cruise. I will try to summarize our thoughts on this with the great and the not so great. Great: The food is amazing. No powdered eggs, frozen hamburgers, or cheap ice cream on this line. Everything we ate was fresh, good, and the way it should be. The ship, even though old in my opinion, was very nice and well maintained. The public areas were not tired nor did they look their age. The crew, all trained well and friendly. Silk Road- was amazing just like Nobu (which we frequent in Miami/Vegas). Activities on sea days-always something for anyone-they keep a lot of stuff going on which is great. Another great is no matter when you go to the pool area there are chairs and towels with umbrellas waiting for you. You dont have to go up at 6am and "reserve" a space! Not so Great- We booked a "PH" which stands for Penthouse. Now, for the record I have been on Penthouses in Celebrity, Royal Caribean, NCL, Holland America, and other lines. This isn't a penthouse. Its more like a balcony room on most other lines. The rooms on this ship are not what they should be. I had the chance to see the Balcony Rooms on the ship and let me say that those rooms would not cut it. They didnt even have real closets! The tubs where made for small people, no grown person would fit in there. The rooms are just not up to par, and for the amount of money they ask for, it should be. Secondly, I had a big let down with the shows. The variety is horrible. The shows are singing and orchestra type and arent geared towards anyone who is below 70. There is no comedy, no magic (other then a small show they do which is fine) and no other variety. We went to three shows during the 100 day cruise. This is a big area Crystal needs to fix along with the rooms. Lastly, Shore Excursions. I would avoid them-they upcharge you from 100%-1000% for things you could easily set up on your own. I also found the description in the excusrion was not reflective of what the real excursion was. It was often over hyped and under delivered.... Overall, I loved Crystal. I think they are the closest line I have been on that comes to close to "Luxury", but they arent quite there yet. Remember, when you break it down and are spending over $1500 per night for a cruise- you should be getting the 5 star all around. I hope with the new ship they fix some of the issues and get there-because they are close. Read Less
Sail Date January 2015
We have taken a few cruises on Crystal and for the most part we have been quite satisfied. Service is generally very good but Crystal needs to rethink their tipping policy and advertise accordingly. Is it included or not? The staff has yet ... Read More
We have taken a few cruises on Crystal and for the most part we have been quite satisfied. Service is generally very good but Crystal needs to rethink their tipping policy and advertise accordingly. Is it included or not? The staff has yet to be informed. Crystal's brochures claim tipping has been included in the cost of the cruise. Yet if you research "inclusive" cruise line tipping policies, Crystal states "tipping is not expected but will be appreciated" whereas Regent and Seabourn state "tipping is not expected" period. The Crystal staff clearly expects to be tipped, especially the staff in the dining rooms. They all but had their hand out the next to last night of the cruise and their behavior made for an uncomfortable evening. Crystal has also taken to cutting corners. Initially their "all inclusive" included meals in their alternate dining venues. Crystal has instituted a policy where only one evening is included now and Crystal imposes a $30 per person charge if you eat in the alternate dining venue more than one time. We chose to do so and noticed the dining rooms were half empty - apparently other cruisers are not reacting well to the up-charge. Also, their wine choices are limited and Crystal now has their own "label" of lower end wine that they encourage the staff to pour. Really - on a luxury line! Unlike other luxury cruise lines Crystal does not truly provide for open seating at dinner as other luxury lines do. Crystal makes a half hearted attempt to allow "open diners" to eat in a segregated area buried in the back of the dining room. They clearly discourage open dining - big mistake. Service at second seating can be rushed - often thought waiter was in a hurry to get off duty. These flaws aside, Crystal delivers in most other areas. Cabin was spotless and well maintained. Room service was prompt. Public areas were large and meticulous and there is always a quite place to curl up with a book.   Read Less
Sail Date December 2014
The Crystal Serenity (1,000 passengers) offers a luxury river cruise right here in North America. Cruise V4323 (Boston to Quebec City in Sept. 2014) went north along the coast of Maine and maritime Canada, then up the St. Lawrence River ... Read More
The Crystal Serenity (1,000 passengers) offers a luxury river cruise right here in North America. Cruise V4323 (Boston to Quebec City in Sept. 2014) went north along the coast of Maine and maritime Canada, then up the St. Lawrence River through the French heritage of Quebec. My wife and I normally take Crystal’s ocean crossings to maximize our sea days, with those daily doses of onboard happenings or doing nothing. This cruise offered the opposite, with a full series of overnight rides to the next coastal destination. For this one, it’s all about the port stops. PORT STOP: BAR HARBOR, MAINE (Sept. 2014) Instead of purchasing one of Crystal’s shore excursions, we made our own arrangements for the time ashore at Bar Harbor, Maine. One option here is a guided tasting walk to sample the state’s famous cuisine. (See www.mainefoodietours.com ) We hired Della from Maine Foodie Tours to show us the town in a private walking tour. We sampled everything from blue crab, to lobster mac & cheese, to blueberry popcorn, to whoopie pie desserts. She even baked us some of the latter, and briefed us on its history as Maine’s official state “treat.” There are no chain restaurants in Bar Harbor, and we chatted directly with the creators themselves at these niche shops (right down to the culinary science behind that blueberry popcorn). But it’s not just about the tasting. Della’s stories of the locals (both living and dead) were just as much fun as the food. We really made the rounds from the scenic Shore Path, to the Victorian mansions (“summer cottages”), to the sculptures of river otters at a waterfront gallery (remember this review is authored by “cruise-otter”). And, of course, the history side of Della’s tour included the town’s oldest public building, the still very-used Gothic church with its stained glass windows by Louis Tiffany. Given St. Saviour’s status as a national historic site, it’s not surprising that the parish has a priest with a prior career as a church architect. If your image of a “river cruise” includes ornate churches, you can start with a panoramic virtual tour of St. Savior’s at http://stsaviours.me. Once you’re at the church, pick up its visitors booklet for the parishioner stories behind the windows. On Sundays and cruise ship days, the church offers guided tours. (And, if you really want to do old churches, try the big Saint Anne’s Basilica when you get to Quebec. It has 200+ stained glass windows, lots of distinctive chapels, and around a million visitors a year. See www.sanctuairesainteanne.org. Since it’s about 25 miles downriver from Quebec City, the best way to get there will be Crystal’s own shore excursion.) Given the demographics of the Crystal crowd, most of us have a vested interest in cracking the code for age-related diseases. A large genetics lab on the outskirts of Bar Harbor is working on it, and offers two public tours a week. While the answers will be priceless, the tour is free. (See www.jax.org/about/tours.html ) If you really want to study up about Bar Harbor, maps and books for the area are available at Sherman’s Books near the ocean end of Main Street. (See www.shermans.com ) PORT STOP: SAINT JOHN, NEW BRUNSWICK (Sept. 2014) For starters, make sure that you’re correctly identifying your port stop. There’s a “St. John’s” in Newfoundland. And then there’s “Saint John” in New Brunswick. On this cruise, the Crystal Serenity stopped at the latter. Instead of purchasing one of Crystal’s shore excursions, we made our own arrangements for the time ashore at Saint John. One of us is a wee bit Irish, and we’re always interested in learning more about the Irish immigration to North America. During trips to Ireland, we’ve toured the “famine ships” displayed around Dublin and Waterford. (See www.jeaniejohnston.ie and www.dunbrody.com ) Ellis Island is, of course, the landmark of entry into the United States. But for the Irish who immigrated to Canada, that country’s “Ellis Island” is a trio of historic sites: (1) Pier 21 at Halifax, (2) Grosse Ile downriver from Quebec City, and (3) Partridge Island at Saint John. And the accessibility of these Canadian sites varies greatly. Access to the old immigration station at Halifax (Pier 21) is as good as it gets. It’s preserved as a museum right at the cruise ship dock. (See www.pier21.ca ) And, by the way, right down the street is a store with the largest selection of maps and travel books that I’ve seen anywhere. (See www.mapsandmore.ca ) The old quarantine complex at Gross Ile is a national museum. It’s about 30 miles downriver from Quebec City and accessible via a ferry boat. (See www.pc.gc.ca; www.chaudiereappalaches.com; www.croisieresaml.com ) But at Saint John, there is no longer access to Partridge Island. (See www.newirelandnb.ca ) Fortunately, ShoreTrips.com offers a private tour of Saint John that preserves the story of the harbor’s quarantine island -- as well as that of Canada’s first mental hospital, and other sites that tell the hard lessons of history back to the 1600s. The hours unfolded as one of the top tours that we’ve taken anywhere. Carnage and epidemics, along with hope and heroics, were the realities of the day in old Saint John. When ShoreTrips.com listed this tour among its offerings, the fine print at the bottom was an understatement rather than a tease: “This tour is not suitable for those that find stories of death and tragedy disturbing.” In fact, this tour would probably be a hit with the traveler niche that appreciates medical history walks (such as those offered over in Britain). (See discovermedicallondon.com and www.alnwickgarden.com ) But rest assured that this tour doesn’t neglect the usual sites expected of a history tour in Saint John. We saw the Reversing Falls, Fort Howe, Fort LaTour, the Loyalist House, the Martello Tower, Barrack Green Armoury, the Imperial Theatre, and, of course, several graveyards. ShoreTrips.com pulled out all the stops for our time in Saint John. For the total price of US $301 (not per person), we got four seats in a van and two guides (Diana Grant, David Goss). Both are serious historical researchers, though from contrasting disciplines and perspectives. But they’re also quite the entertainers, and quite deserving of our label of honor as “certified local characters.” The price of $301 certainly compares quite favorably to Crystal’s offer of a “private half-day van & English-speaking guide” for $949. Crystal’s offer (its shore excursion # SJB-3) noted that “[t]his service does not include a tour program” and that only its cruisers could get in the van. In contrast, ShoreTrips.com didn’t restrict who we brought along for our four seats. One of our guides (David Goss) is a long-time newspaper columnist and prolific author. And his tours of history’s nooks and crannies have been a fixture of Saint John summers for over 30 years. I simply had to follow up by reading a few of his books in the weeks after the tour. But David went even further and connected me with the work of Harold Wright, the area’s authority on Partridge Island and its immigrants from Ireland. CBC News recently reported that the government is taking another look at the island’s potential for tourism, and there may once again be public access by the time you have a port stop there. (See www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick ) ShoreTrips.com understandably markets this as a “private haunted history tour,” rather than something more arcane and academic. And there is indeed a goodly dose of unsolved mysteries. But it’s a far more serious effort than scary tales for the campfire. Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
This cruise on the Crystal Serenity (1,000 passengers) was a good fit for two of our travel goals: (1) lots of sea days and (2) lots of Ireland. Cruise V4322 started with four daily port stops, three of them in Ireland (Belfast, Dublin, ... Read More
This cruise on the Crystal Serenity (1,000 passengers) was a good fit for two of our travel goals: (1) lots of sea days and (2) lots of Ireland. Cruise V4322 started with four daily port stops, three of them in Ireland (Belfast, Dublin, Waterford). Then it was off across the North Atlantic with a further stop only at Iceland. PRE-CRUISE LOGISTICS Given the uncertainties of air travel, we always build in a “cushion day” to avoid missing the boat. We stayed at the Mercure London Bloomsbury this time, a comfortable boutique hotel (but not Crystal’s offering). Our room met our need for a spot to sleep and park for the day. Since cruise ships don’t tool up the Thames, downtown London is 70 miles from its port over at Southhampton. We booked Crystal’s bus for that long ride to the port, and had an uneventful check-in. When the fears that fuel the “cushion day” come to pass, we utter that “Thank god, we built in an extra day.” But usually we’re “stuck” with a day of waiting, and we’d sure consider pre-cruise shore excursions if Crystal sold more. They only had one this time, and it was only available if you took Crystal’s pre-cruise hotel package. Since lots of cruisers wisely build in that extra day, there’s probably a market here if Crystal cares to tap it more. And, per the Wall Street Journal, Crystal’s president is urging her crew to sell more shore excursions in hopes that the little two-ship line can double its earnings (see WSJ, 4-23-15). Our trips abroad really begin with the cushion day (whether or not we’re doing Crystal). In this case, the Mercure was near the Tube (or Underground) and we did a quick ride over to Wimbledon. There we took the behind-the-scenes tour of the complex that hosts the tennis championships. (See www.wimbledon.com ) My wife is quite the sports fan. During a prior wait to board Serenity, we took the tourist bus in Barcelona over to the Olympic Stadium. (See www.museuolimpicbcn.cat ) And, if you’re a rabid soccer fan, a tour of the Camp Nou Stadium is also accessible from the tourist bus. (See www.fcbarcelona.com/camp-nou ) Once we had a cushion day in Edinburgh, and we hopped on the train to St. Andrews. On Sundays, you can walk the Old Course with the non-golfing public (not likely at Congressional or Augusta). Other days you can take a guided tour that focuses on the 1st, 17th, and 18th holes. (See www.standrews.com ) During the day-of-waiting, hotel concierges help us fill the gap with non-Crystal options that are memorable, economical, and convenient to access on our own. But once aboard the ship, we’ve seldom been able to get these kinds of local tips from Crystal’s staff. (This aspect of their “six star” service is apparently limited to signing you up for their contractor’s tours and, of course, for future Crystal cruises.) Nor I have found even high-end travel agents to be much help on this (though they assert access to some nebulous network of insiders around the planet). STATEROOM AND PUBLIC SPACES We’ve tried a few other brands that service some niche of the world (Tahiti, Hawaii). But we have cruised exclusively on the Crystal Serenity for some time now. In fact, this was one of four trips on the Serenity that we’ve taken during the past year. (We live in a very hot place, and people travel frequently for a break from it.) Cruising need not mean crowding. Though a small ship, Serenity was somehow built with “endless” nooks and crannies in which one can limit contact with other humans to the desired degree. It amazes us that we still keep discovering new spots to hang out around this ship. On this cruise, as before, we found the Serenity’s stateroom to be adequate and comfortable. The housekeeping service was thorough, attentive, pleasant, and dependable. But we really do these cruises for what’s beyond the stateroom (or what’s beyond the ship at the port stops). Despite all the promotion as “ultra-luxury” and “six” (or even “seven”) stars, we consider the Serenity to be a comfortable choice rather than a palace of perfection. We only expect that Crystal will promptly address any deficiency –- and most times they have. For instance, sometimes we've experienced a problem with the stateroom’s plumbing (a drain or a leak). Housekeeping promptly sends over a plumber, who promptly fixes it. We don’t expect the quick cosmetic makeovers in dry dock to prevent every imperfection in the staterooms of this gracefully-aging little ship. The Serenity is no longer young in cruise ship years, and even the iconic Love Boat eventually went to the scrapyard (or cruise ship heaven, if you prefer). And, per the Wall Street Journal, Crystal’s president says that “[a]s we acquire additional tonnage we will eventually phase out the other ships one at a time” (see WSJ, 4-23-15). We’ll continue to enjoy the Serenity as long as she’s with us. PASSENGER HEALTH AND SAFETY The Serenity gets periodic inspections by a federal agency, the Center for Disease Control. These can occur when the ship docks at a U.S. port (the CDC Vessel Sanitation Program). CDC considers inspection scores from 86 to 100 to be in the passing range. At the end of this cruise (Sept. 19 in Boston), we were eating on the Lido Deck and watched as the CDC inspectors did their checking. CDC’s public website shows that the Serenity scored a 93 on the inspection we witnessed. Some months later, we boarded the Serenity for a cruise out of Miami (May 4, 2015). CDC returned for another inspection, though we didn’t actually see the inspectors this time. CDC’s website shows that the Serenity received a score of 88. This score is 3 points above CDC’s “not satisfactory” threshold of 85. CDC’s website still indicates that “[t]his cruise ship has not submitted their Corrective Action Report” (website visited 6-26-15). CDC’s website reports its inspections of the Serenity going back to 2003. Serenity’s lowest score was this 88 that it recently received in Miami. Ironically, Crystal sometimes gives its cruisers a “galley tour,” and we took the one offered on May 15 (that is, 11 days after the inspection). While we didn’t see anything of concern, we’re eaters of the seen rather than experts on the unseen. The CDC website shows that the Serenity’s five lowest scores all occurred after November 2012. Serenity scored better in the years prior to this, sometimes earning a 99 or 100. Per CDC’s website (visited 6-26-15), the agency has so far conducted over 100 inspections of cruise ships during 2015. Serenity’s score of 88 was among the six lowest scores. In contrast, Regent’s Seven Seas Navigator scored a 100 when it was inspected a few days later on May 7, 2015. And, of the 18 ships that have so far received a 100 during 2015, five were Carnival and five were Holland America (as of my visit to CDC's website on 6-26-15). On the other hand, the year’s lowest score so far has been the 82 received by the Silver Shadow of the Silversea line. This means that CDC rated the ship as “not satisfactory” at the time of the inspection. Crystal is a tiny cruise line with only two ships. Two years ago, CDC investigated an outbreak of norovirus on Crystal’s other ship (the Symphony). In May 2013, CDC inspectors boarded the Symphony in Los Angeles and reported that 125 passengers (15%) had symptoms at some point during the cruise. You just never know what will pop up in the statistical tedium of a government website. Those inspection reports are all publicly available at www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp. You can read for yourself and discuss any item of concern with your doc that deals with travel health. This CDC program expectedly has its field office in Fort Lauderdale. In fact, the program just had its annual meeting with the cruise industry on June 22 in Miami. Though these inspections are an important (and transparent) service to consumers, I’ve surprisingly never heard a mention, pro or con, from even high-end travel agents. DINING The only dining deficiency that we experienced is a sensitive one -- and a difficult one for Crystal to address. On some evenings, our dinner in the formal dining room was spoiled by a screaming toddler at a neighboring table of several generations. The disturbance didn’t self-correct, and we simply ate at other venues for a while. But we missed our tablemates on those nights and, in retrospect, now realize that we should have discreetly asked the maitre d’ for a solution that let us keep our table intact. Crystal’s president has expressed her understandable need for “making sure every berth is full every sailing” (WSJ, 4-23-15). That apparently means marketing to more than us empty-nesters, as well as steps like deformalizing the dining room a bit for those who wear the “$400 jeans” (as she expressed it in an onboard video of a March 7 passenger briefing). While I understand the economic dilemma, I’m not sure how Crystal can prevent the dining problem that we faced for a while on this cruise. SHORE EXCURSIONS The Crystal Serenity is a good fit for those who like to study up and do their own thing at the port stops. There were six stops between London and Boston as this cruise wound its way across the Atlantic. Three of those stops were in Ireland (Belfast, Dublin, Waterford). A major reason that we booked this cruise was to continue our travel in that area. Like many Americans and Canadians, one of us is a bit Irish and likes exploring the immigration backstory. In fact, we stayed on Serenity for the next cruise (back-to-back) and saw Irish-related sites at Halifax and Saint John (see my review for Boston to Quebec). For those who prefer passive pampering to active research, rest assured that Crystal will round up the usual contractors for its shore excursions. In other words, you just get on the bus and “leave the driving to us” (as they used to say in those old Greyhound commercials). When they let you out, just keep your eye on the bouncing blue paddle at the head of the herd. My study of Irish history has gone on for a while and, not surprisingly, Crystal’s generic onshore offerings didn’t cover the arcane nuances that I wanted to check out. But one of the strengths of Crystal is the opportunity to write your own story, as they tout in their ads. So this time in Dublin, we toured the “famine ship” replica that is walkable from Crystal’s shuttle bus. (See www.jeaniejohnston.ie ) We’d previously toured the other famine ship about 15 miles out of Waterford. Your best access for this latter replica will be Crystal shore excursion WAT-G. (See www.dunbrody.com ) Much of the Irish immigration to North America started from the port down the coast at Cobh. The museum there (Cobh Heritage Centre) focuses on the famine ships and the Titanic (its last stop). Cobh is accessible when Crystal has a port stop at Cork (not this cruise). There’s a virtual tour of the museum at www.cobhheritage.com. For my purposes, the best stop on this cruise was Waterford. The Irish tourism in Waterford gets overshadowed by Dublin and Belfast. But if you walk and talk with the locals, you’ll piece together the saga of a general in the American Civil War who got his start here (Thomas Meagher). He went on to become a governor of early Montana, and then disappeared without a trace. To this day, no one knows for sure whether Meagher drowned, was murdered, or rode off to Canada to continue the Fenian fight for Irish independence. Though he was presumed dead in 1867, Montanans have never sighted a body, a grave, or a ghost. His life story reads like grand opera or How the West Was Won. Statues of a mounted Meagher with raised sword are found at both the beginning and end of his trail, that is, here in Waterford and in front of Montana’s capitol building. (See catherinegreene.com ) If playing history detective or back door tourist is your kind of thing, you can spend your port stop with Meagher in downtown Waterford. Crystal’s shuttle bus dropped us off right where he was born. (See www.granville-hotel.ie ) We then walked over to the local museum (Bishop’s Palace) that has an exhibit about him. (See www.waterfordtreasures.com ) Meagher designed Ireland’s flag, and a little down the street we saw the club where he first flew it. (See www.1848tricolour.com ) And, if you can get five miles out of town, you’ll find the Meagher family’s plot at Faithlegg Cemetery (minus the missing general). See www.russiansidetours.com/faithlegg-heritage-tour.html But most interesting of all is the Waterford building that was the family home during Meagher’s days as an Irish revolutionary (the 1840s). It’s now a good-tasting Thai restaurant, and we lucked out as I stood outside and read the historical marker. A local author happened along and introduced us to the owner, who gave us a full tour of the building. This included the second floor from which Meagher addressed the crowd outside, as the Crown was arresting him for urging revolt (like any good opera). See www.sabai.ie Meagher’s only armed battle with the Crown was quickly suppressed at the “Famine Warhouse,” which is over in Ballingarry (35 miles northwest of Waterford). The building has been preserved as a museum that tells the story of Meagher and his colleagues. (See www.slieveardagh.com/history/famine-warhouse; www.hiddentipperary.com/thomas-francis-meagher ) Meagher’s trial for treason took place in the still-used courthouse over at Clonmel (25 miles west of Waterford). The Queen commuted the original sentence of death & dismemberment to banishment in Tasmania. (I hope Crystal will offer a trip over to Clonmel and Ballingarry as a future shore excursion.) And when you reach Dublin (the next port stop), you can take the city bus and tour the old Kilmainham Jail (“the Bastille of Ireland”). The Crown kept Meagher there until he was shipped to the other side of the earth. (See www.heritageireland.ie/en/kilmainhamgaol ) Meagher didn’t like Tasmania, escaped to New York, and became an American. He fought as a general in the American Civil War and hobnobbed with Grant, Sherman, and Lincoln. After the war, he became an early governor of Montana. There are plenty of books out there that detail this final decade of his saga. And you can visit the last spot that anyone saw Meagher if you ever get to Fort Benton, Montana. Though it was once the head of steamboat navigation on the Missouri River, the Crystal Serenity probably won’t be docking there any time soon. Crystal’s shore excursions at Waterford have a brief brush with three Meagher-related sites. Crystal tour WAT-FB has lunch in the building where he was born (now the Granville Hotel). Tours WAT-B and WAT-FB include the Bishop’s Palace museum with its Meagher exhibit. Tour WAT-C goes to the Faithlegg House Hotel, which would be a half-mile walk to the Meagher family’s cemetery plot. We just walked Waterford on our own. However, if you want to hire a guide for a customized tour of Meagher sites, here are three locals that may do the honors: Jack Burtchaell (jburtch@iol.ie ); Anthony Kelly (email@anthonydkelly.com ); Deena Bible (russiansidetours@gmail.com ). And, if you want to study up even further, the best source that I’ve found for maps and books about Ireland is the Eason bookstore on O’Connell Street back in Dublin. (See www.easons.com ) SUMMARY This cruise on the Serenity, like our others, reinforces that this is truly a ship of choices -- rather than the pressured herding for which the industry is stereotyped. For independent travelers, it’s a good (but not perfect) platform to do your thing at the port stops. Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
This cruise on the Crystal Serenity (1,000 passengers) was a good fit for two of our travel goals: (1) lots of sea days and (2) lots of Ireland. Cruise V4322 started with four daily port stops, three of them in Ireland (Belfast, Dublin, ... Read More
This cruise on the Crystal Serenity (1,000 passengers) was a good fit for two of our travel goals: (1) lots of sea days and (2) lots of Ireland. Cruise V4322 started with four daily port stops, three of them in Ireland (Belfast, Dublin, Waterford). Then it was off across the North Atlantic with a further stop only at Iceland. PRE-CRUISE LOGISTICS Given the uncertainties of air travel, we always build in a “cushion day” to avoid missing the boat. We stayed at the Mercure London Bloomsbury this time, a comfortable boutique hotel (but not Crystal’s offering). Our room met our need for a spot to sleep and park for the day. Since cruise ships don’t tool up the Thames, downtown London is 70 miles from its port over at Southhampton. We booked Crystal’s bus for that long ride to the port, and had an uneventful check-in at the ship. When the fears that fuel the “cushion day” come to pass, we utter that “Thank god, we built in an extra day.” But usually we’re “stuck” with a day of waiting, and we’d sure consider pre-cruise shore excursions if Crystal sold more. They only had one this time, and it was only available if you took Crystal’s pre-cruise hotel package. Since lots of cruisers wisely build in that extra day, there’s probably a market here if Crystal cares to tap it more. And, per the Wall Street Journal, Crystal’s president is urging her crew to sell more shore excursions in hopes that the little two-ship line can double its earnings (see WSJ, 4-23-15). Our trips abroad really begin with the cushion day (whether or not we’re doing Crystal). In this case, our hotel was near the Tube (or Underground) and we did a quick ride over to Wimbledon. There we took the behind-the-scenes tour of the complex that hosts the tennis championships. (See www.wimbledon.com ) My wife is quite the sports fan. During a prior wait to board Serenity, we took the tourist bus in Barcelona over to the Olympic Stadium. (See www.museuolimpicbcn.cat ) And, if you’re a rabid soccer fan, a tour of the Camp Nou Stadium is also accessible from the tourist bus. (See www.fcbarcelona.com/camp-nou ) Once we had a cushion day in Edinburgh, and we hopped on the train to St. Andrews. On Sundays, you can walk the Old Course with the non-golfing public (not likely at Congressional or Augusta). Other days you can take a guided tour that focuses on the 1st, 17th, and 18th holes. (See www.standrews.com ) During the day-of-waiting, hotel concierges help us fill the gap with non-Crystal options that are memorable, economical, and convenient to access on our own. But once aboard the ship, we’ve seldom been able to get these kinds of local tips from Crystal’s staff. (This aspect of their “six star” service is apparently limited to signing you up for their contractor’s tours and, of course, for future Crystal cruises.) Nor I have found even high-end travel agents to be much help on this (though they assert access to some nebulous network of insiders around the planet). STATEROOM AND PUBLIC SPACES We’ve tried a few other brands that service some niche of the world (Tahiti, Hawaii). But we have cruised exclusively on the Crystal Serenity for some time now. In fact, this was one of four trips on the Serenity that we’ve taken during the past year. (We live in a very hot place, and people travel frequently for a break from it.) Cruising need not mean crowding. Though a small ship, Serenity was somehow built with “endless” nooks and crannies in which one can limit contact with other humans to the desired degree. It amazes us that we still keep discovering new spots to hang out around this ship. On this cruise, as before, we found the Serenity’s stateroom to be adequate and comfortable. The housekeeping service was thorough, attentive, pleasant, and dependable. But we really do these cruises for what’s beyond the stateroom (or what’s beyond the ship at the port stops). Despite all the promotion as “ultra-luxury” and “six” (or even “seven”) stars, we consider the Serenity to be a comfortable choice rather than a palace of perfection. We only expect that Crystal will promptly address any deficiency –- and most times they have. For instance, sometimes we’ve experienced a problem with the stateroom’s plumbing (a drain or a leak). Housekeeping promptly sends over a plumber, who promptly fixes it. We don’t expect the quick cosmetic makeovers in dry dock to prevent every imperfection in the staterooms of this gracefully-aging little ship. The Serenity is no longer young in cruise ship years, and even the iconic Love Boat eventually went to the scrapyard (or cruise ship heaven, if you prefer). And, per the Wall Street Journal, Crystal’s president says that “[a]s we acquire additional tonnage we will eventually phase out the other ships one at a time” (see WSJ, 4-23-15). We’ll continue to enjoy the Serenity as long as she’s with us. PASSENGER HEALTH AND SAFETY The Serenity gets periodic inspections by a federal agency, the Center for Disease Control. These can occur when the ship docks at a U.S. port (the CDC Vessel Sanitation Program). CDC considers inspection scores from 86 to 100 to be in the passing range. At the end of this cruise (Sept. 19 in Boston), we were eating on the Lido Deck and watched as the CDC inspectors did their checking. CDC’s public website shows that the Serenity scored a 93 on the inspection we witnessed. Some months later, we reboarded the Serenity for a cruise out of Miami (May 4, 2015). CDC returned for another inspection, though we didn’t actually see the inspectors this time. CDC’s website shows that the Serenity received a score of 88. This score is 3 points above CDC’s “not satisfactory” threshold of 85. CDC’s website still indicates that “[t]his cruise ship has not submitted their Corrective Action Report” (website visited 6-26-15). CDC’s website reports its inspections of the Serenity going back to 2003. Serenity’s lowest score was this 88 that it recently received in Miami. Ironically, Crystal sometimes gives its cruisers a “galley tour,” and we took the one offered on May 15 (that is, 11 days after the inspection). While we didn’t see anything of concern, we’re eaters of the seen rather than experts on the unseen. The CDC website shows that the Serenity’s five lowest scores all occurred after November 2012. Serenity scored better in the years prior to this, sometimes earning a 99 or 100. Per CDC’s website (visited 6-26-15), the agency has so far conducted over 100 inspections of cruise ships during 2015. Serenity’s score of 88 was among the six lowest scores. In contrast, Regent’s Seven Seas Navigator scored a 100 when it was inspected a few days later on May 7, 2015. And, of the 18 ships that have so far received a 100 during 2015, five were Carnival and five were Holland America (as of my visit to CDC’s website on 6-26-15). On the other hand, the year’s lowest score so far has been the 82 received by the Silver Shadow of the Silversea line. This means that CDC rated the ship as “not satisfactory” at the time of the inspection. Crystal is a tiny cruise line with only two ships. Two years ago, CDC investigated an outbreak of norovirus on Crystal’s other ship (the Symphony). In May 2013, CDC inspectors boarded the Symphony in Los Angeles and reported that 125 passengers (15%) had symptoms at some point during the cruise. You just never know what will pop up in the statistical tedium of a government website. Those inspection reports are all publicly available at www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp. You can read for yourself and discuss any item of concern with your doc that deals with travel health. This CDC program expectedly has its field office in Fort Lauderdale. In fact, the program just had its annual meeting with the cruise industry on June 22 in Miami. Though these inspections are an important (and transparent) service to consumers, I’ve surprisingly never heard a mention, pro or con, from experienced travel agents. DINING The only dining deficiency that we experienced is a sensitive one -- and a difficult one for Crystal to address. On some evenings, our dinner in the formal dining room was spoiled by a screaming toddler at a neighboring table of several generations. The disturbance didn’t self-correct, and we simply ate at other venues for a while. But we missed our tablemates on those nights and, in retrospect, now realize that we should have discreetly asked the maitre d’ for a solution that let us keep our table intact. Crystal’s president has expressed her understandable need for “making sure every berth is full every sailing” (WSJ, 4-23-15). That apparently means marketing to more than us empty-nesters, as well as steps like deformalizing the dining room a bit for those who wear the “$400 jeans” (as she expressed it in an onboard video of a March 7 passenger briefing). While I understand the economic dilemma, I’m not sure how Crystal can prevent the dining problem that we faced for a while on this cruise. SHORE EXCURSIONS The Crystal Serenity is a good fit for those who like to study up and do their own thing at the port stops. There were six stops between London and Boston as this cruise wound its way across the Atlantic. Three of those stops were in Ireland (Belfast, Dublin, Waterford). A major reason that we booked this cruise was to continue our travel in that area. Like many Americans and Canadians, one of us is a bit Irish and likes exploring the immigration backstory. In fact, we stayed on Serenity for the next cruise (back-to-back) and saw Irish-related sites at Halifax and Saint John (see my review for Boston to Quebec). For those who prefer passive pampering to active research, rest assured that Crystal will round up the usual contractors for its shore excursions. In other words, you just get on the bus and “leave the driving to us” (as they used to say in those old Greyhound commercials). When they let you out, just keep your eye on the bouncing blue paddle at the head of the herd. My study of Irish history has gone on for a while and, not surprisingly, Crystal’s generic onshore offerings didn’t cover the arcane nuances that I wanted to check out. But one of the strengths of Crystal is the opportunity to write your own story, as they tout in their ads. So this time in Dublin, we toured the “famine ship” replica that is walkable from Crystal’s shuttle bus. (See www.jeaniejohnston.ie ) We’d previously toured the other famine ship about 15 miles out of Waterford. Your best access for this latter replica will be Crystal shore excursion WAT-G. (See www.dunbrody.com ) Much of the Irish immigration to North America started from the port down the coast at Cobh. The museum there (Cobh Heritage Centre) focuses on the famine ships and the Titanic (its last stop). Cobh is accessible when Crystal has a port stop at Cork (not this cruise). There’s a virtual tour of the museum at www.cobhheritage.com. For my purposes, the best stop on this cruise was Waterford. The Irish tourism in Waterford gets overshadowed by Dublin and Belfast. But if you walk and talk with the locals, you’ll piece together the saga of a general in the American Civil War who got his start here (Thomas Meagher). He went on to become a governor of early Montana, and then disappeared without a trace. To this day, no one knows for sure whether Meagher drowned, was murdered, or rode off to Canada to continue the Fenian fight for Irish independence. Though he was presumed dead in 1867, Montanans have never sighted a body, a grave, or a ghost. His life story reads like grand opera or How the West Was Won. Statues of a mounted Meagher with raised sword are found at both the beginning and end of his trail, that is, here in Waterford and in front of Montana’s capitol building. (See catherinegreene.com ) If playing history detective or back door tourist is your kind of thing, you can spend your port stop with Meagher in downtown Waterford. Crystal’s shuttle bus dropped us off right where he was born. (See www.granville-hotel.ie ) We then walked over to the local museum (Bishop’s Palace) that has an exhibit about him. (See www.waterfordtreasures.com ) Meagher designed Ireland’s flag, and a little down the street we saw the club where he first flew it. (See www.1848tricolour.com ) And, if you can get five miles out of town, you’ll find the Meagher family’s plot at Faithlegg Cemetery (minus the missing general). See www.russiansidetours.com/faithlegg-heritage-tour.html But most interesting of all is the Waterford building that was the family home during Meagher’s days as an Irish revolutionary (the 1840s). It’s now a good-tasting Thai restaurant, and we lucked out as I stood outside and read the historical marker. A local author happened along and introduced us to the owner, who gave us a full tour of the building. This included the second floor from which Meagher addressed the crowd outside, as the Crown was arresting him for urging revolt (like any good opera). See www.sabai.ie Meagher’s only armed battle with the Crown was quickly suppressed at the “Famine Warhouse,” which is over in Ballingarry (35 miles northwest of Waterford). The building has been preserved as a museum that tells the story of Meagher and his colleagues. (See www.slieveardagh.com/history/famine-warhouse; www.hiddentipperary.com/thomas-francis-meagher ) Meagher’s trial for treason took place in the still-used courthouse over at Clonmel (25 miles west of Waterford). The Queen commuted the original sentence of death & dismemberment to banishment in Tasmania. (I hope Crystal will offer a trip over to Clonmel and Ballingarry as a future shore excursion.) And when you reach Dublin (the next port stop), you can take the city bus and tour the old Kilmainham Jail (“the Bastille of Ireland”). The Crown kept Meagher there until he was shipped to the other side of the earth. (See www.heritageireland.ie/en/kilmainhamgaol ) Meagher didn’t like Tasmania, escaped to New York, and became an American. He fought as a general in the American Civil War and hobnobbed with Grant, Sherman, and Lincoln. After the war, he became an early governor of Montana. There are plenty of books out there that detail this final decade of his saga. And you can visit the last spot that anyone saw Meagher if you ever get to Fort Benton, Montana. Though it was once the head of steamboat navigation on the Missouri River, the Crystal Serenity probably won’t be docking there any time soon. Crystal’s shore excursions at Waterford have a brief brush with three Meagher-related sites. Crystal tour WAT-FB has lunch in the building where he was born (now the Granville Hotel). Tours WAT-B and WAT-FB include the Bishop’s Palace museum with its Meagher exhibit. Tour WAT-C goes to the Faithlegg House Hotel, which would be a half-mile walk to the Meagher family’s cemetery plot. We just walked Waterford on our own. However, if you want to hire a guide for a customized tour of Meagher sites, here are three locals that may do the honors: Jack Burtchaell (jburtch@iol.ie ); Anthony Kelly (email@anthonydkelly.com ); Deena Bible (russiansidetours@gmail.com ). And, if you want to study up even further, the best source that I’ve found for maps and books about Ireland is the Eason bookstore on O’Connell Street back in Dublin. (See www.easons.com ) SUMMARY This cruise on the Serenity, like our others, reinforces that this is truly a ship of choices -- rather than the pressured herding for which the industry is stereotyped. For independent travelers, it’s a good (but not perfect) platform to do your own thing at the port stops. Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
This review is written from the perspective of long-time cruisers on “mainstream” lines who decided to try a “luxury” line cruise aboard Crystal Serenity. The question with which we’d always wrestled was, “Is it worth it?” ... Read More
This review is written from the perspective of long-time cruisers on “mainstream” lines who decided to try a “luxury” line cruise aboard Crystal Serenity. The question with which we’d always wrestled was, “Is it worth it?” While the answer obviously depends in large part on how much you can and want to pay. However, for those who can spend the money, the question is whether they should. We would say “definitely yes” on luxury lines – we’re less enthusiastic about Crystal. A pure dollar per dollar comparison doesn’t really work. If you compare the cheapest Crystal cabin (ocean view) with a similar cabin on a mainstream line, you’re better off financially on the mainstream line even with all of the Crystal all-inclusives. Ditto suite to suite. However, the cheapest Crystal vs. a suite on a mainstream line is more comparable. In the end, there are many reasons that a Crystal cruise is “worth” the extra cost – you have to decide if these things are important to you. Embarkation involved several steps/stops. At the first, we showed out cruise ticket and passport. That led to security. Then a stop for your picture. Then a final stop to get your cabin card. While we’re used to “one stop shopping” when all the above is done at the same time, the Crystal process was fairly quick. By the time we arrived at our cabin, our bags were already there! Cabins weren’t ready until 3:00 but they invited passengersto the main dining room for lunch (vs. the buffet restaurant on most cruise lines). There were plenty of tables, service was exemplary, food was tasty, and, when you’re given a glass of soda or wine without signing for anything, you start to realize what all-inclusive means. We splurged for a Penthouse suite. The cabin is nicely decorated, in great condition, and very modern. However, compared to mainstream lines, the cabin is small. There is a very small sitting room, a makeup area (nice for ladies but somewhat a waste of space), a walk-in closet, and a bath with Jacuzzi tub, separate shower and two sinks with marble aplenty. We found the size fine for two – if you have a third person, it would be crowded. The balcony had two chairs with ottomans. We never heard noise from above. They give you large sizes of bath amenities and the towels were superb! The PH butler was exceptional – he made our cruise. Pleasant, responsive – willing to do things we hadn’t even thought about. There was a mini-bar that was stocked with whatever we requested and exceptional hors d’hoeuvres were always available. MDR food was uniformly very good – better quality and more choices than MDR on mainstream lines but not quite as good as their specialty restaurants. There were plenty of delicious options every night and we never had a bad meal. Desserts were a tad disappointing. Our dinner at Silk Road was a highlight in terms of food and service. Prego was fine but no better than the best of the MDR. Service throughout was excellent – we’re fast eaters and we never waited for any course to be served. There was a quiet efficiency (speed, lack of “clatter” of dishes, lack of confusion) to the service that was very nice. Dinner was uniformly a pleasant experience. We didn't attend all of the shows, but those we did see were quite good. The production numbers were definitely a huge notch above most mainstream lines. There was always plenty of seating. The "secondary" entertainment (other venues) wasn't really to our tastes and the timing was skewed late, but that's simply a matter of personal preference. As mentioned above, a huge plus was not having to pull out our cruise card and sign for something every five minutes. There is a certain serenity (no pun intended) in being able to order a soda or cappuccino or glass of wine or ice cream or bottled water, etc. without pain. The first (and only) time I used my key card was making a gift shop purchase. Yes, you’re paying for it in the long run, but the “price” of the freedom and flexibility counts for a lot in our book. Another plus was the fact that Crystal wasn’t trying to take more of your money at every pass. No “inches of gold” or “T-shirt sales” or spa pitches or “bingo, bingo bingo,” or art auction or . . . If you like those things, you’ll be disappointed with Crystal but not having the constant pressure to buy, buy, buy was an unexpected joy. Along those lines was the lack of constant announcements. Crystal treats you like adults – they put the information you need in the daily bulletin and trust you to read it. Basically, the “noise level” is much lower, which for us at least led to a more enjoyable and relaxing vacation. However, not all was perfect, and there were several areas where Crystal did not live up to our expectations. The first was shore excursions. Of the five we took, the average grade would be a C+. On the plus side, the wine tasting with Dewey Markham in Bordeaux was simply outstanding and the Douro river cruise in Porto was very good thanks to an excellent guide. Among the other tours, one left 30 minutes late due to “traffic” (on a Saturday morning) even though none of the other buses was late. On the next tour, our first (unscheduled) stop was 30 minutes at the airport restrooms. The Crystal escort was always the last one on the bus and a stop for "coffee" was completely disorganized. Two passengers became so frustrated with the delays that they took a cab back to the ship. The Crystal escort was constantly the last person on the bus -- invariably arrived 10 minutes after all the passengers were aboard, without apology. Our final tour to fishing villages was mismanaged in terms of time (we spent more than an hour at a sardine factory) with a guide who was silent 75% of the tour. We discussed this with Crystal shore excursion personnel. Our concerns were met with versions of “we can’t control the guides” or “every guide does things differently.” Wrong. Crystal ultimately bears responsibility for its tours and especially its Crystal hosts. We were told someone would follow up with us – no one ever did. In the end, Crystal’s indifference was surprising and telling. The worst experience came near the end of the cruise. All passengers disembarking in Lisbon had to clear Portuguese customs on the ship. The event was an unmitigated disaster. Timing was 4-7 pm, meaning everyone with early dinner came around 4. Over 1000 people had to go through customs and there were only two officials. The event was held in a small room and the line outside was literally longer than half the length of the ship. The crowd soon overwhelmed the air conditioning making it unbearably hot. Passengers stood in line for 75 minutes. There were no chairs. No one brought water or food. We showed up at 4:15 and finished at 5:30; we missed the final sail-away and had to sprint in order to make dinner on time -- not exactly a relaxing last evening. We understand that certain aspects of customs are beyond the ship’s control. However, Crystal did absolutely nothing to ameliorate the situation, such as handing out numbers with assigned times, handing out water, moving the event to a larger venue, etc. There was no senior officer present and there was no apology to the passengers. Bottom line: we've "pre-cleared" customs before and this was the most mismanaged event on any cruise we’ve taken. On departure, we’d arranged a private car through the ship’s concierge. We arrived 15 minutes before our assigned time only to be told we were “late." The concierge showed up a short time later and assured us we were definitely not late. Not a great way to depart. In the end, there were many great things about Crystal. We loved the all-inclusive approach and the lack of constantly being hit up for activities and dollars. And for the most part, the crew was incredibly professional and personable -- their experience shows. If you can afford it, an “all-inclusive” line is a real pleasure and, in our view, definitely "worth it." But, too many things didn’t go well on this cruise and at times there seemed to be an attitude of “we don’t really care” that we found unsatisfying. While we will definitely try a luxury line again, it probably won’t be Crystal.   Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
My husband and I (late 40s/early 50s) took this cruise with his brother's family which includes his wife and 2 daughters who are in their early 20s. This was our 17th cruise, but our first on a "premium" line. We were ... Read More
My husband and I (late 40s/early 50s) took this cruise with his brother's family which includes his wife and 2 daughters who are in their early 20s. This was our 17th cruise, but our first on a "premium" line. We were expecting an older crowd, similar to what we saw on HAL, but were pleasantly surprised that there was such a mix of passengers. I can understand that now as getting around the ports and doing most of the shore excursions would have been pretty challenging for most older folks. We thoroughly enjoyed the cruise, found the ship to be clean and the layout convenient, but with one or two minor exceptions, we did not find the food, service or entertainment/enrichment to be significantly better than what we have experienced on lines such as Celebrity and Princess. Yes, having drinks and gratuities included was great, but you certainly pay for that in the price of the cruise. Embarkation in Barcelona went quickly as we arrived in the late afternoon - it was a Friday so traffic getting from the airport to the port was a nightmare - we used Crystal's transfer service and somehow between taking our bags from the van to our cabin, they misplaced 2 of them and it took hours for them to find the bags again. Our in-laws said they were greeted with champagne when they arrived earlier in the day, but we were not. Our cabin was on deck 10, and was pretty much the size of other cabins we have been in, but the bathroom was bigger including double sinks and a real tub/shower, which we appreciated. We had a whole day in Barcelona the next day and had hired a private tour guide that was recommended by someone we know. Barcelona is a great city with lots to see and do, and we'd definitely like to go back again. Other ports/excursions included: Valencia - bike tour: nice ride through a very large park, spent some time in the old city and then rode around the City of Arts and Sciences which is very interesting; Palma de Mallorca - did the Valldemossa tour as it was recommended by a couple of friends, very quaint town; St Tropez - chose the winery and beach excursion and were expecting a picturesque estate and then onto a beach resort for relaxation and lunch (we're in France, right?) - it was actually a very small, rustic winery in a barn with a beach on the property and if you didn't bring a beach towel, you had nowhere to sit - fun and the food and wine were great, but not what we expected - maybe they need to rewrite the description of this one; Porto Venere - my favorite stop - we did the island trek and then walked around the town and went up to the fort and church - very beautiful; Genoa - the palaces tour did not disappoint; Florence - a long day but worth the bus ride. The entertainment on board was typical of what you would experience on any cruise - production shows, magician, string quartet, piano players, bands scattered around the common areas each evening. We particularly enjoyed the dancing in the Palm Court throughout the evening, and the Avenue Saloon was a crowd favorite with lots of sing-alongs. Overall we enjoyed this cruise, as we love cruising and it was our first time cruising in Europe, but I don't know if we would choose Crystal again.   Read Less
Sail Date May 2014
Effortless embarkation & debarkation We were able to walk right up to check-in with no line and immediately proceeded to board the ship. The debarkation was equally stress free and we left the ship at our leisure. Phenomenal food and ... Read More
Effortless embarkation & debarkation We were able to walk right up to check-in with no line and immediately proceeded to board the ship. The debarkation was equally stress free and we left the ship at our leisure. Phenomenal food and top level service. The service on the lido deck is more attentive than anywhere on the ship. The staff quickly learns your name and if you are dining at the Lido Cafe they meet you to take your plate and find a table of your liking then secure the beverages of your choice. They will remember what you have drunk previously and ask if that is what you want. The Crystal Dining Room staff is excellent. The table we were given the 1st night was right next to a service area which resulted in a lot of noise and traffic going by it. My wife has a severe hearing loss so it made conversation difficult. Following our meal we spoke to the Maitred to explain the situation and request a quieter location which he readily accommodated. Each evening he recognized us, greeted us warmly and seated us at tables in quieter areas of the dining room. Condition & cleanliness of ship and furnishings is excellent. High quality live entertainment Alcohol includes top above average brands ie; Belvidere, McCollum's, Cevasia VS, Remy VS Less-than-acceptable experiences Crystal Cove lounge Allows smoking and designates the most desirable tables by the windows as smoking. Because of the small size of the lounge the smell from even one smoker is offensive. Once we sat at a table in the smoking section and moved the ash trays to another table only for a waiter to bring them back saying his boss would be unhappy with him if he saw them placed on another table. The bartenders and waiters at this bar exhibited a bit of an arrogant attitude frequently slow to take orders and prioritizing the cleaning of a vacated table as more important than serving remaining guests. This difference was glaring when compared to the attitude of the bartenders and waiters in the Avenue Bar.  Housekeeping/stateroom attendant Our stateroom was perfectly maintained throughout the cruise On our 1st Crystal cruise the stateroom attendant came to our cabin with 1-hour of our arrival to welcome us, introduce herself, determine what beverages we would prefer in the refrigerator and any other needs we might have. This was a very nice touch that never occurred on this cruise. I saw the attendant on 1 or 2 occasions but do not know her name nor had any real interaction with her. As I recall on the prior cruise there was a nightly turn-down where chocolates were left which our grandchildren loved. A very small touch but one that was missed. Also on the last day our cabin attendant mad a special point of stopping by our cabin to thank us for cruising Crystal and this did not occur on this trip. Crystal Dining Room Sommeliers We dealt with four sommeliers during our cruise and with one exception, we found them to be a bit arrogant and inattentive. The 1st evening after the featured wines were presented I asked to see the wine list and the sommelier tried to dissuade me by asking what kind of wine was I interested in where I repeated I preferred to see the list. He then stated that some of the wines may not be available but I still requested the list. Although the other evenings the dining room was not full the sommeliers never seemed to be around to refill our wine glasses until I mention it to the assistant waiter and from that point on the sommelier checked our table frequently.   Read Less
Sail Date July 2013
The cabin was as advertised and as expected. The bedding was luxurious. The bathroom was spacious by ship standards. The food was good, not great, which was disappointing, since we expected great. The cheese selection was outstanding. The ... Read More
The cabin was as advertised and as expected. The bedding was luxurious. The bathroom was spacious by ship standards. The food was good, not great, which was disappointing, since we expected great. The cheese selection was outstanding. The "included" red wines were not good; the included white wines were acceptable, but no better; there were a couple of sparkling wines that were very good, and one very good champagne---but they ran out of the latter before the cruise ended and didn't replenish, although we were in France at the time. (And the sommeliers didn't want you to order it anyway. They were, on the whole, not helpful. They pushed the wines which cost extra, and those wines were expensive.) If you were lucky and got a good maitre d', he steered you towards the better-prepared food choices. The specialty restaurants were good if you knew what to order (one night the Italian restaurant had linguini made with fresh clams from that day's port, and it was outstanding.)Room service was good.The shore excursions were outrageously overpriced. A $635 Grand Prix ticket (plus a mediocre boxed lunch, ear phones, a thin seat cushion and a guide per 20 people to walk you from the ship to the grandstand) cost $829. I agree that a mark-up is appropriate, but 30% is too much. We booked the cruise at the last minute, so had no choice but to purchase from Crystal. We were told that other shore excursions also had astronomical mark-ups.Crystal's representatives told us that wi-fi was free; it was not, which was very disappointing. Read Less
Sail Date May 2013

Top Crystal Serenity Itineraries

Crystal Serenity Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.4
Dining 5.0 4.4
Entertainment 5.0 4.1
Public Rooms 5.0 4.6
Fitness Recreation 5.0 4.3
Family 4.0 4.3
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.8
Enrichment 5.0 4.2
Service 4.5 4.6
Value For Money 4.0 3.9
Rates 5.0 4.1

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