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.
The room is small, which is made clear in the promotional materials, but very nicely laid out and well appointed. (There was, however, a strange art print on the wall across from the foot of our bed -- some sort of amateurish fantasy castle and village scene.) The room was just fine for us. On one day the ship opened up some larger cabins that weren't take so the passengers could have a look. The 8000 (where ours was) and 9000 cabins are all 269 square feet, including veranda. The penthouse with veranda model on 10000 deck, though at 403 square feet including veranda felt little larger. On the 11000 deck there are some 538 foot suites, two rooms divided by a curtain, which give you more of a small hotel room feel, at a cost. We talked to one couple that had taken two of the 269 square foot cabins, which wouldn't be a bad idea if you are willing to pay the price.