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277 Crystal Serenity Cruise Reviews

This was our 5th Crystal cruise. As with our previous cruises, we were pleased with the cruise. On this cruise, my wife and I were accompanied by two of our adult children and they also had a wonderful cruise experience. The ship's ... Read More
This was our 5th Crystal cruise. As with our previous cruises, we were pleased with the cruise. On this cruise, my wife and I were accompanied by two of our adult children and they also had a wonderful cruise experience. The ship's staff generally provided outstanding service, particularly our cabin attendants, bar staff and pool service staff. The ship was beautifully maintained and, though completely full, still provided that spacious feeling we've come to enjoy on the Serenity. The staff were friendly, the all inclusive fare again proved a most desirable feature and the experience was most enjoyable. That being said, there were some letdowns that we had not previously experienced on Crystal. The main dining room staff waiting our table appeared disinterested and aloof. They did the minimum. Bread was offered once. Menu recommendations were never volunteered. Our waiter disappeared for long stretches and it was not to wait other tables. He simply vanished from the dining room floor leaving his attendant to try and cope with all of his tables. Not once did our waiter inquire as to our satisfaction with what was served. The exception was our wine steward who was very attentive and informative and did a wonderful job of seeing to our every need.. We also thought the main dining room fare was pretty average. Some entrees were barely warm when served and had become dried out from apparently sitting under warming lamps.New cuisine choices on left side of menu were very limited and not all that creative. Traditional menu was just that....seemed to be same choices as previous cruises, and while OK, was largely unimaginative, bland and no ethnic or fusion cuisine food options or variations. Overall, main dining room fare was very average.We opted for the specialty restaurants and paid the extra fee for dining in these more than once. These were wonderful. Both Nobu and Prego were superb...great choices, tasty food and magnificent ambiance. Tastes Restaurant was very good also for both lunch and dinner and many creative and ethnic choices were available. Also, for first time, we noticed Crystal staff are allowing passengers to monopolize on shaded poolside furniture. Every day, passengers would invariably (and rudely) place personal effects on limited shaded area furniture early each morning then leave. Most of these would remain unoccupied until mid-afternoon while those who came to pool in the interim had no shaded place to sit. Sadly, there was no enforcement by staff to prohibit this practice. All that being said, these exceptions were just that. They were annoyances we worked around and we did not allow these to spoil our enjoyment of the cruise. From our view, Crystal remains the best of the luxury cruise options that we have experienced and we will be back. Read Less
Sail Date January 2015
Embarkation was a horror. The ship was not docked where they told us- it was not at any terminal. We took about 15 or 20 minutes to locate the ship. There was no parking lot nearby. We had to drop off our luggage & park at a distant ... Read More
Embarkation was a horror. The ship was not docked where they told us- it was not at any terminal. We took about 15 or 20 minutes to locate the ship. There was no parking lot nearby. We had to drop off our luggage & park at a distant garage -hard to find. Then , there was no shuttle ( we were told there was ) so we had to take a taxi to the ship!! When we disembarked, the ship was, once again, not where they said we were docking. Another taxi ride to our car. Unacceptable service from Crystal. Our suite was nice, but you cold hear chairs scraping overhead. After 48 hours on the ship, we both developed coughs & sore throats. You could hear coughing all over the ship. Went to the ships doctor after 2 more days - big mistake. He put us on antibiotics after saying we had viral infections. WRONG. Made us much sicker, & antibiotics are NOT for viruses. We missed meals, shows, & 3 ports , due to feeling too sick to do anything. The food, when we were able to eat, was just okay , certainly not luxury cuisine. The few shows we saw were very good, as was the housekeeping staff. Crystal is quite pricey, & definitely not worth the money. Read Less
Sail Date January 2015
Please note that we were on board for 162 days but the number of nights we could show in the summary has a maximum of 100 days. We sailed Crystal Cruises and remained on board the same ship for 162 consecutive days. We boarded ... Read More
Please note that we were on board for 162 days but the number of nights we could show in the summary has a maximum of 100 days. We sailed Crystal Cruises and remained on board the same ship for 162 consecutive days. We boarded Crystal Serenity on 12/21/14, remaining on board until 05/31/15, representing our longest cruise ever. Our first voyage began with a Holiday Cruise, continued with a Caribbean cruise, until the start of the 2015 World Cruise in mid-January of 2015. At the conclusion of the World Cruise, in Miami on May 4, we stayed on-board for two final voyages; Miami to Lisbon and Lisbon to Rome. Summary ======== We had an amazing time. Highlights included the places we visited and circumnavigating the Globe on World Cruise 2015, the cuisine, service, enrichment, entertainment and some very special shore excursions, most notably a Safari Overland in South Africa and attending the Grand Prix in Monte Carlo. In the end, it was the people who made it most special for us including the extraordinary crew and so many nice people we sailed with. This was our seventh full and overall eighth World Cruise and for us it was wonderful. One of the main reasons we keep returning year after year is the people including the crew and the guests who in many ways have become our extended family. On this year’s World Cruise we not only sailed with friends from previous cruises but made many new ones several of whom were on their first World Cruise. The World Cruise on board events, which were created exclusively for the 2015 World Cruise, was the best yet in my opinion. To me this says a lot since the challenge was having 600+ full World Cruisers on board instead of an average year which is about half of that number, making logistics the more challenging and planning even more important. Some highlights included the on board World Cruise Gala which was the best yet and much nicer than what can be done at a Hotel, and then all of the on board shows created just for the World Cruise and the two themed on board dinners. I want to note that there were more on board shows created and performed on board Crystal Serenity just for the World Cruise than ever before on a World Cruise.. We also enjoyed a good deal of the other entertainment such as the Beatles Celebration Group. With very few exceptions, most of the events were for everyone whether on the full world cruise or one or more segments which we applaud. We appreciated the added diversity of food offerings in the Crystal Dining Room, which is a hallmark for the World Cruise given the overall duration and time spent on board by those taking the full World Cruise. The Modern Cuisine menus, which rolled out in May of 2014, added more choices than ever before. We were unable to attend the first of the two Shore-Side Events due to an illness, but heard that it was a lot of fun. We thoroughly enjoyed the second event held in Montevideo, Uruguay. The events were more challenging given that they were attended by close to 600 people. Crystal was very wise to make most of the on board events available for everyone even if they were not booked on the full world cruise including those who remained on for the start of the World Cruise from the previous voyage and attended the Gala, to the various themed dinners and on board shows created just for the World Cruise. I used a one to five * rating with five being the highest and one the lowest for my ratings and a plus sign (+) to go above the rating. Overall Experience ***** =============== Itinerary ****+ ======= The World Cruise itinerary was the first time a Crystal Cruises World Cruise has ever circumnavigated the globe, which we thought was extraordinary. We especially enjoyed visiting Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and the diversity of ports on this World Cruise. The reason I didn’t give the itinerary five stars is because of the timing of some of the ports which had Noon or later arrival times for some ports that only had a one day visit as well as a few ports which had overnights, but the arrival time the first day was around noon. I thought this limited the time in port and the selection of shore excursions and think that even if it means skipping a few ports it is better to arrive in the early morning than midday. I realize that sometimes timing has to do with issues such as the tides and how to put an entire itinerary together but if it was possible to eliminate a few ports to have created more full days in ports to me that would have been desirable. Post World Cruise we enjoyed Bermuda and especially the Mediterranean. Cuisine ****** ====== Recognizing that two thirds of the passengers for the world cruise would be on board for at least 108 days, the Crystal Dining Room menu continually offered new items in addition to those that one would expect when coming on board for one voyage. The Modern Cuisine Menu introduced on Serenity last year coupled with the Traditional Menu offers more options than ever before. In addition, menus in Tastes and Prego were changed from time-to-time and the menu in Silk Road was changed once. Although we don’t eat at the Grand Gala and other Special Buffets, we were very impressed with their offerings and they were offered one time on each World Cruise segment and on a couple of other voyages. Entertainment ***** ============ We were very pleased with the diversity of the entertainment knowing that we all have different tastes when it comes to this area. There was a wide range of offerings and something for everyone. Show times were adjusted based on where we were sailing. On the World Cruise there were more special performances than ever before, which were created just for one night that were absolutely amazing. As was the case with last year’s World Cruise, the on board entertainment team was augmented with two vocalists who performed in all of the shows created on board the ship and performed from time to time in other venues. The talent of the Entertainment Team is amazing and I am reminded of all of the hard work that they must put into creating these special one-time shows for all of us to enjoy. The preparation is more challenging that people realize. Other items related to entertainment-included movies, the pre-dinner magician shows along with the Strings Quartet and the Pianists. We thought that the movies that were available this year for viewing in the Crystal Cinema were quite diversified and included many highly rated movies. On the two voyages we were on before the start of the World Cruise we had the opportunity to see Pianist Mark Farris perform. Mark is one of the pianists who regularly perform on the Crystal Symphony and we thought he was amazing. Our only disappointment was the departure of pianists John Mentis and Colin Salter during the World Cruise. I also wanted to note that the crossing had terrific entertainment with no only the evening shows but some performances held before main dining. Enrichment ***** ========= Crystal offers more enrichment than any cruise line we have ever sailed and on the World Cruise this is augmented several-fold. There are so many programs offered on sea days that each day represents several days of activities. My wife participated regularly in the Odyssey at Sea Knitting Class and the Gentle Yoga Class, and I participated regularly in the Indoor Cycling Classes. We enjoyed many of the lectures with three lectures or more available on each and every sea day. We wish we had time for Memoir Writing and the Apple Computer Classes and hope to do this on a future World Cruise. Fifty+ enrichment programs are offered each and every sea day. I would say that 50% of the lecturers were exceptional, 40% strong, and about 10% weak. The ones that I rated weak are ones that either essentially read word for word from slides or from a prepared speech sounding more like a college professor from one of those introduction courses or ones where I simply had no takeaways from the talk or left without learning anything new. Because on a World Cruise, Crystal makes an extra effort to bring on first time lecturers you will see some being weak but to me that is fine because by bringing on new people you often find outstanding lectures who are asked to return on future voyages with some becoming part of the Crystal Family. I especially enjoyed Ocean Views, which is a panel discussion, and was hosted by Ken Rees and allows audience participation via hand held electronic devices. There were actually more activities offered during the World Cruise than ever before with additional courses offered on devices such as the iPad, a Book Club and a Zumba class offered on many sea days in addition to so many activities that have become a hallmark of World Cruises such as the College Computer Class, Memoir Writing, Language, and Piano Classes just to name a few of the programs. Similar to the entertainment, there was a tremendous amount of entertainment on the themed Miami to Lisbon Cruise, which followed the World Cruise. Shore Excursions/Land Programs ***** ========================== The Shore Excursion and Overland Programs offered not only increase in volume each and every year but also with the addition of many unique program offerings. Some of the start times were adjusted to later in the morning for those who are late risers. For us the highlights were private cars arranged through the land program department for some selected places including Bermuda, Colombia and Peru and attending the Grand Prix and also the three-night four-day overland program at the Phinda Private Reserve in South Africa. I also wanted to note that to me each year the on-board Shore Excursion Department gets stronger and stronger in terms of the personnel. We find them to be very knowledgeable and helpful and they do their utmost best to deal with any problems that come up and they were terrific in adjusting shore excursions when we missed a couple of ports and when our arrival was delayed to a couple of ports. Internet *** ======= Overall, the Internet was more reliable and faster than in 2014, which is positive given that overall occupancy was quite high with some voyages sold out and the one-hour per day of complimentary Internet for all guests who have previously sailed with Crystal Cruises. There were a couple of issues. One occurred on one of the World Cruise Segments when there was an equipment failure while we were sailing several days at sea which could not be rectified until we were in port. The other one happened on a couple of other crossings when there were times when we were moving from one satellite to another and encountered very slow connections or dropped connections and some outages. The latter is part of the challenge when sailing on a World Cruise or on a crossing. The bottom line is that there were days when the internet was very reliable and rather fast given the limitations of satellite technology, other days when speed was average, and other days when the internet was either down or very slow. As I mentioned, one of the challenges of the Internet this time around unlike in prior years that we sailed was that one hour of complimentary internet per day is now offered to each guest who has previously sailed with Crystal Cruises. This was even more challenging given that most of the voyages we were on were at full occupancy and the fact that more people come on board with more devices than ever before. Overall, the internet was the best we have ever experienced on board either Crystal Ship. The enhancements made not only in infrastructure, and augmented Satellite bandwidth but in the area of monitoring and control has really added to improved service. With that said, the speed and reliability of the Internet will never be the same as at home. The challenges include a sailing like the World Cruise where you are sailing in areas where access to a satellite is difficult and where you go from one satellite to another requiring manual intervention. On top of this there is the potential for equipment failures, interference caused in port or when sailing near land and the fact that Satellite technology in no way compares to fiber optics. There were a few times with durations lasting a few days at a time when the Internet was very slow or even not available. Because the Internet experience is just not going to always be the same depending on where one is sailing or if there is an equipment or some other issues, this is why depending on where or when you are sailing that you may have different experiences with one person saying how wonderful the internet is and another person saying it was not good. We also appreciated that FaceTime was often available which was not our experience in 2014. The investments made in 2013 to upgrade the internet infrastructure, the fine tuning that was made in 2014 before the rollout of the complimentary 1 hour per day of Internet for Crystal Society Members along with some other changes that were made did pay off in my opinion. Finally, the device one uses can make a big difference. For example, I find that the MacBook will provide a better experience than say an iPad. Even the type of Internet Browser that one might use can make a difference Finally, other techniques that one might use such as reducing the number of pixels in a photo before attaching it to an e-mail or including it in a blog will make a world of a difference in speed. Planning *****+ =========== I touched on this earlier but wanted to give the Crystal Cruises Senior Executives and the Senior Officers of Crystal Serenity excellent marks for all of the effort that went into planning the 2015 World Cruise. Changes were required based on the record number of full World Cruisers on board and the overall occupancy rate when most segments were 100 full. A wide range of items had to be addressed including: WORLD CRUISE GALA. Unlike in previous years when the kickoff to the World Cruise was held at a hotel on land, this was not possible given the significant number of World Cruisers. As a result the voyage began one day in advance and the Gala was held on Serenity. The Serenity was transformed for this as the Crystal Plaza was made over with lots of cocktail like tables with table cloths and lights providing a wonderful spot for the kickoff and the welcome by President and COO of Crystal Cruises Edie Rodriquez, a cocktail party and a balloon drop all in one. Following this, we enjoyed a sit down dinner in one of three dining venues with an assigned table and seating. There was lots of entertainment and by far this was the best World Cruise Gala we ever attended. All of the planning and coordination of this event was truly amazing. MEDICAL NEEDS. With so many full World Cruisers a very wise decision was made to have more than one physician on board for the World Cruise. As it turned out there were three Physicians as when the second person was hired he asked if his spouse who is also a Physician could share his contract and that is exactly what happened. All of this was a very wise decision because in addition to a couple of months of various upper respiratory viruses going around the ship, there were more major medical issues given the number of World Cruisers on board Serenity and the ages of some of the guests. DIVERSITY AND QUANITY OF ENTERTAINERS. Getting entertainers on and off the ship to make way for other entertainers and towards the end of the cruise getting additional land based musicians onto the ship when sailing full for the Crystal Serenity Pops Concert was amazing. SAFETY DEMONSTRATIONS. With two-thirds of the guests on board for the entire World Cruise Captain Giske thought it would be a great idea to offer a safety demonstration that gave passengers an opportunity to gain a more detailed insight into safety on board Crystal Serenity. This program was repeated twice during the World Cruise and provided us with a lot of information relate to safety. This included seeing a safety movie that was developed for each crew member, seeing one of the crew rafts which was deployed in the outdoor pool, seeing a life boat with all of the equipment that is on the life boat, seeing one of the fire fighter teams and also walking up a smoke filled corridor (smoke was simulated) when the safety lights were on. We thought it was superb and provided us with a wealth of information related to safety. The crew was on hand at each location to answer questions. WORLD CRIUSE SHORE SIDE EVENTS. Creating shore-side events that would work for 600 World Cruisers plus the Crystal escorts. This is no easy task and congratulations to the vice President of Crystal Land Programs and Port Operations, the on board team and the respective tour operators from the two ports of call for all of the efforts that went into these events. Service *****++ ====== I’ve listed service last so that we could save the best for last. For us service is one of the main reasons that we sail on Crystal Cruises. We find that the Service is the finest of any other cruise line we have sailed and any place we have dined or stayed at on land. The on-board crew is absolutely amazing. They have become our extended Crystal Family. There are many members of the crew that we have known since we first started sailing with Crystal Cruises as well as other members of the crew whom we have known for one or more years who just make each of our voyages the best it can be. On top of this even members of the crew who are on their first contracts quickly learned the Crystal Culture which stresses a high service level. The key for us is that the high level of service can be provided in not only a professional manner but in a manner that is highly personal. Rather than walking around like robots if you will, as they do on some cruise lines, the crew performs their responsibilities with caring and warmth for the guests they take care of. This culture is evident at all levels both on board each ship but also at the Crystal Headquarters. In the end, it is my belief that any successful enterprise is successful because of the people. You could take the most modern ship afloat and with the wrong people it will be a disaster. Crystal has mastered this area and it continued to be evident throughout the time we were sailing on board Serenity. There were certainly different ways to provide feedback on issues and that included comment cards that were provided to the full World Cruisers on two different occasions which could be filled out and submitted to the Hotel Director, and/or using the on-line form to submit comments to President of Crystal Cruises President, Edie Rodriquez, a conversation with a Senior Officer, or a conversation when Edie Rodriquez and Senior Vice President, Thomas Mazloum were on board. At the same time on the other voyages, there was a letter sent to the room from the Hotel Director providing his phone number in the event that there was some issue that needed to be resolved. While resolution cannot be realized for each and every comment I can point to numerous examples of items that were identified by people we know that were resolved expeditiously. In the end, this is my experience. At times I have used the word “we” rather than "I" as my wife also felt the same way that I did. I realize that we all have different opinions and see things in different ways. What one person enjoys another person might not and what one person does not care for, someone else might like. If we all saw things in the same manner, this would be a boring world. As I have said often, the only experience that matters the most is our very own. I am grateful that my wife and I had the opportunity to sail on Serenity for this extended period of time and have been humbled by all that we experienced on and off the ship. Read Less
Sail Date December 2014
My first time on Crystal. A few notes for those considering one of the four Crystal Penthouse Suites. 1. For guests in CP category, Crystal do embarkation and disembarkation better than anyone. Car dispatched to hotel, driver calls 10 ... Read More
My first time on Crystal. A few notes for those considering one of the four Crystal Penthouse Suites. 1. For guests in CP category, Crystal do embarkation and disembarkation better than anyone. Car dispatched to hotel, driver calls 10 minutes out, guest greeted curbside, luggage whisked away, and guest given a personal escort throughout entire (painless process) and handed over to butler at end of gangway. Departing, no waiting with a group, same personal process in reverse. Note to all other luxury lines -- this is exactly what your top suite passengers want. 2. The four recently redone CP suites are thoughtfully laid out, well furnished, and extremely comfortable. Decoration a touch flashy for my taste, but I got used to it. Bathrooms with heated floors and one-touch temperature controlled showers most pleasing. Only possible criticism is that verandas are too small. 3. My butler, Danjiel, skilled, friendly, accommodating, non-intrusive -- altogether perfect. 4. Food. A complex subject. In 11 days I went only once to the main dining room. Once was enough -- It was overcrowded and chaotic. Maitre-d' was surly. Waiters perfunctory and not genuinely friendly. Sommelier seemed to be play acting. In contrast, the specialty restaurant, Silk Road (Nobu) and its Sushi Bar were superb . From the maitre-d' to the sommelier to the brilliant sushi chefs -- all were friendly, enthusiastic, professional and produced the best food at sea. I mean it, as good as Nobu in Manhattan -- really miraculous for a ship at sea. I went almost every night, and was not bothered one bit by the $30 extra charge assessed following two meals in the specialty restaurants. The other specialty restaurant, Prego, was a bit disappointing. Certainly better than the main dining room, but all concerned seemed bored at producing the same menu over and over. Some dishes were superb, some flat. Service was professional but uninspired. Simple informal lunch in "Tastes"was also very well done -- almost impossibly swift and efficient service, and then well-mixed mojitos, really delicious hamburgers and the like. Finally, room service was very well done -- the food arrived hot and fresh and beautifully presented. Not sure if it was my butler or the kitchen - but never had a complaint with a meal served in the suite. 5. Service around the pool was uneven, new protocols and training are required to bring it into line with other luxury lines. Some days staff seemed alert and attentive, some days I was never asked if I wanted anything and could not get their attention. No water, no cold towels, no sun lotion, and by the end of the afternoon the whole area was looking pretty messy. Two of the lounge chairs I sat in were broken. 6. Crystal very helpfully organized private touring in most but not all ports. Single group excursion I took (in Roatan) was deeply sub-par. The only thing I asked the Concierges to do (call ahead to a specific vendor and reserve a scooter rental in Key West) they refused to do citing liability concerns, which is nonsense. 7. Fitness facilities adequate but dated - need a redo. Fitness scheduled limited. Spa very nice, both physically and with terrific staff In summary, what others say is true: the ship is spacious and (except in the dining room) does not feel crowded; the crew in large part are extraordinarily friendly and anxious to please. But a boat with almost 1000 passengers is never going to feel truly luxurious, unless of course you hole-up in the terrific Crystal Penthouse and dash down to the Sushi Bar for intimate superb meals, which is what I did and, as a result, was a happy camper.   Read Less
Sail Date December 2014
Crystal did not disappoint! Our experience left us eager to return to Crystal again and again. We easily found parking close to the designated terminal and our wait time once in the terminal was less than 20 minutes. The embarkation ... Read More
Crystal did not disappoint! Our experience left us eager to return to Crystal again and again. We easily found parking close to the designated terminal and our wait time once in the terminal was less than 20 minutes. The embarkation process was simple and well executed. The Main Dining Room was open for lunch, and the choices were varied. DH and I both chose the Cobb Salad and a glass of champagne. Just a word about the All Inclusive nature of Crystal--all gratuities are included and there is no charge for any alcoholic beverages, soft drinks or specialty coffee drinks. At no time did we feel that the wine pours were poor offerings, nor did we feel that the sommelier's were less attentive. If we did not prefer the selections of the evening, the sommelier graciously provided alternative. Or Penthouse stateroom was beautifully appointed with lots of storage, a walk-in closet, a full sized couch and a large bathroom with separate tub and shower. We were continually spoiled by our excellent butler, Krunch. Crystal is known for its service, enrichment and food. We are happy to report that Crystal delivered in all of those areas. Service in the Main Dining Room, Specialty restaurants (Silk Road is our favorite!) and the Lido Deck is intuitive and gracious, with a very friendly staff and crew who quickly called us by name. The only area where service was less than friendly was in the Bistro. Crystal's Main Dining Room menu offers both Modern and Classic cuisine. At times it was difficult to make a choice since everything was so appealing. I often asked for a half portion of two different items, so that I could sample both. Tastes, Crystal's casual dining experience, is perfect for al fresco dining. With the trees and lighting, one forgets that you are on a ship, it feels more like a charming European restaurant. The food at Tastes is a variety of small plates, perfect for sharing. The food is inventive and delicious. We enjoyed both Prego, the elegant Italian restaurant and Silk Road, Nobu's Asian restaurant. The quality of the sashimi and sushi is excellent, and the dishes are prepared by Nobu trained chefs, using Nobu's recipes and suppliers. The end result is a terrific experience! There are multiple options for lunch: the Main Dining Room, the Lido Cafe, Tastes for Lunch, the Bistro and the Trident Grill. The Lido Deck waiters are so personable and so hardworking. They are Crystal's "Secret Weapons!" Everyone commented on their amazing service. Of course there are other calorie challenges: The Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Bar and a lovely afternoon tea in the Palm Court. Sea days were favorites with knowledgeable speakers on a variety of topics, Art at Sea classes, computer classes, bingo, needlepoint, knitting, etc., plus a well-stocked library and a very helpful librarian. The pool area is very comfortable with no shortage of chairs and lounges. Additionally, there are lots of quiet areas inside to read or watch the sea. The Fitness Center is open 24 hours a day, and there is a Promenade Deck that encircles the ship. The evening entertainment was on a high level with energetic, talented performers. Mark Ferris, the pianist in the Avenue Saloon had the room packed until 1 am! He's a gifted performer who learns everyone's name and shows real warmth in his performance. The audience adored him, as did we! Disembarkation was smooth and quick. We found our luggage easily, and were in the car and out of the terminal area very rapidly. We look forward to our next Crystal Cruise with great anticipation! It was a wonderful experience that combined the comfort of a small ship, but the activities and options of a larger vessel. Hooray for the best staff and crew in the cruise industry!   Read Less
Sail Date December 2014
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
My wife and I took a cruise on Crystal Serenity Nov. 30 – Dec. 11, 2014, from the west coast of Costa Rica, through the Panama Canal, up the east coast of Central America and Mexico, ending in Miami, FL, USA. We're not members (yet) ... Read More
My wife and I took a cruise on Crystal Serenity Nov. 30 – Dec. 11, 2014, from the west coast of Costa Rica, through the Panama Canal, up the east coast of Central America and Mexico, ending in Miami, FL, USA. We're not members (yet) of the cruiser subculture. Our only prior cruise was on the Crystal Harmony in 1996, so we have nothing with which to compare Crystal. That having been said, our overall experience was excellent. Crystal is on the pricey side, but you get pretty much what you pay for. Crystal's marketing hype is over the top, so we came in with very high expectations. Mostly our expectations were met, one was more than met, and a couple not quite. Still, for the price we think it's a good value and would consider taking a cruise on Crystal again if the time and place were right. The passenger crowd is mature. I'm in my early 70s and may have been slightly on the younger side of the average age of all passengers. There were no children that we saw on the cruise, and the ship is not geared at all toward children. The rooms are small (ours was 8116) but well laid out and furnished – quite adequate – as was the small bathroom. The common areas are very nice, close to over the top, but not over the top. The Serenity holds about 1070 passengers, I recall, and we had about 950 on our cruise. Except for breakfast rush in the Lido cafeteria (only one of the many breakfast options, including room service and the main dining room), the boat never felt crowded, or empty. The cruise was "all inclusive" – no gratuities asked for or expected. Notwithstanding, the service was mostly excellent. At the worst service was workmanlike, and at the best very attentive and friendly. Only once in the dining room did we have to ask for wine at the beginning of our meal. Speaking of wine, good wines are included in "all inclusive." What they like to do is offer one red and one white each night. You can ask for a small "all inclusive wine list," or a list of premium wines for an extra charge. However, in our first night's experience we learned that it was extra trouble for the staff to go beyond the standard basic offerings, so thereafter we went that way and were quite satisfied. All of the food was very good to excellent. The optional Prego and Silk Road restaurants, and Taste, were very good, but no better than the main dining room. What they offer is welcome variety. What I particularly liked was that the portions were relatively small. If you wanted more, you could have it, but you weren't presented with a ton of food you felt like to had to eat rather than let it go to waste. There are three nice lounges (not counting the cigar lounge), all of which we enjoyed. The entertainment was very good, too, as were the educational speakers – we heard three out of four of the latter. Production shows were an hour or less, not so much as to wear you out. The main house (small) orchestra was very, very good, and the house lounge musicians just fine. On the downside, our cruise was advertised as a "jazz theme" cruise. We did not take it for that reason, and did enjoy some of the jazz performances. However, it turned out that the jazz program was run by a separate tour company, and the passengers who booked through them got the full deal. According to the Crystal Society Hostess on board, they "let other passengers hear some of their programs." We asked the rep on board for some more information, but it was made clear that we weren't part of their group. So, here's the lesson. If you want to take a Crystal cruise and the "theme," if there is one, is important to you, make sure you know exactly what you'll be entitled to. Will you be a first class passenger, or as we were on our cruise, second class passengers. The ship also has what struck me as a fairly large gambling room. We're not gamblers, so I can't say anything about its quality, it's right next to the main showroom and yet never seemed very busy to me. I'm not an expert, but it looked like most of the offerings were electric slot or other gambling machines. Finally, we booked the complete travel package with air. All was very smooth. The disembarkation was excellent, much better than our Crystal Harmony experience in 1996. The only negative was that by the time we got our flight information and went in to make seat reservations, we had to pay about $120 extra so my wife and I could sit together on the 4 hr. flight from Atlanta to San, Jose, CR.   Read Less
Sail Date November 2014
This was my first Crystal Cruise and I may never go back to any other cruise line. Their single supplement is the most generous by far and enables me to cruise alone or even have my own stateroom when cruising with friends. The ... Read More
This was my first Crystal Cruise and I may never go back to any other cruise line. Their single supplement is the most generous by far and enables me to cruise alone or even have my own stateroom when cruising with friends. The entertainment was wonderful every night, even the ventriloquist that I was reluctant to go see. He was hilarious. I loved the stateroom, more luxurious than most of the ships I have been on. It was by far my most pleasant cruise experience. We never had to wait. No lines to get on, just walked onboard and up to the check-in desk (again, no line). It took two minutes and then we were taken into the dining room for lunch. It was such a pleasure not to be continually harassed to buy a wine or soda package or get the bottled water before going on shore. There were no gold chains by the yard or tee shirts for sale in the lobby each evening and no announcements in the stateroom. I didn't try any of the specialty dining rooms on this cruise but I will on the next as I hear they are wonderful. The food was excellent but no quite up to Regent's Alaska cruise where they had fresh shrimp, crab and seafood aplenty. Still, the food was great and there was a place to eat open during all waking hours. I can't say too much about the ports as I didn't go for the ports but for the cruise itself. It was cold and rainy and I didn't even get off the ship in several places. Quebec City was beautiful and easy to get around. Thank you Crystal, I will be back. Read Less
Sail Date October 2014
I just returned from a 5-day taste of the Crystal Serenity. It really wasn't enough time to truly get to know the ship, particularly as bad weather caused them to have to make some itinerary adjustments, and pull some things together ... Read More
I just returned from a 5-day taste of the Crystal Serenity. It really wasn't enough time to truly get to know the ship, particularly as bad weather caused them to have to make some itinerary adjustments, and pull some things together on the fly. But it was enough time to get a feel for it. I'll get to the bottom line first: I highly recommend this ship. Now, some details. I don't mean this as one of those "cruise line X vs. cruise line Y" rundowns, but since Regent is my primary frame of reference, I think it might be easier to give an idea of the ship by using Regent as a comparison on some points, for those who have been on their ships. I realize that some of my nitpicks will make me sound like a spoiled brat. I do tend to stick to the luxury lines, so I guess I more or less am said spoiled brat. PUBLIC SPACES and ENTERTAINMENT The interior of this ship is beautiful. Simply stunning. The centerpiece of the ship is its two-story atrium with a colored glass ceiling. The reception and excursion desks, the cruise consultant desk, and a lobby bar (the Crystal Cove) surround it. At center is a nice sculpture. In the evenings, a string quartet might play, or a band plays and people can dance, etc. It's the heart of the ship, and is used as a center of activity. And, oh yes, the Crystal Cove was my favorite bar, although seating can get a little tight just before the two main dinner seatings, as it is near the main dining room. There is a center staircase that leads to a "street" of shops overlooking the atrium. I didn't go into any except the one that sells the logo wear (which had a paltry and overpriced selection), so can't report on them. Other public spaces, in no particular order: the Palm Cove, on deck 12. It's essentially the observation lounge. It is lovely and comfortable. On my cruise, it was sparsely used except for the sailaway out of Boston. I couldn't tell you why--it is a great venue. It has a large dance floor, and after dinner a few brave souls could be found fox trotting and waltzing the evening away. The pool deck. The weather was not conducive to its use (cold rain, snow, high winds--you name it), but it is clearly a nice setup, with really nice and comfortable seating arrangements. On the rare moments of sun, it was clear that there is a good bit of seating in the shade in addition to in the sun. The pool itself is not huge, but not small. Certainly larger than on the Regent ships. It has two jacuzzis, which we did use one chilly day. They were very nice. (Oh, and a nice touch--the info displayed on one of the ship's TV channels includes the hot tub water temperature). There is also the saloon for a drinking venue--a dark, pub-like space that is actually quite nice. There's a piano player there in the evening. The ship has two theaters for live performance, as well as a good-sized movie theater. We went to a couple of the performances, which were done well. One was put on by the song and dance troupe, who are quite good, and one was a variety show--a pair of dancers, a comedian who was pretty funny, and the cruise director doing a ventriloquist act that, much to my surprise, was hilarious and well-done. There was supposed to be what is considered an innovative show using lighted costumes, but was cancelled due to high seas on one particularly rocky and rolly night. They have a good-sized library that has a nice selection of books and DVDs, but it seemed to be rarely open. There are other spaces as well--a big computer room, a learning center, and a large games room (apparently bridge is big on Crystal). They also have lectures during the day, but I never managed to make it to any. But one thing that's quite noticeable on their webpage showing their various lecturers: where are the women and people of color? There's only a couple of women, and no one of color. As I've seen on other cruise lines, people other than white males do have interesting things to say. DINING Yum! Best food I've had on a cruise ship, and tight competition with some of the better restaurants on land. Dining venues are: Lido Cafe (for breakfast and lunch--all buffet); Trident Grill (for late breakfast and for lunch; also has an ice cream shop); Tastes (a small plates venue offering a variety of world cuisines); Bistro (a coffee shop with snacks); Prego (Italian, dinner only); Silk Road (Japanese/Asian/sushi; dinner only); and the main dining room (all meals). The food in the Lido Cafe is good. There is an omelet station, but you have to wait around for it--there is no one to bring it to your table. The coffee is decent, and specialty coffees are available. A nice touch--"to go" cups, so you can grab a cup and go elsewhere with it, or pop down from your room a grab a cup to take back without worrying about it cooling or spilling. The grill is nothing special--standard pool grill fare. But the setting is wonderful: there used to be a second swimming pool here with a glass ceiling above. But they covered over the pool and put in tables, chairs, and other relaxing seating vignettes, so that it is a nice outdoor-feeling spot but out of the weather. It was quite welcomed during the nasty weather of this cruise, and was a nice spot to hang when it wasn't meal time. The other half of that space is Tastes. We had a great meal there, though some plates were better than others. The fish dishes were particularly good here. Bistro was a nice spot for a cup of tea or coffee, and was good for a late light lunch after a return from shore. The dishes here match a painting on the wall--sounds hokey, but actually was very pretty. We were pleasantly surprised by Prego. Cruise ship italian restaurants are often mediocre. Not so here: the mushroom soup is fantastic, and the rack of lamb yummy. Silk Road. Wow. The black cod knocked my socks off. Great sushi too. A real hit. Main Dining Room. We only had a couple of chances to try it, and so the jury is still out on the dining system. There are two set seatings, with assigned table mates--one at 6:00 and another at 8:30. The alternative is Dining by Reservation. You can more or less name your own time, but must make a reservation, and must name your table mates. We opted for this. Fortunately, it appears that there is flexibility in the system. Within an hour of boarding, we were delighted to run into some friends from a couple of Regent cruises, and so made arrangements to have dinner together the next night. No problem with dumping our time and joining them at theirs. But I don't know what would have happened if they hadn't also been Reservation diners. The second time in the MDR was the final night, when we joined by a guest from on shore. We were tucked into a quiet corner (apparently they'd heard about us), and had a lovely meal. The food in the MDR was good, and just enough selections to please any palate. But here was the only real sour moment we had on the CS. One afternoon in Boston, some friends who live there visited us on the ship and joined us in the MDR for lunch. Of course, Crystal had a charge for that, and we were fine with it, expecting to see it on our account at the end. To my surprise, they brought a check to the table at the end of the lunch, and presented it to our guest! I found it awkward and embarrassing. First, why do the check at all? Why not just put it on our account? Second, who gives the check to the guest? The only thing I can think of is that the only man at the table was one of the guests, and they're caught up in the old thinking that of course the man gets the check. No restauranteur on shore would dare do that anymore--I can't think why Crystal would. BTW, there is no charge for the first dine at each of the alternative restaurants during a cruise, but a $30 charge for subsequent visits. Because our cruise was only 5 days, we didn't run into this, and we did manage to sample them all. EXCURSIONS I had been signed up for two ship's excursions during the cruise--one in Bar Harbor and one in Newport--mostly because I wanted to see how Crystal handled them. Overcrowding an excursion is a pet peeve of mine. While there were plenty of people on the Bar Harbor excursion, the buses were not overcrowded, nor were the sites. Of course, the weather was so nasty that very little was visible, but the guide was engaging and knowledgeable, and the excursion pleasant. It wasn't Crystal's fault that the weather was awful. Alas, that was to be my only ship's excursion, as the weather caused them to cancel the Newport stop in favor of a day at sea, and we'd made our own arrangements for Boston and New York. FITNESS FACILITIES The gym on the top deck seems well-equipped, with lots of treadmills, a couple of stationary bikes, a couple of recumbent bikes, several elipticals, a lone stairmaster, and any number of weight machines. There's also a nice yoga/pilates/zumba/barre area. Also, deck 7 goes all the way around the ship: no dodging deck chairs, no dead ends. Just nice walking space. 3-1/3 turns=1 mile. That's something that's always been wanting on Regent. The pool is big enough for short laps, or water aerobics. Of course, the weather precluded actually trying it out. CABINS The cabin decor is pretty much standard issue cruise line, luxury division, looking very much like Regent or Silversea, just with a different color palette. The standard cabins are smaller than they are on Regent, but do not feel more cramped. Your "moving about" space is about the same. Instead, the size difference is felt in what's not there. There is only a love seat and a desk chair for seating in the sitting area--no additional chair, and the love seat is shorter than a Regent sofa. But it is more comfortable. There is no dressing table. There is no curtain to separate the sleeping area from the sitting area. This is probably the most missed, as the later to bed or earlier to rise person of a pair in the room does not have a place to have a light on without risking disturbing the others. I understand the penthouses have such a curtain, but not the standard window or verandah cabins. The size difference is also felt in the closet. We'd become spoiled by the walk-in closets of Regent. On the Crystal ships, there is just a wall closet with a sliding door. While it is more spacious than it looks at first glance, that extra space comes from a hard-to-get-to area. And, it is right next to the bed. So the person who has the bed (or side of the bed) away from the closet risks waking up the other to get into the closet. This is particularly so because the closet has a light that comes on every time the door is opened. And it seems to shine right at the pillow of that nearby bed. Plus, the area between the bed and the closet is pretty tight. We had heard that the drawer space is generous on Crystal, and indeed between the dresser in the closet and the many drawers in the desk, there are quite a few drawers. But the drawers are actually all a bit on the small size. Overall, the drawer space is probably about equal to what Regent offers. Certainly none of that was a big deal--or even relevant--for a 5-day cruise, but is something to think about for longer cruises. BATHROOMS The bathrooms have the very nice feature of a double sink. There's quite a bit of shelf space in the bathroom. But there's also a quirk: next to the sink with the makeup mirror, the shelves have been taken out and one of those weak installed hair dryers mounted in their place, leaving just one tiny shelf way up high. While there's plenty of shelf space on the other side, it still is funny that you can't keep your makeup next to the makeup mirror. And that, for couples, the person who'd most want the makeup mirror has to jam the makeup on the little shelf in front or keep it on the other side from the mirror. Just one of those clues that no woman had a say in the design. Bathing is a bathtub/shower combo. The tub has a high side, and no ledge, but there are very well-placed hand bars that make getting in and out quite easy. Water pressure is great, and there's plenty of hot water, even at the prime shower times. Note, however, that the ship was not full--it was carrying about 700 but has capacity for a bit over 1,000. However, if the water was good at 700, I expect it will be at full capacity. They provide both bath sheets and standard towels, which is a nice plus. Two robes per person are provided: a terrycloth one and a cotton kimono-style. Also a nice touch. THE CABIN DOOR SYSTEM The cabin doors have gone high tech. They have an electronic screen at which you can touch "do not disturb" or "clean room", and this shows up on a screen in the hall to tell the stewardess whether to come in or not. If you touch neither, it shows in the hall as "bell", and touching that option in the hall rings the doorbell. It works quite well except for one quirk that we discovered by accident. My roommate had left the cabin, and I decided to take a shower and so hit "do not disturb" to keep the stewardess from coming in during the shower. Beth tried to return, but her key didn't work, and I was in the shower and so didn't hear the doorbell. Well, it turns out that, if 'do not disturb' is on, no one's keys can open the door--including the other occupant of the cabin! Fortunately the stewardess was in the hall, and she can use an override key, so it wasn't much of a problem then. But I can see some circumstances in which that quirk could create problems.   Read Less
Sail Date October 2014
What better way to celebrate an upcoming 93rd birthday than with a trip! For the past few years Mother and I have gone to New York for some theater time for her birthday trips, but this year decided to try a Fall leaf viewing cruise. We ... Read More
What better way to celebrate an upcoming 93rd birthday than with a trip! For the past few years Mother and I have gone to New York for some theater time for her birthday trips, but this year decided to try a Fall leaf viewing cruise. We had a rough start to the planning when Mother broke both arms in May so cancelled the Crystal Cruise we had booked for October. However, by Labor Day we decided to re-book it, since we still had plane and theater tickets. Two weeks out we have no cabin assignment or dining time, but we do have Mother's hair appointment scheduled for half way though, so the important item is booked :-). I don't have much cruising experience, but Katie and I did learn a few things on our Holland America Zaandam Cruise "Around the Horn" which has helped me prepare a bit for this one. Do some research on Cruise Critic about the ports we will visit. Book a few ship excursions - more expensive but easier logistically. Avoid the early morning excursions, because Mother won't make them, at least not with a smile on her face. Pair food tours with sight seeing - discovered I love these. Pack lighter. Hope for at leisure dining to avoid sitting with the same people the whole trip. Forget the iPhone SIM, as it is too complicated to find a phone store near the port. I'll pay the exorbitant ship WiFi charge for Canada and hope ATT has some New England coverage. Try not to eat like a pig. My friends Margie and Don are in Nova Scotia this week so are giving us a great preview. 10/6/14 Left Athens at 5 AM via very prompt Bulldog Limo, but was shocked at the amount of traffic on 316 at that time. It was literally bumper to bumper to the airport all the way from Athens. Had a near bad experience in security. Someone took my basket while I was putting on my shoes. It simply disappeared. We looked everywhere and asked the TSA to help. Of course it contained my handbag with passports, money, cards, etc. After five minutes, back came the basket. Someone who was being searched in a private room said my basket was hers so the TSA whisked it away with her. Mother and I had aisle seats across from each other on the flight to JFK, and, of course, the biggest man you have ever seen was in the middle seat next to her. She did not have the armrest down, so he took his seat and half of hers. I insisted she swap with me, since I'm pushy enough to claim my space, which I did. He stood up to get something and down went the armrest. He squeezed back in, but just barely. As we began flying low for our final approach to the QC airport, we were treated to a spectacular palette of color all over the countryside. I believe we have hit the leaves perfectly for Quebec, for sure. Had a lovely welcome to Quebec at customs when the officer pronounced Galland in the French manner and asked is I had French Canadian relatives. Who knew Quebec had Gallands? Settled into our room which has a beautiful view of Hotel Frontenac, the most photographed hotel in the world. I added another to the count right away. Met our Crystal Cruise Critic “sponsors” in the bar for a get acquainted drink. This is a fun program where someone who sees you are a first time Crystal Cruiser can ask to be your pre-trip guide. The benefit, other than some great ship tips, was $100 ship credit for each of us. We did not have a set dinner planned due to our stand by status, so we were added to six at the early seating. Very interesting couples with mostly experienced cruisers. In fact we met a couple on their 39th Crystal Cruise. Yow! Show featured songs from A Chorus Line, one of Mother’s and my favorites. 10/7/ Quebec City Had room service breakfast after a pretty good night’s sleep. Rainy weather today, unfortunately, since QC is a beautiful city, filled with “firsts” such as first permanent settlement, only walled city north of Mexico in NA, first hospital in NA, first boys’ school, first girls’ school, and many others. Relived my 5th grade social studies class with Samuel D. Champlain and Jacque Cartier. I will definitely return to QC with Bob in the future. Beautiful narrow streets, old churches, walkable walls, and more restaurants than any city in Canada. Got to peek in the Hotel Fondelac to see what $2000 a night gets you. Part of QC town history wall mural Lower Old Quebec And the rain begins! Had a lazy afternoon exploring the ship, eating a two hour lunch, and watching ladies dance with the paid gentlemen dancers on board. What a hoot. Mother will be dancing before the week is out, I’m betting. Fancy high tea then happy hour at the top front of the ship watching the beautiful Quebec countryside go by. We had dinner at Tastes, a little boutique restaurant with small portions based on international street food. We ate Peruvian tuna (raw) with lots of wonderful spices, California tacos like no taco I’ve ever eaten, some sort of steak on a skewer and tempura shrimp. The chocolate dessert was to die for, so I hope never to see it again. I could not resist. Ended the day with a fabulous selection of singing and dancing for 10 different Broadway shows. We met the parents of one of the dancers who is from Wales, and loved sharing the fun with them. Steve, the dancing and singing son, joined the cast two years ago right out of college and is just fabulous, as are all the entertainers. His parents are on their third cruise on our ship to get to see him perform. Of course, Steve has aspirations for Broadway or West End, but life working for Crystal is evidently very good. Some performers stay for 20 years! 10/8 Sept Iles Sailed all night on smooth river water but was surprised to discover this morning that I could see neither shore. We must be getting into the St. Lawrence delta area which is quite wide and merges into the Atlanta with a series of island all around. Left Mother sleeping while I frantically took care of work business, using lots of my very expensive satellite Internet. Glad I did not both searching for a Canadian SIM in QC because we are far from any sort of cell tower. Mother enjoyed room service while I had a working breakfast to catch up with things from last night. The wonderful thing about my job is I can travel more due to the salary and can work from anywhere in the world. The ship satellite Internet is hideously expensive but worth every penny when I means I can sit with my laptop in a beautiful restaurant enjoying the St. Lawrence Seaway and a fabulous breakfast. Our morning is at sea so lots of activities have been schedule. I opted for a Canadian history lecture, followed by pedicures for Mother and me in the ship’s spa. Returned to Tastes for another foodie lunch. Lounged around the ship all afternoon, moving from one beautiful space to another with our books and my laptop. Managed to complete several big work tasks with great Internet since there were no trees to get in our way. Mother debated dancing during the afternoon tea dance with the hired male dancers but decided her arms were not up to dancing with a partner. After watching a few minutes, I had to reluctantly agree. Mother and I were among the smart ones on the ship who elected not to go into Sept Isles. The rain came down in buckets, umbrellas flipped inside out, and one of the school bus tour buses got stuck in the sand on a beach and had to be towed out. We had a late dinner reservation tonight, the result of our standy-by last minute booking, so went to the evening performance before dinner. This was a classical pianist who promptly put most of the audience to sleep. Dinner was again delicious! 10/9 Iles de la Madeleine Woke up with the room service steward knocked on the door at 9. Guess the rock and rolling of the ship all night put us both into a deep slumber. At noon we left the ship for our Magdalen Islands shore excursion, “Flavors of Magdalen Islands.” We were met at the dock by a school bus, but inside was a fabulous Swiss guides who had moved here permanently after an 18 year career with Cirque du Soleil. She started a circus training school in the islands which now has 500 students ages 2 - 55. Her pride is having one currently performing with Cirque du Soleil. Our prize was having a wonderful guide who spoke perfect English. The ten Madgelen Islands are in the middle of the St. Lawrence River delta about 100 km West of Newfoundland and the same distance from Nova Scotia and mainland Quebec. The only way on or off is via a five hour ferry ride or a flight from Quebec City or Montreal. Eight of the islands are French speaking and two are English speaking. This is the heart of Acadia where the French were forced out by the English in the 18th century. Many went to Louisiana and the Caribbean while others went to Sept Isles. The ones left in the Madgalen Island either returned or never left. We first visited a cheese factory. About 90 years ago, an agronomist from Toronto persuaded a beef farmer to change to daily cows to produce a cheese similar to the type made in Normanday and Brittany. They sold their beef cows and imported 62 daily cows from the mainland and never looked back. The three cheeses we tasted here were all divine. Next stop the only remainly fish smoke house on the islands. There were once 72 of these, but then the herring population disappeared in the 70’s due to overfishing, all of the others were closed. In the early 90’s the herring reappeared only to be decimated due to climate warming, overfishing again, and the abundance of seals. This was the most interesting part for me. I remember seeing the films of the adorable baby grey seals being clubbed to death and responding with outrage. Unfortunately, this meant Europe, the US and most of the world prohibited seal skin and meat import, resulting in the 1 million seal population turning into 7 million today. These seals have no enemies and eat all the fish in the area. No more herring for the smoke houses today. Their natural enemies were polar bears, which lived farther north but are also disappearing and orcas while only live further to the west. Now China has prohibited seal product import, so the seal population will continue to expand. It certainly made me rethink the whole baby seal slaughter videos we saw 30 years ago. Maybe if they would shoot seals instead of clubbing the babies, we’d feel better about this. The only animals on these 10 islands are foxes, coyotes, and rabbits. The island homes are all painted bright colors. This tradition began so fishermen could find their homes by color to head to the right destination coming home. The tradition has continued. There is so much wind that there are very few trees on the islands, so lumber is now imported for new homes. About 13,000 people liver here full time with the population rising to over 30,000 during the summer due to the large number of relatively private beach areas. The many lighthouses are no longer in use but one can purchase a lighthouse for $1 if they agree to keep them painted, etc. for the tourists. At the herring smokehouse we sampled smoked herring (tasted like a Slim Jim) and marinated herring - aka Kippers in the US. I thought they were delicious. Mother did not even taste :-). Visited several beautiful beaches and lighthouses and ended our tour at the island’s micro brewery where everyone wolfed down potato chips and lots of beer. Most of us had not eaten lunch thinking we would eat a lot on this tour - not. Mother and I were happy to missing an additional 10,000 calories but did really enjoy our dinner at Tastes again. Evening entertainment was a Native American magician - odd but pretty funny. Later found a great small piano bar with a wonderful piano player and singer. Lots of fun then off to bed to be rocked to sleep again. Am loving that rock and roll. 10/10 - Friday Cruising the Cabot Strait Slept in for our day at sea, but my internal alarm is on Eastern time, not Atlantic time as we are now, so woke up too early. I must be the worst person in the world for time zone changing, because I cannot even make a one hour change work. When we go back to Eastern time in two days, I’ll probably be settled in on Atlantic. As Katie and I discovered on our South America cruise, sea days are packed with activities on the ship, so many that it is frustrating not to be able to do everything. Of course the weather was bright and sunny, but cold, making us wish we were in a port to enjoy walking outside. Outside on the ship was cold and blustery. My minimum outside boating temperature is 80 and we were at about 55 all day. Started the morning with breakfast in the Lido, because we were too late for the dining room. Next Mother decided to relax with her book in our stateroom so I ran from a lecture about the history of Nova Scotia and Maine, to a talk about iPad tips and tricks, to a lecture about militant Islamists, to a class on Photoshop Elements 12, quite different from version 3 I last owned. After learning how to remove wrinkles from faces on photos, I decided to go home and buy this one :-). Lunch in our favorite restaurant, Tastes. Beauty parlor time for Mother at 2 for a hair transformation. Mozart themed high tea followed with all wait staff dressed in period costumes and the string quartet playing all Mozart selections. Dinner at 6 with two delightful couples, production show about the British music invasion of the 60’s which was again amazingly fabulous, then a nightcap in the piano bar. I say today was mostly about eating and drinking. The all inclusive nature of this ship seems to encourage lots of both. 10/11 Halifax Woke up this morning to the sound of bagpipes as we pulling into the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia. This was our most risky day of the cruise, as we had booked a private taxi tour we found on Trip Advisor with Lucinda at www.halifaxcruiseshiptaxitours.com. I shared the information on Cruise Critic in our cruise area and another couple from San Francisco, Laurel and Steve, and a single from Sydney, AU decided to join us. We needed five to make the price reasonable, and it ended up being about $50 a person, far less than the ship excursions. Our guide Terry met us right outside of the ship so little walking was required of Mother. We hopped into his van and began a wonderful day in Nova Scotia. Our day begin with a walk through the large Halifax city park and a tour of beautiful historic neighborhoods in the city. Our stop at the citadel on the hill gave Terry time to tell us about the huge explosion of 1917, the largest explosion ever recorded prior to the Atomic Bomb. Next toured the Fairview Cemetery, home to the graves of 121 victims of the Titanic. Since most of us know quite a bit about the Titanic from the movie, Broadway play and recent discovery and underwater exploration, this was especially interesting. One of the executives of the White Star line was on the ship and evidently bribed his way onto a lifeboat being guarded at gunpoint to keep only women and children onboard. He promised to take care of the seaman’s family in exchange for a seat, and did. He also gave the seaman a nice headstone. Of course, he lived a miserable life afterwards trying to explain why he had gotten on a lifeboat reserved for women and children. James Cameron used names in the movie Titanic based on the real names on tombstones. Most interesting to me was a tombstone of an unknown two year old. Rescuers who recovered the bodied felt so bad for this one they chipped in to pay for a larger tombstone. A few years ago DNA testing revealed the child’s actual name. Our group decided to ship lunch to give us more touring time so we detoured through beautiful waterfront areas on our way to Peggy’s Cove. Nova Scotia has over 1000 km of shoreline and the areas that had not previously been developed as villages are now being developed as multi-million dollar neighborhoods. These homes actually reminded me of the Lake Burton mac-mansions. Peggy’s Cove, a very famous photo stop south of Halifax, was a surprise. I’d expected a big tourist village with lots of people. We saw a total of about 20. There were about a dozen shops, lots of fishing boats and lobster traps, and many granite rocks scraped clean by glaciers thousands of years ago. The famous lighthouse was about half the height of our SSI one, which seems to be the norm for Nova Scotia and most of Eastern Canada. It was quite lovely and proved not to be a problem for Mother walking. We did not bother with the walker, and used me instead. Back to the port, ship, just in time for a quick tea time with sandwiches. We acted like we were starving, but I’m sure we were not as my dinner the night before was enough to last forever. I zipped off to an iPhoto class where I learned many new tricks for me. Well worth the 45 minutes. The ship has two Mac labs with 30 inch monitors on 25 computers each - quite impressive! Had dinner tonight in the specialty Italian restaurant on the ship, Prego. Crystal does not charge extra for the special restaurants on board but does limit you to two evenings at their top two, Prego and Silk Road, their Asian restaurant. Service and food were both delicious, and we agreed with our travel agent that the mushroom soup was a must have. 10/12 Bar Harbor Early start this morning with breakfast in the dining room then immigration back to the USA. This was, by far, the easiest entry into the US I’ve ever had. One immigration officer looked at our passports and that was it. He, of course, mentioned he had been at FLETC many years ago. I suggested he must either be very senior or very good to get cruise ship duty. Lucky guy! Boarded our tender for a spectacular early morning arrival into the best Fall colors of the trip in Bar Harbor. I have visited Bar Harbor and the National Park here twice before but have never taken a tour so really enjoyed our National Park Service school bus tour of Acadia National Park and the town of Bar Harbor. Our guide, Heather, was one of those worth writing home about for sure. She had just the right amount of humor and exuberance without getting in the way of her extensive knowledge. She has been giving these tours for the park service concessionaire for over 20 years. A few interesting tidbits: Though there were three ships in the port today and the town was a bit crowded, Bar Harbor never lets tourism outweigh their charm. Only 6000 cruise ship passengers total are every allowed off the ships, and ships can only visit during September and October after the summer residents have left. Bar Harbor seems to be where most of the Jekyll Island Club group spent their summers after wintering on Jekyll. Beautiful homes line the harbor representing many of the rich and famous such as Martha Stewart, John Trivolta, and, of ocurse, the Rockefellers. The Rocks first came to Bar Harbor when Mrs. Rockefeller was pregnant with Nelson, former VP with Gerald Ford. She has two previous children and wanted the same doctor to deliver Nelson. He told her she would have to spend the summer in Bar Harbor if she wanted him to deliver the baby, so she did and the decendents have returned every summer from that point forward. John D. Jr. donated much of the land which is now Acadia National park. The viewpoint of the park if the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the Eastern seaboard. Leaf color was at its peek, and the air was crisp and cold providing beautiful clear views. A major fire in 1947 burned much of the park's cedar forests, making was for Norwegian maples, Red maples, birch, oak and many other colorful hardwoods. We could not leave Bar Harbor without a lobster roll which Mother had never previously experienced. Instead of one of regular restaurant on Main Street, we headed to the gorgeous Bar Harbor Inn for our lunch hanging out over the harbor in a beautiful glass dining room. The lobster roll was a few dollars more expensive but the view was well worth it. Lobster season is year around in Maine but most fishermen stop during the coldest months. In fact, most stores in the town close and the owners become snowbirds, flocking to Florida, Arizona, and the Golden Isles. Maine has over 3000 offshore islands, the most of any Atlantic Coast state, and Bar Harbor is certainly one of the most lovely. We reluctantly returned to the ship at 3. Mother took a quick nap while I listened to the last history lecture of the trip about Boston. 5 PM was tea dance time, but Mother was still a watcher concerned about lifting her arms to participate. Very weird production company show tonight with all characters dressed in lights. It required lots of effort in both costuming and performing, and we decided it was not worth it. Half the audience was asleep, as the show was done in total darkness except for the lighted costumes. 10/13 Boston Fantastic morning in Boston today on a ship shore excursion to Boston and Cambridge with our local guide David. David is about my age and is decended from Beacon Hill Bostonians. His grandparents created and donated the Constitution Museum by Old Ironsides, and he graduated from Harvard. I did not have the nerve to ask why he was leading tours so just enjoyed his wonderful personality and vast knowledge. Our stop at Old Ironsides showed us the ship covered in flags and bunting ready for the Secretary of the Navy to arrive later this week for the ships final sail before going into two years of dry dock. I'm always proud this ship was made from SSI live oaks, and, of course, had to share that. Then the guide told me he was writing a novel set in Georgia in Enota (sp) and Jekyll Island. Can't wait to read this one. Bob and I visited Boston two years ago and toured thoroughly except for Cambridge which we just road through. This trip took us on a 45 minute walk around the Harvard campus, a real treat since our guide had been a student there. Harvard Yard was not at all what I expected - much smaller than the North Campus yard of UGA and not as pretty. Our guide was a bit opinionated and got into an argument with a German guide about which group would get to enter the church first, her three German tour buses or our small group. Both guides pitched hissy fits but the German won because our Crystal rep told David to back off. We had an outdoor visit with an excellent telling of the start of the American Revolution, lanterns in the church tower, battle details, etc. Found out two liquor merchants funded the brick Freedom Trail to celebrate the bi-centenial in 1976. Their only stipulation was that the trail pass both of their stores, even though they were a bit out of the way. The National Park Service agreed and both merchants have gotten their investments back many times over with all the passing tourists. Other fascinating detail on this tour was no restroom stop on a four hour tour. Some got desperate and used the bus bathroom, only to get stuck in there because the door handle didn't work properly. We crossed our legs and ran into the restroom as soon as we boarded the ship. Spent afternoon catching up on work and resting though Quincy Market was tempting. Another lovely Italian dinner at Prego tonight. Am getting addicted to the lobster on this ship, I’m afraid. Skipped the piano concert and opted for a movie, Le Chef, which someone had mentioned was sort of like the 100 Foot Journey. It was in French with subtitles, but was still wonderful. Mother went right to sleep and had a lovely nap along with most of the people in the theater. The subtitles were a bit much for most, as there was lots of dialogue. 10/14 Newport Mother slept in while I worked this morning which was a great decision for both of us. We decided last night to see if the ship excursion to Newport at noon had any seats available, and a great decision it was. We tendered into beautiful Newport and joined our 90 minute trolley tour. Weather was perfect, and our guide was outstanding. According to him, he is the only resident of the city who is a direct descendant of Rhode Island’s founder, Roger Williams. A few tidbits to remember: Newport was one of the five largest cities in the US at the time of the American Revolution - others were Boston, Charleston, Philadelphia and New York. Newport has more pre-revolutionary homes than any other city in the country, thanks to the preservation efforts of Doris Duke, the tobacco heiress. Nice to see something good came from smoking. People came to Rhode Island for freedom of religion so the city had a more diverse population than other colonial cities. First Episcopal church, first Jewish synagog, and lots of other firsts. The rich started coming to Newport when a planter from Savannah visited and decided it would be the perfect summer retreat. His friends followed but all abandoned the city when the Civil War broke out and none returned. After the war Northern millionaires of the Gilded Age began summering in Newport and building huge mansions along the coast. The age ended with income tax legislation but huge mansions remain as do many wealthy people. Most elite were the group of 400. Mrs. Astor started this and had two requirements. 1. Must have at least 4 million dollars and must have 2 million set aside for each of your children. 2. Must not have earned your money by working for at least three generations. There is still a beach club in Newport set aside for the group of 400. Donald Trump tried to join this a few years ago but was rejected due to rule #2. Did not realize Anderson Cooper of CNN fame was the daughter of Gloria Vanderbilt, part of the wealthy Vanderbilt clan. We saw the “cottage” where he vacations in the summer. I decided I’ll never give another cent to my alma mater, because the Vanderbilts can afford to keep it running without me. Newport has more yachts than any harbor in the world. Most were spectacular! Had a great show back on the ship with the production company then a lovely dinner with six people we had not previously met. One had dined with one of the four ladies who live on the ship and discovered she had been on 355 Crystal Cruises so far over a 30 year period. 10/15 New York The captain announced during his one PA announcement of the day yesterday (ship only has this one announcement - no dinner bells, no activity alerts, etc) that we'd be arrived in NYC about 6:30 AM. I wanted to see this so kept waking up all night looking out the doors for lights. Did finally see them about 6:30 as we were sailing past Brooklyn. The early morning light scene was so spectacular that I insisted Mother get up and join me on the balcony. Took some nice photos of the new World Trade Center and the Empire State building. What a surprise to be docked right next door to the Intrepid Museum. Our New York City day was celebrated with perfect center section aisle tickets to the Carole King biographical play, Beautiful. I had read about this when it opened so ordered tickets six months ago. In June the lead won the Tony for best actress, and wow was that deserved. She was a better Carole King than Carole King herself! 10/16 New York Uneventful trip home expect for a little delay taking off from LaGuardia due to fog. All wheeled chairs were ready and waiting as was our old faithful Bulldog Limo. A few comments about Crystal Cruise line. The ship was very quiet. No announcements, not bells, tiptoeing staff Though the ship was full, everything seems somewhat empty. Please of space to move around with Mother's walker, which was a god send. Really enjoyed not having to pay, sign, tip, etc. Crystal is all inclusive - just ask and it is yours. Did not realize how much effort it was to decide who was paying for the wine at dinner or how much to tip at the end.   Read Less
Sail Date October 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
About boarding with very high expectations we were greeted by a truly beautiful ship. Lovely design, sophisticated and well-appointed without being overwhelming. The Palm Court is a particularly pleasant space for lounging and watching the ... Read More
About boarding with very high expectations we were greeted by a truly beautiful ship. Lovely design, sophisticated and well-appointed without being overwhelming. The Palm Court is a particularly pleasant space for lounging and watching the scenery. Cabin comfortable and functional. Beyond that the cruise did not in any way live up to expectations. The food in particular was not to our expectations. The embarkation day lunch is often tricky, but when the only thing that appealed was the polenta lasagna was the only appealing thing we were worried. With a cornucopia of hot sandwiches and burgers on the lunch menu for those tastes went in that direction there was little else for the rest of us who wanted something a little more interesting. The dinners likewise suffered from a lack of imagination and average quality cuts and types of meat and poultry. The section of wine was adequate but again not sensational nor were the wines rotated particularly well. We had an excellent somellier, Lubomir, and our servers Jarryd and Nena were lovely, which made up for the disappointing dining experience. Despite the advertising, no one was interested offering us anything above and beyond what was on the menu. The entertainment was poor and the shows dated and predictable - we did not sit through a single show. The lecturers likewise were disappointing and did not know their material adequately. What I found most noticeable was that the crew were not particularly friendly - no one seemed to enjoy their job nor did they seemed at all responsive to their passengers. The pursers desk staff always made you feel like you were disturbing them, the bar staff pleasant but disinterested, the officers invisible. I know that it is difficult to not compare one line to another, but for us Crystal, despite the cost being comparable in no way matched Silversea.   Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
BACKGROUND INFORMATION: I have cruised 42 times on multiple different cruise lines. I travel solo and can’t get enough of cruising – I love being on the ocean. This cruise was in celebration of a milestone birthday. I’m an ... Read More
BACKGROUND INFORMATION: I have cruised 42 times on multiple different cruise lines. I travel solo and can’t get enough of cruising – I love being on the ocean. This cruise was in celebration of a milestone birthday. I’m an adventurous “mature” adult who views every trip and cruise as a unique chance to experience the world and its people. TRAVEL TO EMBARKATION: Limo service from my rural northeast home to Montreal, Quebec. Really excellent train ride from Montreal to Quebec City on VIA Rail Canada, first class, with beautiful restored “Renaissance” class car with a row of single seats and a row of double seats, very good lunch, beverage service, and wines included. Quiet, clean, and wonderful way to begin a cruise, plus great scenery. Once in Quebec City, a 10-minute cab ride from my hotel to the cruise terminal was very inexpensive, in a clean, upscale vehicle with a courteous English-speaking driver. HOTELS: In Montreal, I stayed at the Hilton Montreal Bonaventure, where I’ve had good stays before. In Quebec City, I stayed at the legendary historic landmark Chateau de Frontenac, high atop the cliffs of the city. It was like being in a French chateau in a past century, beautifully restored and preserved, and absolutely gorgeous and full of luxuries. Reasonable prices to begin with, and I received a complimentary upgrade to the high-floor executive level. Great view, plus access to the executive lounge with its lovely service, beverages, and foods. At the end of the cruise, I once again stayed at the Hilton Montreal Bonaventure, who really exceeded all expectations and upgraded me to what appeared to be their presidential suite at the originally booked standard room rate, on my birthday. SHIP: The “Crystal Serenity” appeared clean, perfectly maintained and beautiful outside. The inside was indeed “serene”, with subdued colors, tasteful furnishings, and luxury feel everywhere - decorated with lovely marble, fabrics, style. Even the air smelled luxurious, and everything appeared brand new and/or so well maintained it appeared this 11 year old vessel had just been launched. The ship is 68,870 tons, with a length of 820 feet, beam of 106 feet. Top speed is 22 knots. There are nine passenger decks. A crew of 655 cares superbly for a maximum passenger compliment of 1,070. On my cruise, however, there were approximately 800 people on board. The ship is painted white overall, with beautiful yacht-like lines. There is a marvelous wood-decked completely circular one-level promenade deck, great for walking or jogging. The lifeboats are recessed within the hull. I wondered if the ship were soundproofed throughout, as it was unusually quiet no matter where I was within the ship. This ship does not have the glitzy multilevel atrium many cruise ships feature, but rather a two-level atrium at the ship’s center, with comfortable seating scattered throughout, plenty of windows with cushioned window seats, the reception/concierge desk, future cruise desk, Crystal Society desk, a small bar, a unique clear-crystal piano, and a beautiful two-story wall made of what appeared to be Murano glass of various colors, with a small cascading water fountain. There is a bronze statue of a woman playing a harp, with beautiful detail. A curving staircase descends from the upper level of the atrium down to the marble floor first level, perfect for formal night grand entrances. It is luxurious, serene and peaceful in the atrium, and this feeling was enhanced by a string quartet playing classical music there at various times. It reminded me of a grand foyer entrance to a stately home. Subdued colors are found throughout the ship, very tasteful and rich. There is none of the bright, sparkly, flashing, neon glitz seen over so much of the industry’s shipping afloat today. EMBARKATION: Pure pleasure. Courteous porters took my bag at the curb when I arrived by cab. Next, a quick walk through the small cruise terminal in Quebec City, right on the St. Lawrence River. The usual security screening was done quickly and courteously. Entry to the ship was through an enclosed walkway, which was especially appreciated as the day of embarkation had cold, raw, windy weather with rain. The actual “check-in” process was carried out in the lovely atrium of the ship. There must have been at least 40 agents sitting at tables with linen tablecloths, so there were no lines and no waiting. The agent took my papers, took a photo, gave me the cabin key card and some welcome-aboard information, and that was it – less than five minutes in a very gracious and relaxed setting. Cabin access was not until approximately 3 PM, and as boarding began at 1 PM, I had some time before going to my cabin. The string quartet was playing, the bar was open, waiters circulated with champagne on silver trays, the receptionists were patiently answering questions, lots of material was available to read about future cruises and the current cruise, old friends from previous trips were meeting, and the feeling was more like old friends gathering at a luxury estate for a vacation together than the usual hassles with embarkation many cruise lines seem to have. The wait went quickly with the sociable guests and crew. For those not wishing to haul their hand baggage with them, a secure check-in station had been established, and crew took the bags to the passenger staterooms to await the arrival of the passengers in their cabins later on. CABIN: I had a deck 8 midship deluxe verandah stateroom. It seemed about 30% larger than the usual balcony cabin. Luxury fabrics and quiet colors, subdued and peaceful. Queen-size bed with luxury linens and lots of pillows, but with a slightly tired and soft mattress. Pillow menu made getting just the right pillow very easy – just ask the stewardess and they were brought. Small leather sofa near the balcony glass wall. Desk/vanity and TV above a small refrigerator. Lots of lovely dark wood cabinetry and closet sliding doors. Plenty of mirrors. Closet had substantial and plentiful wood hangers, a safe with touch-pad entry, shoehorn, robe, slippers, huge umbrella, shoe care kit, clothes brush. Rack for shoes on closet floor, and shelves and drawers. There was a phone near the bed but not on the desk. Only one electric outlet at the desk, which could have used more outlets in this day of so many devices requiring charging. Lighting was plentiful, but could have been brighter, especially at the desk area. Nice clean carpet in very good condition for a cruise ship, as were all the furnishings in the room. Refrigerator had complimentary variety of soft drinks, waters, beer. Anything the passenger wishes can be brought quickly to stock or replenish the refrigerator. The verandah wall is all glass with a sliding door. There are sheer drapes against the glass, and then heavier light-blocking drapes which can be pulled over the sheers – the regular drapes are tied back neatly during the day. There were two chairs and a small table on the fairly large verandah, but due to mainly cold and windy and damp weather, I did not get nearly enough use out of this really nice balcony. Good TV channel selection with better than average reception, plus a bow camera view and ships statistics channel. TV had a DVD player built in. The bathroom was incredible, probably three times as large as the usual cruise ship bathroom. There was a gorgeous double-sink granite sink top in warm rust/gold/earth tones. Big mirrored wall above the sink, with shelf. Good bright lighting. Lots of separate shelves on either side of the mirror – lots of good storage space. There was a full-size bathtub with a hand-held shower setup inside a glass and shower-curtain enclosure. Even the toilet was a surprise, as it was a nearly full-size facility compared to the tiny ones on regular ships. Nicely placed towel racks. The towels were luxury thick, fluffy, soft, and looked brand new. You do not see thin, ragged, scratchy towels on this ship! Towels are replaced twice daily if you wish, but the usual eco-friendly practices abound on this ship – hang up the towel and reuse if you wish. Aveda bath products provided in the bathroom. There were shower caps, Q-tips, cotton balls, good-quality bath tissue and Kleenex provided. There was a soft small rug on the bathroom floor – nice touch for bare feet, but it could be very slippery so beware. Everything in the bathroom appeared spotlessly clean. There were several coat hooks on the wall near the door, very convenient. There were cloth laundry and shoe bags in the closet, again an eco-friendly effort, as well as the enormous cloth logo totebag. A large adjustable table was near the sofa for meals in the room. A full-length mirror was on the wall near the hall to the door. There was a small touch-pad system replacing the usual door-hanger signs – one of the best systems I’ve ever seen – to either announce the do not disturb status or request for cabin cleanup and service. One touch of the pad inside the cabin near the door lights the appropriate signal sign on a small pad outside the door. Touch again and the sign light goes out. There is also a real doorbell touch pad on the corridor-side pad so housekeeping can ring the bell rather than barge in and disturb the occupants, or guests can ring the bell when they visit. Very good climate-control system with heating and air conditioning adjustable individually for each cabin – just touch the indicator pad on the small control on the wall. A small bedside alarm clock was provided. I believe the cabin walls were soundproofed, as I never heard the people on either side of me. The cabin was so luxurious and comfortable it was a destination itself, as was the ship. ACTIVITIES: There were activities to suit all ages and interest levels. There is a “University at Sea”, offering computer classes, camera classes, personal enrichment topics, and other learning opportunities. World-class lecturers spoke each day on pertinent and interesting topics, with lectures in the very comfortable small theater on the ship. Fitness fans could work with a personal trainer for a fee, or use the huge array of new equipment and free weights in the fitness center. Joggers, runners, and walkers had plenty of space to do laps around the promenade deck. It is obvious that personal wellness is a popular topic on this ship, and plenty of opportunities are there to stay fit and well. My only wish in this area was for a Zumba class. Small groups met for diverse activities such as bridge, knitting, needlepoint, crafts, and reading. There was a small, elegant and apparently smoke-free casino with the usual games of chance and slots, including penny slots machines. There were plenty of photo opportunities and a nice photo gallery. Many people simply enjoyed socializing and looking out the windows at the ever-changing sea, or strolled with friends within the ship. Activities on this luxury-level ship are aimed at an older, mature passenger demographic for the most part. You will not find the raucous, carnival-type games and noise here. The passengers on my cruise appeared to be on average at least over 60, mostly couples, but plenty of singles (this cruise line offers some very nice price breaks for solo travelers). The passengers on this cruise were mainly from the USA and Canada, but there were other nationalities nicely mixed in as well. Most of the passengers I spoke to were devoted fans of Crystal Cruise Line and belonged to the Crystal Society of past passengers at some astoundingly high cruise number levels. There were a lot of professional people, very well-to-do, as well as ordinary Mr. and Mrs. Anywhere USA couples and singles. Everyone was very quiet, courteous, and interesting to socialize with. I love ballroom dancing, and this ship offers Ambassador Hosts, a small group of gentlemen who are available to dance with single ladies, or attend meals and tours with those wishing company while traveling solo. I danced every night almost until midnight with these courteous, well-traveled and well-spoken gentlemen from various countries, who were all outstanding dancers. It was one of the highlights of the cruise for me, and there was a small live orchestra for dancing in the beautiful lounge with a proper wood dance floor. A small bar is in the lounge area for those wishing drinks. There were just two sea days on this cruise, and I know there were more activities than I’ve listed here. The daily “Reflections” newsletter delivered each night to the staterooms was full of listings for dining, fun, relaxation, etc. There is a very nice spa at the top of the ship, and I splurged with a manicure, pedicure, and massage to get my birthday body some really nice pampering the last day of the cruise. Various societies represented on the ship offered some type of social gathering or cocktail party nearly every day of the cruise at various times. The future cruise consultant was a genial multilingual gentleman who always had somebody at his desk and a few people waiting. Apparently the loyalty to this brand keeps people booking the next cruise right on the ship, with good extras available if you do so. Another unique feature of this ship were four ladies who live on it. I met one of them who had been on the ship for six years straight. Talking to her was incredibly interesting, especially learning about the logistics of extreme downsizing with possessions and property, plus how to deal with the daily temptations of rich cruise ship food. The knitting and needlepoint groups were as much fun for the talk and shipboard gossip as they were for the small complimentary projects available, and often the groups met in the same lounge area where the elegant and elaborate themed traditional high tea events were held, with the classical string quartet playing. The high tea events featured servers in tuxedos, magnificent English and German elaborate china and silver, and very tempting and beautiful food items. There were just a few shops, all of which offered goods at the luxury level. There was a clothing ship, a “logo” articles and clothing shop with a very small selection of necessities and ship souvenirs, a perfume and cosmetics boutique which smelled so divine I wish they could make a perfume from the fragrance inside and sell it with the name “Cruise Ship”, and a very elegant high-end jewelry boutique with some of the most magnificent jeweled creations I’ve seen outside of a museum or world-class jewelry establishment. Everything on sale was tasteful and appeared carefully selected, and displays changed frequently. There weren’t any of the “sidewalk sales” other cruise ships offer. In a sensible change of procedure, the captain and officers do not shake hands at the meet and greet functions, very smart in these times of lots of nasty diseases in closed populations. I saw the Norwegian captain just once while walking through the ship, and he was a big man who appeared very serious and dedicated, but also polite when I said good morning to him as he went about his rounds with his staff. Safety was his priority, and after all, that is his main job. A popular activity on one of the sea days was an “open house” of the various types of staterooms available on the ship. It was a marvelous, clever selling tool for those not familiar with the ship or the actual cabins, as a photo can only demonstrate so much in a flat dimension. The penthouse suites were incredible to actually visit in person, and all categories of staterooms were lovely. Even the lowest-category outside cabins with a big picture window were extremely spacious and had the same nice bathroom as the other categories outside the suites and penthouses. The bottom ledge of the picture window was cushioned, and would make a great place to sit and watch the seas roll by, or just enjoy a cup of tea while reading, assuming one is agile enough to climb up the short distance to settle on the ledge. SERVICE: The best I’ve ever seen on any cruise ship, ever. Nothing was too much to ask for, and anything requested was taken care of incredibly fast. There were no excuses about why something could not be done – it was just quietly and efficiently made to happen, “with our compliments” – “it’s our pleasure”, etc. The staff always remained professional, cool, gracious, polite, composed, and willingly helpful. It felt like being royalty and treated accordingly. As this ship is all-inclusive, tips were included generously, and there were none of the sly, subtle little games played by the crew to get more tips. All the crew apparently had to speak English to work on this ship, and all were multilingual. Very international crew who had some great stories to share, and it was a good chance to meet and interact with people from other cultures. This crew seemed far better educated and sociable than on other ships. Cabin service appeared to be mainly female stewardesses, although I did see male waiters for room service and some room cleaners. I had a lovely lady from India caring for my stateroom, and she was genuinely dedicated to good service and being helpful. A huge plus was not finding service carts blocking the walkways first thing in the morning. The early-morning hallways were silent, clean, and uncluttered. Cabin service was at the guest’s choice of time, but appeared to usually being around midmorning to allow people to breakfast in their cabins undisturbed, or perhaps sleep late without being disturbed. The cabin service took longer than usual, but appeared more thorough as well. Service was complete twice a day, morning and evening turn-down. No pillow chocolates or towel animals on this cruise line, but that’s something I can easily do without. Eve the white orchids in a silver vase which I found on embarkation in my cabin, as well as the flower bouquet in my cabin delivered later on embarkation day from my travel agent were watered regularly by my cabin stewardess! Any shipboard mail, notices, invitations, etc. were placed in a “mail box” type rack just outside the cabin door, and there was a lot of printed information every day to keep passengers well informed without disturbing them. No annoying loud announcements were ever heard, as the ship has a “no-announcements’ policy unless it related to an emergency or port visit status. The captain makes a daily noon broadcast of items of interest, weather, position, etc. and this is heard ship-wide and on the decks. Anything related to safety or disembarkation at ports is also broadcast in the corridors as well as a designated shipboard TV channel in the staterooms. What a relief not to hear some braying carnival-barker style announcements constantly for art auctions while trying to take a guilt-free nap on a cruise! Items like time-change notices appear in printed notices and the daily newsletter. The crew was always willing to take photographs for passengers requesting this, which is a huge improvement for solo travelers trying to get a decent “selfie”. Everybody smiled most of the time, said hello quietly, and were one of the most contented crews I’ve ever encountered. Nobody complained about being tired, and nobody kept talking about how many months, days, weeks, hours they still had to work before their contract ran out. Good teamwork and mutual respect was apparent among the crew members. Dining room service was at the level of what the royals of the world probably receive. Nothing was too much to ask for, and everything was done with grace, style, smiles, courtesy, quiet professional efficiency, and warm concern that the guest was enjoying everything as much as possible. My table had a very compatible and expert team of two male waiters – one from Hungary and one from Croatia. Every night’s entrance into the dining room began with the head waiters and maitre’d at their podium, beaming at the guests, as well as a side line of 10 waiters smiling and offering to escort guests to their tables. Table service was the best I’ve seen in many years of cruising. Service at breakfast and lunch in the buffet restaurant also was extraordinarily good most of the time, with far more than average staffing. There were no trays in the buffet restaurant, but an observant waiter or waitress immediately approaches and offers to hold one’s plates as you progress through the lines, and they patiently wait with you while you choose your meal items, and then take all your plates and bowls or whatever to your table and then proceed to bring the beverage(s) of your choice. They will check up on you during the meal as well and bring seconds of anything and more beverages. The buffet crews feed you love along with your food. It is obvious that this crew knows they are on the ship to cater to very discerning passengers who pay a lot and expect the best for their cruise experience, and service is truly amazing in every department. DINING: Besides the main dining room, there are two pay-per-visit specialty restaurants – Silk Road and Prego. I did not take the opportunity to enjoy Prego, but did eat twice at Silk Road, with the feeling being that I can get Italian cuisine easily where I live, but not Japanese food. Silk Road is small and elegant, with superb service by its staff. There are flexible seating arrangements from a table for one or two, up to groups. There is also a sushi bar. An intricate and very unique menu offers a good variety of Japanese cuisine with some very different combinations of ingredients and seasonings. Chopsticks are provided as well as the usual utensils. Portions are small but adequate, and arranged like works of art. If you desire more of something, you will have it delivered to your table most graciously. There is chicken, seafood, fish, noodle type items, and many other choices. Deserts are wonderful as well. Appropriate complimentary beverages as well as for-pay menu are available to compliment any main entrée. The usual cruise ship buffet restaurants and little places around the lido deck offered grilled items and ice cream, too. I had expected true gourmet and Continental cuisine, with the rich sauces and complex recipes, in the dining room menus, but was rather disappointed to discover American home-cooking and “comfort food” items among the other and often somewhat peculiar food items offered. Salmon seemed to be offered at least twice a day in some form as well. Seeing liver and onions, fried chicken and roast turkey on such an elegant ship just didn’t really fit in with the luxury cruise ambience. Considering the majority of passengers were from the USA, however, perhaps it is the cruise line’s intention to feed these people what they want and get at home. When I cruise, it’s a chance to get away from dull, “healthy”, and boring food at home and enjoy the world’s cuisine and lots of good deserts guilt-free on vacation. The fish items were among bottom-feeder and bait varieties, for the most part, and the one time lobster was served, it was tasteless and mushy. Salad dressings on the buffet line were watery and poor quality. There certainly were enough items in all food groups to create something good, however, and it just took some time and practice. International food theme days were a feature on the buffet food lines, but some items weren’t really that good. There was a huge overabundance of using kernel corn and red and green bell peppers and onions as fillers in too many dishes. Dining room menu desserts had little variety, and seemed to be mainly made of fruit ingredients, with a lot of ice cream served. There were a lot of sugar-free and flourless items, but most were rather dry and tasteless. “Modern” cuisine was on the menu for lunch and dinner, but it appeared to be an overabundance of someone’s ideas of creative food blendings and preparation – different, and usually tasty, but a bit too exotic for my personal taste. Complimentary red and white wines which were very good were available at lunch and dinner, with premium other alcoholic beverages available for purchase. A big problem was the buffet line, where many items had obviously been prepared far ahead of serving times, and were held under ineffective heat lamps which did nothing to keep the items warm. Repeatedly, waffles and pancakes and other hot items were lukewarm or cold, and often dry and stiff. Same for the breakfast pastries first thing in the morning, as they had apparently been sitting out far too long and had become dry and stale. Some of the dining room food was also served below proper temperature for hot items, and not chilled properly for cold items. This was mentioned to the proper authorities several times, but I did not see much improvement in the seven days of this cruise. This situation is not unique to Crystal, however, as I’ve seen it on all 42 cruises I’ve enjoyed. Buffet items all had their little individual tags in front of them, identifying what each item was. Beverage selection was outstanding all over the ship, be it in the bars, dining rooms, or buffet restaurant. It was nice to have a whole can of soda brought to the table to enjoy, and many varieties of bottled water were also there for those wishing it. Sometimes cold beverages arrived without ice, which seemed to be the norm in Quebec restaurants and in Europe, too, but it was simple to remember to just ask for ice, please, and it was provided. The buffet restaurant tables were nicely set with china and silver, but a small plastic place mat was on the tables, and I did not see it cleaned between diners – and silverware was placed unwrapped on this plastic mat. This seems to be a serious breach of good health practices, as other diners put their used utensils on the mat during the meal. This was a rather tacky procedure in an otherwise beautifully set table. The dining room tables were masterpieces of flower arrangements and magnificent china, silver and glassware. The line uses Villeroy and Boch china, and has a series of four unique old-world map design charger plates on the tables. These plates were designed specifically for the cruise line, and I bought one of them for a souvenir of the trip. There were two seatings in the main dining room – main and late, as well as dining by reservation, and the buffet offered walk-in convenient service all during the day for the appropriate meals. A handy and appreciated electronic, large menu display is on the wall just outside both buffet entrances, and it changes screens to show all the food items available at each meal. I was delightfully surprised by the maitre’d and his staff when they brought a lovely chocolate birthday cake with candle to my table in the dining room – a very nice way to celebrate my milestone birthday and to be able to share it with the two very nice couples at my table that evening. Room service had a good menu available 24 hours a day, and although I did not try it, apparently the menu in the dining rooms is also available for service in the staterooms, with more items available to the elite penthouse accommodation passengers. PORTS AND SHORE EXCURSIONS: The ship provides a printed information sheet on each place visited. This cruise departed from Quebec City in Canada, and sailed up the St. Lawrence River, making a scenic cruise for a few hours in the Saguenay River fjord. Lots of beautiful fall foliage was visible, as well as quaint tiny villages along the riverbanks. There was a respectful and peaceful short stop below the beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary high on a cliff above the Saguenay River. The first port visited was Sept Isles, a small town on the St. Lawrence River. There were organized tours, but I chose to explore and walk on my own. An old historic trading post has been restored and preserved, and was an interesting place to see at the edge of town. There is an Innu Native “reserve” as part of the town, and a new marina with a scenic walkway along the riverfront. There were bus tours offered on local school buses, but I believe I saw most of what they did during my hours-long walk. The main highway at the inland edge of town leads to Quebec City, 10 hours away. There are the usual big-box stores and fast-food places along the highway. Effort has been put into upgrading the town, roads, cruise terminal (which had lively local music, foods, crafts on sale and nice helpful tourism people). The people I met while walking were helpful and friendly, and some did speak enough English to get directions and just interact sociably. The next port was the Isle de Madeleine, but due to very high winds and rough seas the tender shuttle service was not possible safely. A short stop in view of the scenic cliffs was about all we were able to do. The tiny islands of St. Pierre et Miquelon were next for the cruise, with tender shuttle service to the town pier. There were still very high winds and rough seas, and the tender ride was very rough. The local tourism board had a welcome committee bravely standing in the cold wind to greet the ship’s tenders as they arrived, and the music and smiles were lovely. This island is a territory of France, located just south of Newfoundland, with the French language and flag and traditions. Narrow hilly streets with cobblestones, stone architecture, lace curtains in windows, a few flowers still visible in window boxes. Some stores were open, but not many, and the bakery displays of French pastries looked wonderful. I did not tour in this port with the ship tours, but again chose to walk and explore on my own. There is small old stone cathedral in the center of town, and many historic monuments. The waterfront is full of various types of businesses, souvenir shops, tourism office, and different kinds of boats. It reminded me a lot of San Francisco. After a few hours exploring on foot, the icy wind and dampness convinced me to return to the ship for lunch, after seeing all I could of importance. The tender ride back to the ship was just as rough as the one to the land, with an additional 45 minutes of waiting for conditions safe enough to be able to actually dock the tender at the ship and escape the rough ride. The ship left that afternoon to return to Quebec, sailing back through the Gulf of St. Lawrence, with beluga whale sightings to everyone’s delight, and then into the large, peaceful St. Lawrence River once again. The ship arrived in the morning at Quebec City, where it remained overnight to allow maximum touring of this beautiful old historic city. There were multiple city tours offered by vehicles, horse carriage, and on foot, as well as dining tours and explorations of the local area outside the city. I’ve been to Quebec numerous times, and chose to explore again on foot, this time visiting the huge Citadel high atop the cliffs next to the old walled city. I did not have enough time to enter and explore all the Citadel, but did enjoy walking the scenic grounds with the fall foliage and wonderful views of new Quebec as well as the old city below. The boardwalk on the top of the cliffs is worth walking just to people-watch and enjoy the music played by local musicians. Some of the views along the boardwalk of the buildings and people come right from French impressionist paintings. The French language of Quebec is heard everywhere. There are numerous restaurants offering all kinds of good food in Quebec, as well as multiple shopping opportunities and art exhibits. No matter how many times I’ve visited Quebec, there is always something new to find, eat, explore, see, or just enjoy by visiting with the local people and trying to improve my amateur French-speaking ability. The last night of the cruise was spent enjoying the many amenities of the beautiful ship, and getting a good night’s sleep before heading home. The night view of the old city from my verandah was spectacular. ENTERTAINMENT: There was the usual variety of cruise-ship entertainment on this cruise. Several very professionally-produced production shows were performed in a comfortable theater-type lounge with plenty of seating for everybody at two separate times. A really good live orchestra enhanced each performance. The dancers and singers seemed far more professional and skilled than average compared to other cruise lines. Costumes were spectacular, especially in one show which highlighted Broadway hit shows. The ship’s cruise director (from the USA) was a clever ventriloquist who performed one evening. There was a professional ballroom dance duo, and wonderful singers – something for everybody and every taste. There were also lounge singers in several venues throughout the ship in the evening. A favorite was the classical string quartet of European ladies who played at various places and times during the cruise. There was also a very skilled and entertaining magician aboard. Movies were offered in a real movie theater onboard throughout the cruise. If all this was not enough, there was a good selection of DVDs available for checkout from the library for private viewing in the staterooms. Many people seemed to be entertained quite nicely just by reading books, working on personal IT devices, small craft projects, attending the various lectures and educational offerings aboard ship, shopping, socializing, and enjoying the shuffleboard and other deck sports available despite the weather being somewhat inclement at times. CHILDREN: I only saw one small child and several teens on board. I observed a small room which was a playroom of some sort, but overall, this is a cruise line catering to adults. With the obvious service and quality of this cruise line, however, I’m sure if a large number of children were onboard, they would enjoy themselves as much as the adults while being well cared for. DISEMBARKATION: Extremely quiet, organized, and convenient. The ship was in port from the day before the end of the cruise, and this allowed people who had extremely early flights to disembark as early as 2:30 or 3:00 AM. Luggage was set out and collected silently during the night at the passenger’s convenience, most of it by 11 PM. There was the usual colored tag system indicating when disembarkation would take place. If one had an early flight or needed special arrangements, it was quick and easy to arrange an appropriate time. If an assigned time wasn’t convenient, a simple call to guest services provided a convenient time and a new tag. A really nice feature of disembarkation was allowing passengers to stay in their cabins much later than usual on other cruise lines. No cabin service people barged in and started tearing the cabin apart and cleaning while the guests were enjoying privacy to the last minute. I never heard a sound from the baggage collectors or early departing passengers. No announcements were made, as very detailed instructions about how to leave the ship, where to meet, what to do with final details, etc. were given to guests well in advance of the actual day of disembarkation. I had a late train from Quebec back to Montreal, and was able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, do final packing in my carry-on bag, and leave the ship at my convenience without any noticeable crowds or confusion. The ship was so organized that I was able to leave the ship 45 minutes earlier than my requested time. The cruise terminal at the pier in Quebec City is small but well organized, and my bag was waiting for me in a clean, neat area. Plentiful inexpensive cabs were right outside the terminal, and I rode comfortably to the train station after leaving the ship with plenty of leisure time and no stress. SUMMARY: Crystal Cruise Lines is nearly perfect, or at least this cruise was. It is a product which appears to be aimed mainly at mature adults. Most of the people I interacted with among the passengers were sociable, well-traveled, and well-to-do people who lived to cruise and loved to cruise. Many had the means and time to take multiple back to back cruises, and as one passenger commented to me, “This is what we do – this is our lifestyle”. Another remark overheard was “The passengers on this cruise line who take the world cruises repeatedly are a cult. There is nothing like it with any other cruise line”. Being well-traveled and sociable, but certainly not “well-to-do” compared to my fellow passengers, I considered this birthday celebration cruise a privilege and a splurge, and really appreciated it. I can’t imagine taking this level of luxury and quality for granted as some people seemed to do on the ship. Most of the passengers appeared to be traveling as couples, or family members together in small groups, with a preponderance of single older women. One large group of travelers was from Asia, and other international countries were represented. This definitely was a more sociable passenger contingent than I’ve noted on multiple other cruise lines. Many people knew other travelers from prior cruises, and the Crystal Society members were very numerous and enjoyed reconnection with people they had met on other cruises. A premium company representing quality travel agencies had a representative on board as well, and there were social gatherings and on-board perks for passengers who had used a travel agency belonging to this company. There is enough to do without ever feeling bored or ignored on this gracious ship. It all depends on what your interests are and your desired level of involvement. Premium shore excursions are available if you have the desire and means to purchase something out of the ordinary. Pre- and post-cruise quality packages of hotels and private or group transfers begin the luxury experience well before the cruise ever begins for those who choose to purchase them. Service is exceptional overall, absolutely the best I’ve ever experienced. No wish is impossible, and everything is done with courtesy, class and amazing speed. Dining was a bit of a disappointment in some areas, and apparently satisfied the majority of diners - but this cruise line apparently has achieved the impossible by taking calories out of the food. I lost two pounds while eating five or six desserts per day – and I normally come home from even a short cruise with several extra pounds as unwanted souvenirs of enthusiastic dining. Nobody can starve on this ship, even if the cuisine offered is at times a bit unique or unusual. With the two specialty restaurants offering complimentary dining for one time in each, be sure to give them a try. Despite some rather exotic food offerings, it was all mostly very good and a great chance to experiment and try things most of us never get at home. Activities offered were age-appropriate and had something for every interest, fitness level, or age. There were very popular offerings involving computers on this particular cruise, as well as photography. Had the weather been better, I’m sure more people would have enjoyed the wide, wrap-around promenade deck for walks and whale-watching, as well as the lovely pool deck area with its inviting large lounge chairs and clamshell “cuddle couches”. A daily newsletter is well-written and full of useful and interesting facts about each day of the cruise. Weather and the daily dress code are included in detail. One does not need to wear formal attire every night, either, despite the elegance of the cruise – nice resort casual clothing is the norm most of the time, and there was just one truly formal night on my 7 night cruise – and this had a nice showing of tuxedos and formal gowns, but also dressy tops and pants for women and suits for men. People dressed appropriately for the weather, ports and onboard ambience, but with a welcome lack of the usual torn shorts, undershirts, tired flip-flops, and worn-out baseball caps seen on the more casual cruises no matter what the dress code. Fares for Crystal run a bit higher than average, but you get what you pay for. There are specials, “deals”, early booking rates, Crystal Society discounts, early full-payment discounts, and very enticing solo traveler fares. It’s worth every penny, considering the quality of service, beautifully maintained and designed vessel, far above average cabins and interior appointments in the cabins and baths, and attention to detail in every aspect of the cruise experience. Crystal travels the world with its two lovely medium-sized ships, with varying lengths of itineraries, and offers the usual pre- and post-cruise services of airline flights, transfers, land tours, and hotels, all at a higher level of luxury than ordinary cruise lines. While the cruises can be booked online, I was assigned a travel agent when first contacting the cruise line by phone for information, and the agency admirably handled all the details for me to my complete satisfaction plus treating me to flowers on board and two generous on-board credit packages. I usually do my own cruise bookings, but was glad for the professional assistance with this Crystal booking. If you want extraordinary service on a meticulously run and elegant medium-sized cruise ship, with multiple dining and activity options, plus a passenger contingent of sociable, mature, well-traveled adults, Crystal offers cruises which will far exceed your expectations all over the world. This is not a “stuffy” or “snob” cruise line, but rather a nearly-perfect cruise experience on two ships which travel the world. Such is the popularity of its cruises and dedication of loyal repeat passengers that some 2016 cruises are already nearly fully booked, and the historic Northwest Passage month-long cruise in 2016 is already sold out with hundreds on a waiting list. I had expected my trip to be a one-time splurge, but it was so wonderful that I’m booked on the “Crystal Symphony” in the future. Having experienced this level of quality in cruising, it will be very difficult to go back to the usual and ordinary cruise experience. Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
We just completed our first Crystal Cruise, the 7-day Maritime Explorer out of Quebec City, with planned stops at Sept Iles, the Magdalene Islands and Saint Pierre and Miquelon returning to Quebec City. My wife and I are experienced ... Read More
We just completed our first Crystal Cruise, the 7-day Maritime Explorer out of Quebec City, with planned stops at Sept Iles, the Magdalene Islands and Saint Pierre and Miquelon returning to Quebec City. My wife and I are experienced cruises, having Elite status on Celebrity Cruises and have also cruised a number of times on Holland America as well as Princess and Cunard. If there is a theme for this review it’s to try and answer the question “for us, was the extra cost of Crystal worth it?” To come to a conclusion, here are our thoughts on various aspects of the cruise. EMBARKATION/DISEMBARKATION The smoothest and fastest we’ve ever experienced. In fact, we were off the ship and into a cab almost a half hour before our scheduled time of disembarkation (living in Canada, we came by car so were not subject to airline or bus timetables). One factor that may have contributed to the rapid disembarkation was that despite our six hours in French Saint Pierre, we didn’t have to clear customs upon leaving the ship. STATEROOM We had a B2 cabin on deck 8 with a partly obstructed view (the onboard gangway was stowed directly below our veranda, preventing us from looking directly down onto the promenade deck or seeing anything in the water that might be close to the ship). Not an annoyance for most passengers. The cabin itself was no different in size or furnishings than any veranda cabin on any mass market cruise ship however with upscale touches as as leather upholstery on the loveseat rather than fabric. The sheets were upscale, the mattress definitely was not! Holland America, with its Euro-top mattresses, wins this one hands down! The bathroom does feature two sinks and tub with shower. At prime showering times (mornings and before dinner) the water was lukewarm no matter how high you turned the knob. Nice toiletries and towels, though. We had the impression that our cabin attendant spent her day trying to keep up with the work load. On at least half of the days, the cabin wasn’t made up until mid-afternoon, which made catching an after lunch nap problematic at best. However, when the job was done it was done well. We appreciated the free self-serve laundry on our deck and the environmental concern in not providing fresh towels when not needed or desired. FOOD Dinner in the main dining room was certainly a few notches above the mass market lines, but there were glitches. The steak we ordered one night was on the tough side, but everything was beautifully presented and arrived hot. The soups were especially good, as were the desserts. And you had the luxury of ordering off the menu for the following day if you so desired. Prego, the Italian restaurant was superb – as good or better than any Italian restaurants I’ve enjoyed in Canada or the US. We didn’t try Silk Roads, the Oriental/Sushi restaurant. Tastes, a sort of informal global tapas restaurant, was excellent in the evening incarnation The Lido buffet was ordinary – no different than the buffet on any mainstream line. On our cruise there were two “theme” lunches; the oriental which was quite nice and the American which was ho-hum. A high price for southern fried chicken kept warm under a heat lamp! There were enough staff to keep your coffee cup filled and to carry your plate to your table if you so desired. At breakfast, other than the fresh-squeezed orange jucie, your could have been eating breakfast in the buffet on any mass market cruise ship. The included wine selections for meals were excellent and we never felt the need to try the extra cost wine list. EXCURSIONS We only took one (the Magdalene islands stop was cancelled due to rough seas which made tendering impossible) but the one we took in Sept Iles was well organized and competitively priced. We had to cancel a second excursion and our charge was refunded with no questions asked, even if it was slightly after the deadline printed on the ticket. ENTERTAINMENT We’re not big on the production shows, but the one we attended was excellent as were the bands, string quartet and piano bar type entertainment. We didn’t attend any of the cultural lectures but we heard from others that they were very well done and informative. I did take a computer course on a day at sea and the instructors were excellent as was the instructor for the one workshop attended by my wife. The ship also has an excellent well-stocked library which includes, in addition to books, a huge selection o f CDs and DVDs (Now if only I had been able to figure out how to work the DVD player in the cabin – absolutely no instructions were provided). I gave up after a half hour. SUMMING IT UP It’s wonderful to be able to have a second (or even third) single malt without worrying about the bill at the end of the cruise. Also the lack of nickel and diming for every soft drink, cappuccino, etc. The food options are great. And there was no subtle “I’d appreciate a nice tip for the service I’m providing” from any of the staff. All of the crew were warm friendly and made an effort to remember your name. But is the cost/benefit there? I’m still not sure, but I think I’d do Crystal again if the itinerary and timing are right – and our budget permits.   Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
My wife and I just returned from a North Atlantic Crossing on-board Crystal Serenity. We have sailed Crystal Serenity many times and for us the overall cruising experience gets better each and every time. The crossing included stops at ... Read More
My wife and I just returned from a North Atlantic Crossing on-board Crystal Serenity. We have sailed Crystal Serenity many times and for us the overall cruising experience gets better each and every time. The crossing included stops at several ports, while also offering several days at sea in which to enjoy the ultimate in enrichment that is offered by Crystal Cruises on each and every sea day. Over 50 enrichment programs are offered in the morning and afternoon on sea days. This voyage also incorporate two different theme cruises; Food and Wine and a Golf Theme Cruise all into one. The evening also included lots of great entertainment including acts from land to complement an array of on board production shows. Cuisine was better than ever as we the outstanding service. The ship sailed at essentially a 100 percent occupancy rate but with lots of public room space you would never know it was full. This was an outstanding cruise and we look forward to returning to Serenity later in the year. Read Less
Sail Date September 2014
This cruise was our second crystal cruise. Last year we sailed from Venice to Rome and had an amazing time! The shore excursions were top notch and the service was amazing. The ship was quiet and there was a wonderful lack of children. We ... Read More
This cruise was our second crystal cruise. Last year we sailed from Venice to Rome and had an amazing time! The shore excursions were top notch and the service was amazing. The ship was quiet and there was a wonderful lack of children. We raved about Crystal for a year to everyone that would listen. We couldn't wait to get back on board. This trip, from Lisbon to Barcelona, was our honeymoon. It was a terrible experience, crowded with children and it did not justify the high costs. Because of the immense frustration level felt almost on a daily basis, we will not be going back onboard any time soon with Crystal. Dining--- First of all, we had requested a nice table for 2 by the windows ( which we were able to get) at the late dining time for romantic evenings. To my shock, we were next to 2 large tables, both of which had children ( one of which was in a highchair playing with an electronic game that dinged and played repetitive music the entire time.). The waiters, while extremely friendly and polite, just were overwhelmed with the large parties and our service lacked. Food mediocre. We attempted to eat in the main dining room one other night but due to the noise from the surrounding tables we left before ordering and headed up to Prego. One of the large groups were dancers and actors from one of the shows. They were very boisterous oblivious to the disturbance they were causing. We never bothered to go back to the main dining room, instead, we ate the rest of our meals at the speciality restaurants or room service. What a shame. Two of the nights we went to Nobu. Food is amazing and one of the reasons we went back. (After our cruise last year we have flown to Dallas twice just to eat at the Nobu restaurant there). Service on board this year was okay, but not 5 stars. Again, I was shocked to see small children in the highchairs during our late night dining. Food at Prego was really good, but service was so-so. One of the nights we were seated by a noisy service station and endured quite colorful conversations. It lacked an attention to detail, as we often had to continually ask for things. We headed up to Tastes one evening and our experience was so awful that it was THE tipping point for us in realizing Crystal service had dropped to sub par. We were ignored while waiting to be seated, treated rudely, and had to ask continually for obvious things such as refills to napkins. No one was removing our empty glasses so we made a game of stacking them on the ledge next to us in order to get them off of the small table. Our "waitress" spent almost the entire time talking to the table next to us with her back turned. When we showed displeasure at the lack of service she became defensive and blamed it on another girl, saying that refills and removing dishes were "not her department." When she tried to offer dessert we politely said that we were finished and stood up to leave, she followed us out and continued to argue with us that she, being our waitress was not responsible for service standards. It was really shameful and even worse because the manager or head waiter was standing right there watching the entire thing. I say that it is all a shame because the food we did have was really really good! Our last night on board we waited until late and ate at the Sushi bar in Nobu. It was an amazing experience. The Sushi chefs were entertaining and spoiled us rotten the entire time we were there. The bistro cafe was one of our favorite places. We spent a lot of time in there. Cheeses and pastries were decadent. You could piano trickling up from Crystal Cove below which just added to the relaxation. Activities---- Shore Excursions were top notch on our last sailing, but this time very disorganized and overcrowded. They varied in quality wildly. Kids. Kids. Kids. I wish that we had arranged excursions on our own as it would have made such a difference in our experience of these remarkable cities. Spa- tried to book the couples massage, but the room was unavailable. My husband and I chose to have separate massages at the same time. Very relaxing and pleasant experience from check-in to massage. We loved our massages. However, I was displeased when at the end of my massage and about to get dressed, she presented with a slip to sign if I wanted to give her an extra tip (on top of the automatic gratuity amount) and a sales pitch to buy anti-cellulite products. Sorry, but no. Cabin We booked a verandah cabin 9009. Very comfortable bed and cozy room. Roomy bathroom with double sinks and a generous sized shower tub combo. Plenty of space to spread out and relax. I usually love to keep my door open to listen to the water, but not able to do so as my neighbor had their tv on quite loud and it would drift into our cabin. This also made breakfast on the verandah sometimes difficult as I was forced to listen to their tv if I wanted to sit outside. The housekeeper was very nice. Friendly and always smiling. The Aveda products are not replenished throughout the trip. We never had a fresh fruit bowl despite asking on the first day. The sodas and waters in the minibar were never restocked unless we called room service and asked for it to be done. Room service- top notch service. No matter what time I picked up that phone and asked for something, and no matter what I asked for, it was always delivered quickly and with a friendly smiling face. Bernie was our steward most of the time and he's truly dedicated and hard working. I cannot say enough about these hard working crew members. Of all the extra gratuities we paid at the end of the cruise, a large majority went to the room service crew. My morning breakfast was always delivered punctually and made the start of the day wonderful. With such awful service elsewhere on the ship you can really see the Crystal standards upheld by them. I give room service a standing ovation. This brings me to another point. The front desk customer service. One day after coming back from 6 hours of hell on a shore excursion, I attempted to take an afternoon nap. A horrible banging sound started up and continued to escalate. It was metal upon metal. When a second hammer joined in, I called the front desk. The guy who answered the phone said that he would "look in to it." After 20 minutes and there was no abatement to the noise I called again. A female answered the phone and said that she would look into it. Another 20 minutes and the racket is intolerable. I get dressed and go downstairs to the promenade deck and notice immediately the workers on ladders banging metal hammers on the metal ship beneath our cabin. I proceed to the front desk where I told them exactly what was causing the noise. Finally, over an hour after it started the noise was stopped. Why could these things not be done while guests are off the boat for the majority of the day? There was no apology or concern over my visible displeasure. My husband, who does not have the same exacting standards that I do, was quite disappointed overall. He would be more open to going back on Crystal at some point ( for Nobu), however we will be definitely be sailing on alternative luxury cruise lines first. Read Less
Sail Date August 2014
We are a couple in our mid-40's, and this was our first time on the Crystal Serenity. This is our second time on a luxury ship though, as we have cruised on the Silver Wind before. Embarkation at Ciitavechhia was speedy and ... Read More
We are a couple in our mid-40's, and this was our first time on the Crystal Serenity. This is our second time on a luxury ship though, as we have cruised on the Silver Wind before. Embarkation at Ciitavechhia was speedy and efficient. We found our stateroom with a balcony to be very clean, and the bed and beddings were quite plush and comfortable, especially after a long flight. The food was the best thing about this cruise- we ate once at Prego, and twice at Silk Road. I know many customers book this ship just to eat at Silk Road. The second best thing was the unlimited alcohol! The sommeliers and bartenders were the best. Activities were varied, and kept us occupied. The guest lecturers were excellent. The only strange thing was that all the musicians and bands stop playing at 6pm sharp and don't resume until 7:30, so for this period of time it's a completely quiet ship. I suggest that management stagger the dinner breaks, so that there's always at least one venue with live music. Regarding the entertainment, we had to watch the Crystal Singers & Dancers three times on a 6-night cruise, and that was a bit much. The gym is up-to-date, and open 24 hours. The library is well-stocked. Service in the specialty restaurants was impeccable; but the staff in the main dining room was a bit harrassed. Housekeeping was inconsistent, sometimes late, so we just learned everyday to ask them to clean our room when we went for our shore excursions. They were stingy with the Aveda toilet amenities, and would not replace them unless we asked, even if they were clearly almost used up. On the Silver Wind, the Bulgari soaps/shampoos/conditioners are replenished twice a day. Disembarkation was smooth. Read Less
Sail Date August 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 wife and I checked in to stateroom 7069 on 13th July in Barcelona. There is a lot to say, so let me break it down into sections: Stateroom: This was beautifully appointed for sure, but a few things annoyed me. I am a little over 6ft 3, ... Read More
My wife and I checked in to stateroom 7069 on 13th July in Barcelona. There is a lot to say, so let me break it down into sections: Stateroom: This was beautifully appointed for sure, but a few things annoyed me. I am a little over 6ft 3, and I found the bed a little short. The TV was in the far right hand corner above the vanity and quite difficult to look at from the bed area. The sofa was covered in very fancy cushions making it impossible to sit there unless you threw them all on the floor. For 226 sq feet, it felt smaller, because there was so much furniture and decoration everywhere, but very attractive. By the way, no chocolate on the pillow at night. The bathroom had 2 sinks, was all marble and glass, with a decent sized bath for a cabin this size. The best bathroom I have ever had on a cruise ship. Pool deck: Rearranged with a more contemporary country club feel, this was well organized and various seating options as well as plentiful beds for sunbathing. It was too hot for us, so we stayed in the shade. The saltwater pool and surrounding Jacuzzis were delightful. Crystal Dining Room: Wonderful standard of food and presentation. Best steaks I have eaten anywhere, wonderful deserts. Some of the staff were undertrained by 6 star standards and did not know how to attend to people at this level with some embarrassing results. The head waiters were always buzzing around to make sure everything was taken care of. No deserts prepared tableside as we were expecting which was a little disappointing. The 6.15 seating is much too early for dinner in the med in July, but we were with older relatives so we had no choice. Bistro: Oh boy - this is where I easily put away a bonus 1000 calories a day on scones, smoked salmon, cheese and cappuccinos. How can you resist? One of the best places on the ship with superb service. Lido/Tastes: Again, wonderful food, but the service stations are all the place, and if you want to get some butter to go with your roll and soup, good luck in finding it. I did not care very much for the layout. Tastes is where you are served in a wonderful atrium setting under an umbrella. The food was great and lovely window views. Bars: The drinks flow as you like, but the lack of quality canapés was a shock. Sometimes there would just be one offering and if you did not like it, too bad, there was nothing else - why? was I still hungry! Also, the pianists seem to finish just as I sat down, and I never caught more than 15 minutes of their playing. Gym and Spa: For a small ship this was fine. Dumbbells up to 60lbs and good resistance machines and nice treadmills. No lat pulldown machine for back, which I thought was strange. Small locker rooms with beautiful sauna and steam and great showers. I used this as my personal spa in the evening and this was one of the highlights for me. For a seven night cruise, the steam room was out of order for 2 of them. Evening entertainment: This was very limited to only a 45 min performance here and there. Found myself wandering around at 9.30pm in search of something to do that was not the casino. The song and dance routines were not great and some of the song selections from the musicals were very obscure. They had cut the entertainment budget to pay for the drinks, and it showed. Casino: Not like it used to be. Any Vegas or cruise ship casino, gone was the glamour, the cream leather and staff walking around with drinks and canapés. Also, I lost a bundle! Palm Court: A very nice area for tea with the string quartet playing in the background. The Mozart tea was fabulous, the other tea times were pretty bland. For all the culinary awards they do not know how to make tea sandwiches. Plus they come round and offer you everything all at once, which is not how it is done. Cinema: This is another highlight for me. What a wonderful room. I watched Noah with Russell Crowe and Billy Crystal's 700 Sundays. Really nice venue and not busy. Summary: In a 1973 film called La Grande Bouffe, 4 friends decide to eat themselves to death. On day 5 of my cruise, at about 6.30pm I thought I was having a heart attack. I spent the whole evening with the most terrible indigestion and heartburn, which was gone by the time I fell asleep. I missed Wiener Schnitzel night, my favorite as well! There is an enormous amount of high quality cuisine and alcohol on this ship. Because we only had 7 days, I treated it like an endless buffet and my body reacted badly. After day 2, I couldn't drink anymore booze despite the wonderful wines they were offering with dinner. I couldn't even finish a pre-dinner cocktail. If you are going to put Filet Mignon, Rack of Lamb, Roast Turkey etc on the menu, I am going to eat like the last supper. Unless you are extremely restrained on your consumption, this can be difficult to manage. As my emphasis is more on training and spa and diet on these cruises, I am not sure the Crystal experience makes any sense for me, and I am sure my Doctor would agree. But if you are going to Grande Bouffe, what a way to do it! 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
This was our fifth Crystal cruise and our third onboard the Crystal Serenity and, as it had recently undergone a multi-million pound refit, we were looking forward to seeing the changes. As our flight to Venice did not arrive until quite ... Read More
This was our fifth Crystal cruise and our third onboard the Crystal Serenity and, as it had recently undergone a multi-million pound refit, we were looking forward to seeing the changes. As our flight to Venice did not arrive until quite late in the evening ,we spent one night in a hotel near the airport prior to joining the ship the next morning. After a welcome night’s sleep and a good breakfast it was only a short private coach transfer, organised by our hotel, to the port. We would always recommend staying at least one night prior to the cruise either in, or near to, the embarkation port. Embarkation Day When we arrived at the port the embarkation desks were just about to open so we were soon processed and onboard the ship where the formal check in took place in the main lobby area and, as usual, this was done very quickly and efficiently. We were then free to have lunch in the Trident grill, which we washed down with a very welcome glass of champagne, and felt that our holiday had really begun. During lunch we were delighted to meet up again with some familiar and friendly faces, namely crew members whom we had met on previous cruises. This made us feel very welcome and as if we had come home again. By the time we had finished lunch, our stateroom was ready and we were able to unpack and relax in the sun by the pool. Our verandah stateroom was located on Deck 8, towards the bow of the ship. The Ship Thankfully the layout of the ship had not been changed as a result of the refit so we already were familiar with all the public areas. In view of the recent refit we had expected to find some dramatic changes , however, these seem to have been confined mostly to the refurbishment of the staterooms and the creation of the new ‘Tastes’ restaurant in the area around the former Trident pool. The staterooms looked very smart and well kept, however, the biggest improvement was the removal of the old Trident pool and the creation of the ‘Tastes’ restaurant. The old Trident pool was previously a bit of a dead space and the revamp (including screens, plants and new furniture) is a great innovation. As usual all the public areas throughout the ship were spotlessly clean and it never ceases to amaze us that this is all done without guests even being aware that it is happening. We did hear some negative comments about large rust marks at the bottom of the Seahorse pool which guests thought would have been addressed during the refit. Our Stateroom Stewardess looked after us very well and kept us well supplied with towels and ice. Food and drinks The standard of the food on board was excellent in all the eating venues as usual. We usually had breakfast outside at the excellent ‘Lido’ buffet where we could sit and view the port we were visiting that day. For lunch we varied between the ‘Lido’ buffet and the ‘Tastes’ restaurant and, when at the latter, always ensuring to get dessert from the extensive selection at the ‘Lido’. It is hard to single out any particular member of crew for praise, however, Bruno from Portugal was a delight with attentive service and always time for a chat. We had dinner every evening in the Main Dining Room, apart from three nights when we ate in the ‘Prego’ , ‘Silk Road’ and ‘Tastes’ restaurants. The menu choice and standard food in the main Dining Room was excellent and the experience was enhanced by our very efficient and jovial Head Waiter Zoltan – we loved his sense of humour. Our Spanish Sommelier was very attentive the standard of the wines served was first class. We went to ‘Prego’ once during the cruise in the company of two new- found friends and everyone thoroughly enjoyed both the food and the calm ambience. On another night we went to ‘Silk Road’ and were tempted to try dishes which we would not normally choose and it turned out to be a wonderful experience. We decided to try the less formal ‘Tastes’ restaurant on another evening, however, we found the menu a bit confusing and would not have rushed back again. We were told that the evening menu did not change from day to day and think that this may deter guests making a second visit. We indulged ourselves with afternoon tea in the Palm Court on a few occasions; however, our big vice was afternoon tea and cakes in ‘The Bistro’. We were aware that the Bistro was now open later in the evenings, however, by that stage we had usually eaten too much already so we did not make it there. It was clearly popular with guests who wanted to sit and relax with a cup of tea or coffee after dinner so the longer opening hours are definitely a welcome innovation. Our favourite bars were ‘Crystal Cove’ and ‘the Avenue Saloon’, mainly due to the great staff working there. We always had pre-dinner drinks in ‘Crystal Cove’ and had great craic with the bar staff, Afzal and Alex, who were not only very good at their job but they made us feel like old friends. We would invariably meet the same guests there every night as they also loved the relaxed, friendly atmosphere fostered by all the staff. We liked to go to the ‘Avenue Saloon’ after dinner as it was a very comfortable place to relax, chat with fellow guests and sing along to the piano. We also enjoyed a few late nights in the ‘Pulse’ nightclub, especially on the karaoke nights hosted by the lovely Hayley from the Reception desk. The Ports of Call All our previous Crystal cruises had been around the Mediterranean and we were looking forward to this particular cruise because it was visiting some ports new to us. Venice – We decided not to brave the crowds this time and just relax onboard, enjoying the peace and quiet while all the other guests went off sightseeing. A former Captain of the Crystal Serenity once said that ‘the ship can be your holiday destination in itself’ and we heartily agree with that sentiment. Kotor , Montenegro – We had been told that this was a very beautiful part of the world and they were correct. Sailing slowly between spectacular wooded landscapes was really magical and you could sense the excitement of the crew who hailed from the region. We docked just a stone’s throw from Kotor and it was a very picturesque place. Taormina, Sicily – We booked the Crystal transfer into the town and it was well worth the ride. A beautiful place with lots of character, cafes, bars and shops, including some very upmarket designer ones. Recommended viewing. Sorrento – We had been here several times before with Crystal, however, it was nice to get off the ship for a short while just to stretch the legs and have a little retail therapy. Civitavecchia, Italy- We did not want to visit Rome on this occasion so we opted for a post-breakfast stroll around Civitavecchia and a coffee before heading back to the ship for lunch. It is a much larger town than we had remembered but a few hours was enough time there. Monte Carlo/ Monaco – It was purely by accident that we found ourselves on this cruise which coincided with the Monte Carlo rally and there were lots of ‘petrol heads’ onboard who had booked this cruise especially to be there. Even though we were not race enthusiasts there was a growing sense of anticipation when we arrived in Monte Carlo on the day of the race. Unfortunately we were not moored in Monte Carlo bay, as on previous occasions, but just round the headland so we did not have the usual spectacular view of Monte Carlo, however, we were certainly made well aware of all the build up to the race. From early morning there was a constant shuttle of private helicopters overhead, undoubtedly carrying the rich and famous to their stretch limos and onto the race. It was fascinating to watch and the mind boggled at what it must all be costing! The following day we ventured into Monte Carlo hoping the place would have returned to normality and perhaps engage in a bit of star spotting, however, many areas were still sealed off and barriers were still being removed. Sorry to report no sightings of George Clooney or Nicole Scherzinger – maybe next time? Livorno – Unless you are heading to Florence, Livorno is not a pretty place to spend too much time in. Barcelona – Having visited the city many times before we used our last day of the cruise to have a wander around and enjoy some sangria and tapas with two fellow guests who had by now become firm friends. A lovely way to end to a very happy cruise. Entertainment It is a pity that the live band does not play every afternoon on the Lido deck at sail away, however, they did play on the ‘sea day’ and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it- even the crew working on deck got into the spirit and were dancing in the aisles! The Crew The crew, as ever, made the whole cruise special and, although we have mentioned by name those with whom we probably had the most contact, we must praise all crew for their efficiency, friendliness and patience. . They are Crystal’s biggest asset. Overall cruise experience This was a very relaxing and enjoyable cruise and we loved every minute. We met some great fellow passengers with whom we are still in contact and we look forward to planning our next Crystal cruise in 2015 when a certain someone will be celebrating a milestone birthday – and I do not mean a 21st. It is Crystal clear to see that this cruise line keeps up the excellent work!   Read Less
Sail Date May 2014
Truly an exceptional experience in terms of being taken care of, feeling safe and completely content. The food is spectacular (not easily said since I am a gourmet home chef) . The staff go out of their way to make you feel welcome and ... Read More
Truly an exceptional experience in terms of being taken care of, feeling safe and completely content. The food is spectacular (not easily said since I am a gourmet home chef) . The staff go out of their way to make you feel welcome and at-home. The toughest part of a Crystal Cruise is the depressed feeling you get when you return to normal living and suddenly discover all that exceptional service has disappeared in Crystal's wake! We were very impressed with the way that Crystal seems to approach virtually any task. Whatever they do, they do it with class, excellent organization and customer safety in mind. If it is a Crystal event or excursion, you can be certain it is worth the price. We also greatly enjoyed having all gratuities and alcohol included in the booking fare. One other thing to mention: all of the people we met onboard were affable, well-mannered and educated. This is not the cruise line for frat parties, spoiled kids or noisy drunks.   Read Less
Sail Date May 2014
We decided that a Crystal Getaway would make the perfect Easter break, especially as Serenity would be visiting a favourite city, Bordeaux. This newly renovated ship is a favourite, and the latest makeover is truly elegant and stylish. ... Read More
We decided that a Crystal Getaway would make the perfect Easter break, especially as Serenity would be visiting a favourite city, Bordeaux. This newly renovated ship is a favourite, and the latest makeover is truly elegant and stylish. We embarked in Southampton, an easy train ride from our Midlands home, and were speedily whisked through embarkation, our luggage all taken care of, and ambled to the Pool deck to enjoy a freshly cooked meal, and celebrate with nicely chilled champagne. Naturally the toast was " to the good life" Soon after we had enjoyed a leisurely lunch, our cabin was ready, a pleasant , comfortable Deck 8 balcony cabin, with delightful neutral furnishings, quality bedding and cosy robes . Luggage had already been delivered, and our friendly efficient stewardess appeared to ask for any pillow preferences or special requests. She made sure that our order for champagne and fruit basket would be delivered later.m The spacious teak decks were then perfect for strolling in the Southampton sunshine, and later we enjoyed a swim in the warm pool. Now that there are few smoking areas, we were able to enjoy sitting in Cove bar as a pianist played and pre dinner drinks can be sipped in a smoke free atmosphere. As the sun began to sink, we enjoyed sitting in the gorgeous Palm court, looking out to sea as the ship slipped quietly out of port to the strains of " Wonderful World" sung by Louis Armstrong, Crystal's sailaway signature tune, and again , raised our glasses in a toast to Crystal cruises. Dining is of course, a major event on any cruise ship, but Crystal elevate it to high levels, wherever one chooses to dine. The brand new Modern menu in the Crystal dining room provided the most amazing menus we have enjoyed anywhere. Light, delicious, innovative and prepared beautifully. The sauces were amazing, the dishes creative , utterly appetising and yet did not leave you feeling over full. Naturally, the sommeliers assisted in suggesting delightful, quality wines to accompany such delights. We dined once in the speciality Prego, with attentive service,offering tried and tested Italian favourites, beautifully presented and so delicious. Since we were in port overnight , in Bordeaux, we opted for the more casual Tastes one evening, enjoying the tapas style menus, sharing dishes whilst seated under a lovely olive tree. As always, Crystal excel in the quality of entertainment and enrichment, with daily programmes of superb lectures, lessons and activities, but it is equally pleasant to sit by the pool, or on a sofa in a quiet spot, enjoying a book for the superb , well stocked library. More active passengers participated in sports, Nordic walking and golf lessons, and a large group enjoyed the excellent dance lessons on board, many practising their newly learned steps as the band played each evening. The evening entertainment highlight for us this short cruise was a one- off show, Serenity Pops, with a big band assembled from every musician on board, the orchestra, a Philharmonic sextet, soloists, and the delightful violin quartet who usually play genteel melodies for afternoon tea. It was a wonderful show, with musicians clearly enjoying demonstrating their considerable talents. As we drew into Lisbon, we felt a real wrench that we had to leave after such a short cruise,but are fortunate in knowing that we would be back soon.   Read Less
Sail Date April 2014

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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