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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.