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I am an adventurous active solo traveler who likes unusual itineraries and more remote parts of the world. I’ve cruised on at least 12 cruise lines, and the Northwest Passage Expedition Cruise on the “Crystal Serenity” was a unique and remarkable experience for my 49th cruise. The inaugural Northwest Passage Expedition Cruise sailed a distance of approximately 8,370 sea miles. It visited three ports in Alaska, three Native communities in the Canadian Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and three local communities in Greenland before visiting four east coast ports in the United States. The cruise began in Seward, Alaska on August 16, 2016 and ended in New York City, New York on September 17, 2016. Reaching Seward, Alaska where the cruise began was an adventure in itself. I live in a remote part of the country and it took four days of leisurely flying to reach Seward. I positioned the night before my first flight at the Boston Logan Airport Hilton, a favorite for years. At stop-over cities, I stayed at Hilton’s new Home2Suites several times and enjoyed it very much. It’s not for fans of luxury hotels, but it served my needs perfectly, with each hotel room being a tiny home away from home. I flew to Seward, Alaska from Anchorage, Alaska with a locally well-respected and expert bush pilot, enjoying some hands-on time flying myself as a licensed private pilot. Crystal Cruise Line provided complimentary coach transfer service for passengers from Anchorage to Seward, but I preferred to see something of the area on my own without the long bus ride. My night in Seward before the cruise was spent at the outstanding Bell in the Woods bed and breakfast, which definitely lives up to its rave reviews with its beautiful large house, welcoming family owners, and marvelous breakfast. I’ve sailed on the “Crystal Serenity” twice before, and was happy to see this lovely ship at the pier in Seward. The “Serenity” is 68,870 tons, and has the appearance of a very large yacht with classic lines. Its white paint sparkles with dedicated maintenance, as does everything else on this elegant 13 year old ship. The ship is 820 feet long and has a beam of 106 feet. There are 13 decks, nine of which are passenger decks. Speed averages 21 to 22 knots under optimum conditions. Full passenger capacity is 1,070, with a crew of 655. On the Expedition cruise, I heard various numbers with regard to number of passengers on board, but it was probably around 1,000. There is never a feeling of being crowded on the “Serenity”. Each passenger deck has a complimentary laundry room with washers, dryers, ironing board, and all products needed to wash anything. There is a TV and chairs for comfortable waiting, and often the laundry areas were mini social centers while people did their laundry. The usual luxury cruise ship facilities were available, with several choices of dining styles and places to enjoy the copious amounts of spectacular food. There is a dedicated computer laboratory space, very adequate and well equipped fitness center, spa with all the services anybody could ask for, a theater, several lounges, large photo gallery, sun deck, tennis and golf activity scaled to cruise ship dimensions, jogging track, meeting and function space, a beautiful central atrium and plaza, with the deck above it filled with luxury goods shops and a bistro. There is a large reception and concierge desk in the atrium, and a small bar. The promenade deck is accessible from Deck 7, and has teakwood decking. Best of all, the promenade deck is one level which completely circles the ship for easy walking and jogging. There are elevators and stairs at the fore, midships and aft ends of the ship. Fine woods, lovely unique artwork, stone, marble, and a spectacular colored glass mosaic wall with a waterfall grace the central, all-purpose atrium area. Cabin deck corridors have mirrored walls and soft carpet with muted colors. The entire ship has a soft, whispered feel of luxury and comfort. A few privileged people actually live aboard this ship. All alcoholic beverages and soft drinks are included in the cruise ticket price, and Crystal gifts guests with little surprises throughout the voyage. Printed daily bulletins are professionally printed on good quality paper. On the Expedition cruise, high-quality binoculars were in every cabin, and detailed printed information booklets were provided to enhance the experience. Embarkation was very slightly delayed due to the baggage drop area not being open on schedule. No definite explanation was ever provided for this, but the few passengers like myself who waited about 25 minutes outdoors socialized and enjoyed the experience. We were on the cruise of a lifetime, so why worry about a short delay, after all, and the weather was cool and dry. Once the bags were collected, a quick check through security in the cruise terminal was completed and I was eagerly walking up the boarding ramp to the “Serenity”. The welcoming crew would qualify as staff at royal palace, and once inside, glasses of champagne were offered. A large group of check-in staff were seated at an elegant white table, and I was quickly invited to check in by a smiling gentleman at his station. A photo was taken for the cabin key/ID card, a few papers were checked, and passport collected. It probably took less than five minutes, and I was officially on board. Crystal has this function perfected –far nicer than standing in long, irritable lines in some freezing or overheated shed at a pier. I went to the dining room for a lovely lunch, enjoyed at a small private table next to a window so I could watch the boarding process, and had the odd experience of actually seeing my two large bags placed on the luggage conveyor belt right in front of me. The Northwest Passage Expedition Cruise was a first, as no cruise ship of this size, or indeed any major cruise ship, had ever completed this long itinerary before. There was a feeling of excited anticipation among the passengers, many of whom are veterans of multiple world cruises and other long voyages. The passenger contingent on this trip was mainly senior age, mostly retired, mostly appearing very well off financially. Other than one very young child who came aboard towards the end of the voyage, I did not see any children. There were many couples traveling, as well as a good number of solo travelers. Cabins were generally available by 3 PM. Hand baggage may be checked easily in the atrium area upon check-in, which I did, and luggage appears in the cabin promptly, usually being there before the guest arrives. I had a midships cabin with a huge picture window on Promenade Deck 7. The cabin was slightly smaller than on other ships, perhaps, but good use is made of every inch. There was a closet with sliding doors, and within the closet are racks for hanging things and plenty of wood and some padded hangers. Need more hangers – just ask the cabin attendant. A large umbrella, shoe care kit, shoehorn and racks for shoes are in the closet. Mohair small blankets and terry slippers and luxurious robe were also provided. Twin beds were combined to form a king bed. There is a unit containing a small refrigerator, desk area, mirror, flat-screen TV with DVD player, and several small shelves as well as drawers. The small refrigerator contained bottled water, soft drinks, and some alcoholic drinks. Contents may be exchanged to suit a guest’s preferences, which I did. There was a small height-adjustable glass-topped table for in-room dining or other uses. A small leather sofa with soft pillows was positioned near the large picture window. Windows in these cabins have one-way glass. The guest sees out, but those outside cannot see in (unless the light is on inside at night). There are blackout drapes and sheer curtains for the window. The floor is carpeted completely. There is an upholstered chair at the desk. Two marble nightstands flank the bed. There are a lot of light fixtures in the cabin, in various locations. One telephone resides on a bedside table. Light controls are at various locations in the cabin, including the bed area. There are welcome large coat hooks in the tiny entrance hallway in the cabin. The desk/shelf/cabinet unit in the cabin was a warm wood tone, as were the closet doors and other wood structures. Bedside tables were white wood and marble. The sofa was an odd grayish-green color. The desk chair was an ivory color with elaborate green patterns woven in. Bed linens were white, with a brown-gray patterned throw at the foot of the bed to protect the clean linens during the day. A lovely soft duvet and comforter provided perfect warmth and comfort on the bed. Four huge feather pillows were on the bed, and there is a pillow menu if other pillows are desired. There is storage room beneath the beds, but my two large bags were too thick to fit and ended up in the closet. A very useful feature is a touch pad “doorbell” system, where a single touch can light up an indicator for “do not disturb”, “cleanup service” or “bell”. No sign on the door handle outside, and no confusion or unwanted entry. Staff always rings the bell no matter what so as not to intrude. The large bathroom is beautiful. There is a full-size tub with hand-held shower spray. The tub has a shower curtain, and a clear acrylic panel at the faucet end of the tub area. The usual vacuum shipboard toilet seemed larger and more comfortable than the usual equipment found on most ships. There was a recessed storage area for four large thick bath towels, and a towel rack for hand towels. Washcloths were placed on the elegant granite sink top area. High-end Italian toiletries in large plastic tubes were provided. If guests needed other brands of soap and lotion, a request to the cabin attendant brought whatever was needed. A clear plastic container on the glass shelf above the double sink area contained cotton balls and wrapped Q-tips, and these items were replenished as needed or on request. Kleenex and toilet paper were high quality (but truly “eco-friendly”). There was beautiful mosaic tile work in the bathroom, a tile floor, and the beautiful granite sink top area. Having two sinks would be very nice for two cabin occupants. The sink top area itself was curved, with the central part curving in. It provided a nice area to wedge myself into and remain stabilized during some rough sailing, freeing both hands for washing while not needing to hold onto something. I don’t know if the designers thought of this when creating the sink top, but it was perfect for me. Very good ventilation in the bathroom, and bright but indirect lighting. Multiple small shelves held everything, and there was a built-in hair dryer (another hand-held dryer was in a bag in the closet). A small textured cotton bath rug was on the floor, adding to comfort for bare feet in the bathroom. There was a telephone in the bathroom. Towels were white terry, and generally quite thick. They smelled fresh and clean, and in all the long cruise I only saw one tiny speck of a stain on one bath towel. However, the towels are washed and bleached so thoroughly that they have a rather rough and scratchy texture. A large practical magnifying mirror was mounted next to the bathroom wall mirror, but it was not lighted. Small glasses were provided in the bathroom. Despite the relatively “cozy” size of my cabin, I had sufficient room for everything I brought, and was extremely comfortable the entire cruise. On a few rare occasions, I heard guests laughing or talking in the corridors late in the evening, but otherwise it was silent for those who retire to bed early. Announcements were made on a dedicated TV channel, rather than blasting intrusively into the cabins during the day. If an announcement involved a safety issue, or something unique on the itinerary, or anything else of true importance, it was broadcast into the cabin speaker as well as throughout the ship. Speaking of announcements, the ship’s captain was an unusually well-spoken Norwegian with years of experience and a great sense of humor. I always enjoyed hearing his comments during the voyage, as well as the noon nautical reports he broadcast from the bridge. This sociable veteran captain could be seen quite often, circulating about the ship on inspection tours and somehow always finding time for a photo with passengers or a brief chat. Despite all the obvious luxury on “Serenity”, however, she is beginning to show her age. A last refurbishing was done in 2011, and the ship has had a lot of miles on her since then. The color scheme in my cabin was gray, black, brown for the most part, and it made the small space seem even smaller, as well as being somewhat depressing as the cruise had a lot of gray, dark days. The upholstered chair at the desk was visibly soiled at the top. The mattress was thick and mostly comfortable, but the twin mattress on the side of the bed facing the living space had a definite downward slope to it. I asked to have the mattresses flipped, but was told that wasn’t possible. I doubted this, as the mattresses appeared to be double-sided, but they are also curved at the ends. It wasn’t worth a hassle on such a nice trip, and I slept better on the ship than I ever do on land. The leather sofa also had seen serious use on one half, and sloped downward. The cabin lighting fixtures were numerous, but even with all of them on, the light was not sufficient to really see clearly when reading or applying makeup. The lights had a yellowish glow to them, and were seriously underpowered. Bathroom lighting was far better, but never really gave direct lighting where it was needed for hair or makeup. Some of the public space décor was an odd mix of various styles, and could be replaced for a more uniform and updated appearance. Color schemes tended to be a bit too conservative and dark, as well. Gray seemed to be a predominant color throughout the stairway carpeting and other areas such as cabin corridors. Amazingly, despite constant use and heavy foot traffic, the carpet always appeared fresh and clean all over the ship. Elevators were mirrored and sparkling with good lighting. “Serenity” is one of the cleanest and best-maintained ships I have ever sailed on, despite some obvious signs of well-loved use and some outdated furnishing and decorating. Service is legendary on Crystal ships, and it has not changed since I was on “Serenity” the past few years. I was delightfully surprised to be remembered by name by some of the crew, and we had great reunions and catch-up visits. Nothing seems impossible for the concierge staff, as everything is done with the softly spoken “my pleasure”. Things actually happen, appear, get done without any hassle or excuses. If there is a reason for a delay or problem, at least I found out what it was. The reception staff are enviably multilingual on this ship. Most speak English quite adequately, and with many charming accents. My room service stewards were incredibly cheerful for the early hour I had breakfast, and set up the table so elegantly and quickly each morning, as well as the few room-service lunches I enjoyed before early tours. Room service is lavish, both with a set menu and ability to order from the dining room menus during dining hours as well, and a nicely printed door handle card could be filled out and hung out at bedtime for breakfast service. My breakfast room service was either right on time to the second, or even a few minutes early, always. Every crew person I encountered, with very few exceptions, had a smile and appropriate greeting all over the ship. The security people, who can be silent and grim on other ships, were always nice and greeted returning guests with “welcome home” and a smile. My young female cabin attendant was from Portugal, where I have visited, and I asked her to help me with my limited ability in Portuguese language. She was a very patient teacher, and it was fun to practice. One of the reception desk gentlemen was a native German speaker, and he too was a very good teacher so I could practice. This cruise was a paradise for linguists, as between guests and passengers, many different languages were spoken and overheard. The service is still as famous, reliable, and exceptional as ever, and a definite star in Crystal’s crown. Crew members whose normal jobs did not usually involve shore excursions or other forms of assistance to guests were seen willingly helping out wherever they were needed. It was fun to see crew I remembered and who remembered me from other on-board venues as these cheerful staff worked on helping guests board Zodiacs, or welcoming me on shore in many locations. The Crystal Team concept is a reality, not just a slogan, with this cruise line. Activities covered a full spectrum for all tastes, beginning early in the morning and ending late in the evening. Usual cruise ship fun group activities such as trivia, Bingo, deck sports, fitness classes, information seminars mainly focusing on the spa offerings, fashion shows for the ship’s elegant boutique clothing department and magnificent gemstone jewelry shop (with willing guests as models – I did this in both shows and loved it!), hot tub and swimming pool, movies in a dedicated movie theater (beware the comfortable seats, which put a lot of us to sleep quickly), computer lab with various classes, art classes, knitting and needlework get-togethers, bridge sessions, mahjong, wine tasting, several lavish themed buffets, afternoon tea, and Christian and Jewish religious services by on-board clergy are just some of what was available daily, as listed in the ship’s bulletin “Reflections”. The very popular Zumba dance workouts were offered on every sea day by the hostess for the Expedition cruise. Hostess Stacey was an effervescent, indefatigable smiling bundle of energy and happiness, and a joy to visit with as well as dance with. Social get-togethers for various professional groups were offered. If one had the desire and energy, you could spend every waking hour doing something which was fun, educational, exercise, shopping, or eating. I did not even plan a day – just read the daily “Reflections” bulletin and enjoyed what I wanted to. Socializing among guests was spontaneous and really nice all over the ship at any time. Shopping was somewhat limited on board, but the beautifully arranged Apropos boutique had high-end designer clothing for women and men, as well as logo items from the cruise, personal care items on request, art objects, designer jewelry, and Dior cosmetics and perfumes. The fragrance in Apropos was divine. A knowledgeable energetic and courteous staff made spending a pleasure. Being pampered in the Spa several times definitely enhanced my cruise experience for me. There were several special sales of items from Russia and unique handbags and leather goods during the cruise. Two “sidewalk” sales in the atrium were huge hits, featuring logo items and collectibles from the Expedition cruise for the first sale, and then logo and collectible items from our faithful companion icebreaker, “Ernest Shackleton” which were brought over to us towards the end of the cruise. The “Shackleton” became a beloved sight every day of the expedition through the Northwest Passage, and it was very emotional and sad when she left to resume her polar research work once the cruise completed the Northwest Passage segments. In addition to a good variety of typical shipboard daily activities, a separate track of activities in conjunction with this historic Northwest Passage Expedition cruise evolved daily. Crystal hand-picked and assembled an international group of the world’s experts in everything to do with the Arctic, with university-level technical lectures on subjects such as Arctic wildlife, oceanography, ornithology, geography, geology, astronomy, meteorology, global warming and ice conditions, climate change, Native peoples and their customs and culture, and marine mammals. Lectures were presented live, and rebroadcast on cabin TVs continuously, which was a blessing considering the full days. The sociable Expedition guides and lecturers hosted a hospitality table during the cruise, and patiently answered questions and interacted with the fascinated, curious guests day after day. Ice charts and huge maps were on the wall behind the table, and I enjoyed seeing this large-scale depiction of our progress through the Passage and waters of this unique Arctic region. Wildlife sightings were also charted. Printed information in several languages was available at the hospitality table, as well as books by some of the distinguished Expedition staff. A legendary photographic expert from National Geographic was present for questions and lectures. Keeping up with the Expedition itself day by day could be a fascinating all-day experience if one chose to do this. Wildlife sightings were announced from the bridge when possible, and “Unexpected Adventures” which guests had registered for provided spontaneous opportunities to board the Zodiac landing craft which were made available from the “Shackleton” as needed, and sail out from the ship to explore ice formations, look at polar bears, and cruise secluded bays where the face of glaciers met the water. Other Expedition-related activities involved sightseeing by “Fast Boat”, a high-speed open boat which covered scenic territory, complimentary regular shore excursion visits to the various Native communities on the itinerary, most by Zodiac “wet” landings, helicopter sightseeing giving the lucky few who did this some incredible scenery and photo opportunities, and more typical shore excursions related to cultural activities, and local sightseeing and interactions. There were several very exclusive flight-seeing trips, one all the way to the east coast of Russia for a port visit there. There were several excursions which provided overnight stays on the ice cap of Greenland. Hiking and sea kayaking were very popular choices. I enjoyed the local hiking opportunities very much. Crystal also offers “voluntourism” shore excursions, where guests may participate in helping in many ways at the places they visit, and this was a very worthwhile experience I participated in while the ship was docked at Boston, MA. Many times Crystal had managed to secure extremely luxurious coaches for land-based more typical shore excursions. Transport on shore trips and for shuttle service in the Passage areas visited were supplied by the local populace. This added a great chance to interact closely with the locals and ride in their school buses and personal vehicles. Community visits to the Native settlements in the Passage itinerary were amazing. The elders were respectfully greeted on the shore by the arriving passengers from the ship, and most residents of the communities I visited were delighted with this intercultural interaction. The children were friendly and one highlight for me was playing soccer with a group of young kids inside their community center. A smile and a common sport can bridge a lot of differences, and we enjoyed a fun time together. The watching adults thoroughly enjoyed seeing their kids and I having a good time. Expedition guides and ship’s staff were everywhere to guide, answer questions, and assist the visiting ship guests with anything they needed. The Zodiac operations especially were amazingly organized, safe, fun, and handled with thorough professionalism with every trip. I loved riding in those open Zodiacs, and could have happily spent the whole day riding back and forth from ship to shore. Visits to the various communities were capacity-controlled in these tiny areas so we did not overwhelm the inhabitants or community resources. The timing was impeccable, and everything went very well at each new place visited. At times, the small groups of passengers from the “Serenity” resembled colonies of red-coated penguins, as we all were very noticeable in our complimentary bright red Arctic-weight parkas with fur-edged hoods which Crystal wisely provided for us. The parkas were a treasured keepsake for the passengers, and Crystal had set up a shipping program on board to get the parkas back to guests’ homes without needing to overload luggage. Shore excursions were offered in every port the ship visited, and I toured every time I had the chance. "Unexpected Adventures" added to the excursions already available gave some guests who had signed up for this option a short-notice chance to get out on the Zodiac landing craft boats and see things up close and personal, such as ice bergs and polar bears. Shopping was available for souvenirs at the Community visits and in Greenland, but many of the truly beautiful hand-crafted items were made of materials that were not able to be imported into the USA and perhaps other countries as well. There were museum-quality items made from carved walrus tusks, and musk oxen tusks, and hand-embroidered and beaded items, with the warm and practical sealskin and fur boots and gloves. There were also beautiful fur pelts and other items made of regional furs. Jewelry items made from the local animals and carved soapstone were lovely, as were the knitted items made from the warm, fine wool of the musk oxen. Most souvenirs were very expensive, but the Communities visited subsist on hunting and very little if any tourism, and this was a chance for them to provide for their families and get through their very tough winters. At he very few places the “Serenity” could dock, mainly in Alaska, Greenland and east coast American ports, complimentary shuttle buses were usually provided, or the walking distance made the port visit easy for those touring on their own. A decent variety of shore excursions provided guests with choices for every age, ability, and interest. The only port call which was cancelled was at Ilulissat, Greenland. This was to be a Zodiac landing, but the entire entrance to the harbor area was packed nearly solid with thick ice. Very sparse ice was noted during the entire Passage transit, with a few spectacular icebergs, but this one port had more ice than seen during the entire cruise. A personal scenic highlight for me on this cruise was viewing the two Diomede islands in the Bering Strait region. These two small islands are separated by the International Date Line. Some of my early ancestors were from Siberia and Russia’s northeast regions, and I was able to clearly see the gray shape of the second Diomede Island, which is part of Siberian Russia. Weather for most of the trip and the shore visits was typically cool to cold temperatures, some very high winds and seas at times, and gray cloudy skies. There was some freezing fog and rain at times, which made the very few sunny clear days treasured and deeply appreciated. Some areas were visited visually, as the ship cruised by very slowly, in many uninhabited Arctic region islands, inlets, fjords, and bays. An on-board collection of high-power viewing binocular telescopes were placed by the expedition staff to enable enhanced viewing of shore scenery and wildlife by on board guests. There was also a fascinating high-tech television camera setup which could pan and zoom in on anything and be viewed on the on board TV sets and various screens around the ship. This was definitely a blessing to those on board who had mobility issues or who chose not to get off the ship. The viewing scopes placed on deck were usually manned by one of the Expedition guides who were experts in various subjects, and who explained to guests just what it was they were seeing. These patient and amiable guides also willingly took photos for people who asked. The shore excursion staff worked heroically to make all the guests happy. There were many cancellations, some unavoidable cancellations due to weather or sea conditions, and an ever-changing wait list. It was amazing how the staff worked tirelessly to clear the wait list, often doing this on short notice to the delight of those who wanted specific tours or times and were not able to get their first choice. A job done very well! Food and dining are always a major source of pleasure and entertainment on cruise ships, and perhaps even more on Crystal. “Serenity” has a large main dining room with traditional early and late seating. late. There are also two specialty restaurants, Prego for Italian cuisine, and Silk Road for traditional Japanese and Asian specialties. Eight complimentary dining dates in the specialty restaurants were allowed for most passengers on this cruise, and then a $30 per person charge was applied. Penthouse guests had unlimited visits. There was also an elaborate Lido buffet dining venue, Tastes (for informal light meals), an ice cream bar, grill, and other smaller places to get food. The menus had far more choices than other cruise lines offer, and if there was something a guest wished to have and it wasn’t on the menu, chances were very good that they could enjoy what they wanted, either on the spot or with advanced planning. Complimentary alcoholic beverages were available at lunch and dinner. The table linen, charger plates, crystal and silver were beautifully arranged at every meal in the dining room. The buffet area also had nice table settings, with wait staff always there to hold and carry plates as guests collected food. The wait staff quickly learned my beverage preferences, and I was greeted by name and my beverages at every buffet visit. Portion sizes were large in the dining room, with the sensible option to order a half-portion serving. Most of the multicourse menu selections were very good and prepared properly and served at the proper temperature. At times, it appeared that menus were constructed using the leftover food from the day before, which is so common on cruise ships to avoid wasting good leftover food. The cuisine appeared to be designed to appeal to European tastes, but the favorite American comfort food of meats, burgers, fries were available, too. A main entrée in all the food groups was available at every lunch and dinner, and some at breakfast as well. An overabundance of foods containing nuts, fruit and vegetables seemed common on the buffet choices, and foods containing nuts were not always identified for those with allergies or sensitivities. The buffet food items were almost always identified with little tags placed next to the serving dishes, but the print was very small. Sometimes the servers did not know what the food was that they were serving, or what was in it. I’d like to see this situation improved, as not everyone is able to enjoy certain food items or ingredients. As with most cruise ships, unfortunately some of the buffet items were not held to proper hot temperatures, and appeared to have sat there for some time before the buffet opened. Some of the menu selections featured “modern” cuisine, which appeared to me to be a rather psychedelic combination of odd food groupings. Presentation was spectacular, however, with some plates appearing as edible art. One chaotic night in the main dining room unfortunately had extremely slow service, for whatever reason, and the fish I had was only partially cooked and inedible. The design of the main dining room is lovely, but due to a lot of metal, low ceiling, and very few soft furnishings to mute the sound, it can be very noisy with everybody enjoying conversation. In comparison to prior cruises on this ship, it seemed to me that there had been a very slight but noticeable staff reduction among the waiters, and the service was a bit slower as a consequence. I prefer a table for one, and received this, and had two superb waiters who were extremely professional, efficient, and gracious with their prompt service. Entertainment on the “Crystal Serenity” offered a good variety. There were movies, DVDs available for in-stateroom viewing, lounge singers, a variety of production shows, comedians, featured singers, a very versatile and gifted organist, a classical pianist from China, and themed parties in the atrium plaza area with the ship’s very good live orchestra and dancing. I’m very much a fan of Crystal’s gentlemen hosts program, which offers a chance at enjoying dance and conversation with “cultured gentlemen” for those ladies who are traveling alone. On this trip, however, with the very full days, I could not stay awake late enough to dance even once. It is nice of Crystal to think of those who do travel alone, either by choice or circumstances, and I’ve always loved dancing and usually make the most of it on Crystal cruises. At intervals during the day and evening, an extremely talented group of lovely female musicians, the Astoria String Quartet, played both classics and contemporary music in the atrium plaza area. These gifted ladies from Russia have been with Crystal for several years. They also play with the ship’s orchestra for special production shows, and at the elegant afternoon and Mozart tea events. The highlight of the production shows was a marvelous Celtic music, song and dance combination early in the cruise – it was so good, many wished it had been repeated. For those so inclined, there was a disco on board for late evening dancing and music. The days were very full on this cruise both at sea and on port days, and if guests had the energy and desire, there was some form of nonstop entertainment and activity to please all individual preferences. I enjoyed what I could, and also reveled in the luxury of reading in my comfortable bed until I fell asleep to the rhythm of the ocean. All good things eventually must come to an end (unless you are one of the permanent residents living on the “Serenity”), and debarkation is another function where Crystal is an expert. Guests select the time they need to leave the ship from a listing of times, and are given the proper color-coded group time and tags for their bags. Bags go out by 11 PM the night before debarkation, and are silently collected. There is early walk-off service if desired. On debarkation morning, room service was available for convenient breakfast in my cabin, and I enjoyed this last small luxury before facing the harsh reality of New York City. I went to my assigned meeting place on the ship, waited less than 1 minute (I timed it), walked off the ship with my carry-on bag, and found my luggage in under five minutes. This was miraculous organization, as two other larger ships were also using the baggage claim structure. I had reserved a limo for my ride to JFK Airport, and it was there waiting for me. The whole process probably took 15 minutes, and I actually was off the ship a few minutes ahead of the published departure time for my group. No noisy announcements, no lines, no stress, no hurry. Despite the 32 day length of this remarkable cruise, every day raced by. It was almost as if I were on two cruises at once – one with the usual shipboard activities, and the other a unique expedition into a part of the world rarely visited and mostly unknown. Seeing the Canadian Arctic and Greenland had always been a wish list item for me, and it did not disappoint despite lack of ice in most places. Very few people have ever seen this part of the world, and it was quite exciting and an honor to be part of the company of explorers and scientists who first sailed this area several hundred years ago in fragile, tiny wooden sailing ships. I loved the silence, peace, beautiful stark scenery and landscapes of the many remote islands and waterways. The air was some of the purest on earth. At times there was no internet or TV reception, producing mental serenity free of constant connection so many of us experience on land in their daily lives. My natural senses sharpened as my mental processes calmed. It was a marvelous study in contrasts between the barren but beautiful Arctic regions and the luxurious ship which was my home for the cruise. I truly enjoyed the chance to meet people from other cultures, both on the ship and at the communities visited in the Arctic regions. There was an amazing variety of weather, ocean conditions, clouds, color, temperatures, as well as some awesome views of ice and icebergs occasionally. The sea creatures I viewed seemed happy and welcoming with wings, fins and flippers all waving. I’m glad I had a chance to talk with and listen to the many international Arctic Expedition guest lecturers aboard the ship. This select company was a true and valuable enhancement to this unique historic voyage. Crystal’s multi-year investment in preparation and organization for this historic voyage definitely paid off in the nearly flawless quality of this cruise. I’m sure this particular cruise added enhancement to Crystal Cruise Line’s already very high ranking among luxury cruise lines, especially considering that this type of voyage has never been done before. The very few minor issues aboard the ship with some of the services, cosmetic details, and hotel functions could have happened on any cruise ship, and the actual expedition activities took place without problems thanks to rigorous planning and preparation. This was my chance to live childhood dreams of experiencing what I read in the National Geographic Magazine, and actually being in the Arctic personally experiencing what I had only read about or viewed through photographs. All my Crystal cruise experiences have been outstanding, and being part of the Northwest Passage Expedition Cruise was the highlight of my 36 years of cruising.

The Inaugural Northwest Passage Expedition Cruise on

Crystal Serenity Cruise Review by VikingExplorer

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Trip Details
  • Sail Date: September 2016
  • Destination: Arctic
I am an adventurous active solo traveler who likes unusual itineraries and more remote parts of the world. I’ve cruised on at least 12 cruise lines, and the Northwest Passage Expedition Cruise on the “Crystal Serenity” was a unique and remarkable experience for my 49th cruise.

The inaugural Northwest Passage Expedition Cruise sailed a distance of approximately 8,370 sea miles. It visited three ports in Alaska, three Native communities in the Canadian Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and three local communities in Greenland before visiting four east coast ports in the United States. The cruise began in Seward, Alaska on August 16, 2016 and ended in New York City, New York on September 17, 2016.

Reaching Seward, Alaska where the cruise began was an adventure in itself. I live in a remote part of the country and it took four days of leisurely flying to reach Seward. I positioned the night before my first flight at the Boston Logan Airport Hilton, a favorite for years. At stop-over cities, I stayed at Hilton’s new Home2Suites several times and enjoyed it very much. It’s not for fans of luxury hotels, but it served my needs perfectly, with each hotel room being a tiny home away from home. I flew to Seward, Alaska from Anchorage, Alaska with a locally well-respected and expert bush pilot, enjoying some hands-on time flying myself as a licensed private pilot. Crystal Cruise Line provided complimentary coach transfer service for passengers from Anchorage to Seward, but I preferred to see something of the area on my own without the long bus ride. My night in Seward before the cruise was spent at the outstanding Bell in the Woods bed and breakfast, which definitely lives up to its rave reviews with its beautiful large house, welcoming family owners, and marvelous breakfast.

I’ve sailed on the “Crystal Serenity” twice before, and was happy to see this lovely ship at the pier in Seward. The “Serenity” is 68,870 tons, and has the appearance of a very large yacht with classic lines. Its white paint sparkles with dedicated maintenance, as does everything else on this elegant 13 year old ship. The ship is 820 feet long and has a beam of 106 feet. There are 13 decks, nine of which are passenger decks. Speed averages 21 to 22 knots under optimum conditions. Full passenger capacity is 1,070, with a crew of 655. On the Expedition cruise, I heard various numbers with regard to number of passengers on board, but it was probably around 1,000. There is never a feeling of being crowded on the “Serenity”. Each passenger deck has a complimentary laundry room with washers, dryers, ironing board, and all products needed to wash anything. There is a TV and chairs for comfortable waiting, and often the laundry areas were mini social centers while people did their laundry. The usual luxury cruise ship facilities were available, with several choices of dining styles and places to enjoy the copious amounts of spectacular food. There is a dedicated computer laboratory space, very adequate and well equipped fitness center, spa with all the services anybody could ask for, a theater, several lounges, large photo gallery, sun deck, tennis and golf activity scaled to cruise ship dimensions, jogging track, meeting and function space, a beautiful central atrium and plaza, with the deck above it filled with luxury goods shops and a bistro. There is a large reception and concierge desk in the atrium, and a small bar. The promenade deck is accessible from Deck 7, and has teakwood decking. Best of all, the promenade deck is one level which completely circles the ship for easy walking and jogging. There are elevators and stairs at the fore, midships and aft ends of the ship.

Fine woods, lovely unique artwork, stone, marble, and a spectacular colored glass mosaic wall with a waterfall grace the central, all-purpose atrium area. Cabin deck corridors have mirrored walls and soft carpet with muted colors. The entire ship has a soft, whispered feel of luxury and comfort. A few privileged people actually live aboard this ship.

All alcoholic beverages and soft drinks are included in the cruise ticket price, and Crystal gifts guests with little surprises throughout the voyage. Printed daily bulletins are professionally printed on good quality paper. On the Expedition cruise, high-quality binoculars were in every cabin, and detailed printed information booklets were provided to enhance the experience.

Embarkation was very slightly delayed due to the baggage drop area not being open on schedule. No definite explanation was ever provided for this, but the few passengers like myself who waited about 25 minutes outdoors socialized and enjoyed the experience. We were on the cruise of a lifetime, so why worry about a short delay, after all, and the weather was cool and dry. Once the bags were collected, a quick check through security in the cruise terminal was completed and I was eagerly walking up the boarding ramp to the “Serenity”. The welcoming crew would qualify as staff at royal palace, and once inside, glasses of champagne were offered. A large group of check-in staff were seated at an elegant white table, and I was quickly invited to check in by a smiling gentleman at his station. A photo was taken for the cabin key/ID card, a few papers were checked, and passport collected. It probably took less than five minutes, and I was officially on board. Crystal has this function perfected –far nicer than standing in long, irritable lines in some freezing or overheated shed at a pier. I went to the dining room for a lovely lunch, enjoyed at a small private table next to a window so I could watch the boarding process, and had the odd experience of actually seeing my two large bags placed on the luggage conveyor belt right in front of me.

The Northwest Passage Expedition Cruise was a first, as no cruise ship of this size, or indeed any major cruise ship, had ever completed this long itinerary before. There was a feeling of excited anticipation among the passengers, many of whom are veterans of multiple world cruises and other long voyages. The passenger contingent on this trip was mainly senior age, mostly retired, mostly appearing very well off financially. Other than one very young child who came aboard towards the end of the voyage, I did not see any children. There were many couples traveling, as well as a good number of solo travelers.

Cabins were generally available by 3 PM. Hand baggage may be checked easily in the atrium area upon check-in, which I did, and luggage appears in the cabin promptly, usually being there before the guest arrives. I had a midships cabin with a huge picture window on Promenade Deck 7. The cabin was slightly smaller than on other ships, perhaps, but good use is made of every inch. There was a closet with sliding doors, and within the closet are racks for hanging things and plenty of wood and some padded hangers. Need more hangers – just ask the cabin attendant. A large umbrella, shoe care kit, shoehorn and racks for shoes are in the closet.

Mohair small blankets and terry slippers and luxurious robe were also provided. Twin beds were combined to form a king bed. There is a unit containing a small refrigerator, desk area, mirror, flat-screen TV with DVD player, and several small shelves as well as drawers. The small refrigerator contained bottled water, soft drinks, and some alcoholic drinks. Contents may be exchanged to suit a guest’s preferences, which I did. There was a small height-adjustable glass-topped table for in-room dining or other uses. A small leather sofa with soft pillows was positioned near the large picture window. Windows in these cabins have one-way glass. The guest sees out, but those outside cannot see in (unless the light is on inside at night). There are blackout drapes and sheer curtains for the window. The floor is carpeted completely. There is an upholstered chair at the desk. Two marble nightstands flank the bed. There are a lot of light fixtures in the cabin, in various locations. One telephone resides on a bedside table. Light controls are at various locations in the cabin, including the bed area. There are welcome large coat hooks in the tiny entrance hallway in the cabin. The desk/shelf/cabinet unit in the cabin was a warm wood tone, as were the closet doors and other wood structures. Bedside tables were white wood and marble. The sofa was an odd grayish-green color. The desk chair was an ivory color with elaborate green patterns woven in. Bed linens were white, with a brown-gray patterned throw at the foot of the bed to protect the clean linens during the day. A lovely soft duvet and comforter provided perfect warmth and comfort on the bed. Four huge feather pillows were on the bed, and there is a pillow menu if other pillows are desired. There is storage room beneath the beds, but my two large bags were too thick to fit and ended up in the closet.

A very useful feature is a touch pad “doorbell” system, where a single touch can light up an indicator for “do not disturb”, “cleanup service” or “bell”. No sign on the door handle outside, and no confusion or unwanted entry. Staff always rings the bell no matter what so as not to intrude.

The large bathroom is beautiful. There is a full-size tub with hand-held shower spray. The tub has a shower curtain, and a clear acrylic panel at the faucet end of the tub area. The usual vacuum shipboard toilet seemed larger and more comfortable than the usual equipment found on most ships. There was a recessed storage area for four large thick bath towels, and a towel rack for hand towels. Washcloths were placed on the elegant granite sink top area. High-end Italian toiletries in large plastic tubes were provided. If guests needed other brands of soap and lotion, a request to the cabin attendant brought whatever was needed. A clear plastic container on the glass shelf above the double sink area contained cotton balls and wrapped Q-tips, and these items were replenished as needed or on request. Kleenex and toilet paper were high quality (but truly “eco-friendly”). There was beautiful mosaic tile work in the bathroom, a tile floor, and the beautiful granite sink top area. Having two sinks would be very nice for two cabin occupants. The sink top area itself was curved, with the central part curving in. It provided a nice area to wedge myself into and remain stabilized during some rough sailing, freeing both hands for washing while not needing to hold onto something. I don’t know if the designers thought of this when creating the sink top, but it was perfect for me. Very good ventilation in the bathroom, and bright but indirect lighting. Multiple small shelves held everything, and there was a built-in hair dryer (another hand-held dryer was in a bag in the closet). A small textured cotton bath rug was on the floor, adding to comfort for bare feet in the bathroom. There was a telephone in the bathroom. Towels were white terry, and generally quite thick. They smelled fresh and clean, and in all the long cruise I only saw one tiny speck of a stain on one bath towel. However, the towels are washed and bleached so thoroughly that they have a rather rough and scratchy texture. A large practical magnifying mirror was mounted next to the bathroom wall mirror, but it was not lighted. Small glasses were provided in the bathroom.

Despite the relatively “cozy” size of my cabin, I had sufficient room for everything I brought, and was extremely comfortable the entire cruise. On a few rare occasions, I heard guests laughing or talking in the corridors late in the evening, but otherwise it was silent for those who retire to bed early. Announcements were made on a dedicated TV channel, rather than blasting intrusively into the cabins during the day. If an announcement involved a safety issue, or something unique on the itinerary, or anything else of true importance, it was broadcast into the cabin speaker as well as throughout the ship.

Speaking of announcements, the ship’s captain was an unusually well-spoken Norwegian with years of experience and a great sense of humor. I always enjoyed hearing his comments during the voyage, as well as the noon nautical reports he broadcast from the bridge. This sociable veteran captain could be seen quite often, circulating about the ship on inspection tours and somehow always finding time for a photo with passengers or a brief chat.

Despite all the obvious luxury on “Serenity”, however, she is beginning to show her age. A last refurbishing was done in 2011, and the ship has had a lot of miles on her since then. The color scheme in my cabin was gray, black, brown for the most part, and it made the small space seem even smaller, as well as being somewhat depressing as the cruise had a lot of gray, dark days. The upholstered chair at the desk was visibly soiled at the top. The mattress was thick and mostly comfortable, but the twin mattress on the side of the bed facing the living space had a definite downward slope to it. I asked to have the mattresses flipped, but was told that wasn’t possible. I doubted this, as the mattresses appeared to be double-sided, but they are also curved at the ends. It wasn’t worth a hassle on such a nice trip, and I slept better on the ship than I ever do on land. The leather sofa also had seen serious use on one half, and sloped downward. The cabin lighting fixtures were numerous, but even with all of them on, the light was not sufficient to really see clearly when reading or applying makeup. The lights had a yellowish glow to them, and were seriously underpowered. Bathroom lighting was far better, but never really gave direct lighting where it was needed for hair or makeup.

Some of the public space décor was an odd mix of various styles, and could be replaced for a more uniform and updated appearance. Color schemes tended to be a bit too conservative and dark, as well. Gray seemed to be a predominant color throughout the stairway carpeting and other areas such as cabin corridors. Amazingly, despite constant use and heavy foot traffic, the carpet always appeared fresh and clean all over the ship. Elevators were mirrored and sparkling with good lighting. “Serenity” is one of the cleanest and best-maintained ships I have ever sailed on, despite some obvious signs of well-loved use and some outdated furnishing and decorating.

Service is legendary on Crystal ships, and it has not changed since I was on “Serenity” the past few years. I was delightfully surprised to be remembered by name by some of the crew, and we had great reunions and catch-up visits. Nothing seems impossible for the concierge staff, as everything is done with the softly spoken “my pleasure”. Things actually happen, appear, get done without any hassle or excuses. If there is a reason for a delay or problem, at least I found out what it was. The reception staff are enviably multilingual on this ship. Most speak English quite adequately, and with many charming accents. My room service stewards were incredibly cheerful for the early hour I had breakfast, and set up the table so elegantly and quickly each morning, as well as the few room-service lunches I enjoyed before early tours. Room service is lavish, both with a set menu and ability to order from the dining room menus during dining hours as well, and a nicely printed door handle card could be filled out and hung out at bedtime for breakfast service. My breakfast room service was either right on time to the second, or even a few minutes early, always. Every crew person I encountered, with very few exceptions, had a smile and appropriate greeting all over the ship. The security people, who can be silent and grim on other ships, were always nice and greeted returning guests with “welcome home” and a smile. My young female cabin attendant was from Portugal, where I have visited, and I asked her to help me with my limited ability in Portuguese language. She was a very patient teacher, and it was fun to practice. One of the reception desk gentlemen was a native German speaker, and he too was a very good teacher so I could practice. This cruise was a paradise for linguists, as between guests and passengers, many different languages were spoken and overheard. The service is still as famous, reliable, and exceptional as ever, and a definite star in Crystal’s crown. Crew members whose normal jobs did not usually involve shore excursions or other forms of assistance to guests were seen willingly helping out wherever they were needed. It was fun to see crew I remembered and who remembered me from other on-board venues as these cheerful staff worked on helping guests board Zodiacs, or welcoming me on shore in many locations. The Crystal Team concept is a reality, not just a slogan, with this cruise line.

Activities covered a full spectrum for all tastes, beginning early in the morning and ending late in the evening. Usual cruise ship fun group activities such as trivia, Bingo, deck sports, fitness classes, information seminars mainly focusing on the spa offerings, fashion shows for the ship’s elegant boutique clothing department and magnificent gemstone jewelry shop (with willing guests as models – I did this in both shows and loved it!), hot tub and swimming pool, movies in a dedicated movie theater (beware the comfortable seats, which put a lot of us to sleep quickly), computer lab with various classes, art classes, knitting and needlework get-togethers, bridge sessions, mahjong, wine tasting, several lavish themed buffets, afternoon tea, and Christian and Jewish religious services by on-board clergy are just some of what was available daily, as listed in the ship’s bulletin “Reflections”. The very popular Zumba dance workouts were offered on every sea day by the hostess for the Expedition cruise. Hostess Stacey was an effervescent, indefatigable smiling bundle of energy and happiness, and a joy to visit with as well as dance with. Social get-togethers for various professional groups were offered. If one had the desire and energy, you could spend every waking hour doing something which was fun, educational, exercise, shopping, or eating. I did not even plan a day – just read the daily “Reflections” bulletin and enjoyed what I wanted to. Socializing among guests was spontaneous and really nice all over the ship at any time. Shopping was somewhat limited on board, but the beautifully arranged Apropos boutique had high-end designer clothing for women and men, as well as logo items from the cruise, personal care items on request, art objects, designer jewelry, and Dior cosmetics and perfumes. The fragrance in Apropos was divine. A knowledgeable energetic and courteous staff made spending a pleasure. Being pampered in the Spa several times definitely enhanced my cruise experience for me.

There were several special sales of items from Russia and unique handbags and leather goods during the cruise. Two “sidewalk” sales in the atrium were huge hits, featuring logo items and collectibles from the Expedition cruise for the first sale, and then logo and collectible items from our faithful companion icebreaker, “Ernest Shackleton” which were brought over to us towards the end of the cruise. The “Shackleton” became a beloved sight every day of the expedition through the Northwest Passage, and it was very emotional and sad when she left to resume her polar research work once the cruise completed the Northwest Passage segments.

In addition to a good variety of typical shipboard daily activities, a separate track of activities in conjunction with this historic Northwest Passage Expedition cruise evolved daily. Crystal hand-picked and assembled an international group of the world’s experts in everything to do with the Arctic, with university-level technical lectures on subjects such as Arctic wildlife, oceanography, ornithology, geography, geology, astronomy, meteorology, global warming and ice conditions, climate change, Native peoples and their customs and culture, and marine mammals. Lectures were presented live, and rebroadcast on cabin TVs continuously, which was a blessing considering the full days. The sociable Expedition guides and lecturers hosted a hospitality table during the cruise, and patiently answered questions and interacted with the fascinated, curious guests day after day. Ice charts and huge maps were on the wall behind the table, and I enjoyed seeing this large-scale depiction of our progress through the Passage and waters of this unique Arctic region. Wildlife sightings were also charted. Printed information in several languages was available at the hospitality table, as well as books by some of the distinguished Expedition staff. A legendary photographic expert from National Geographic was present for questions and lectures. Keeping up with the Expedition itself day by day could be a fascinating all-day experience if one chose to do this.

Wildlife sightings were announced from the bridge when possible, and “Unexpected Adventures” which guests had registered for provided spontaneous opportunities to board the Zodiac landing craft which were made available from the “Shackleton” as needed, and sail out from the ship to explore ice formations, look at polar bears, and cruise secluded bays where the face of glaciers met the water.

Other Expedition-related activities involved sightseeing by “Fast Boat”, a high-speed open boat which covered scenic territory, complimentary regular shore excursion visits to the various Native communities on the itinerary, most by Zodiac “wet” landings, helicopter sightseeing giving the lucky few who did this some incredible scenery and photo opportunities, and more typical shore excursions related to cultural activities, and local sightseeing and interactions. There were several very exclusive flight-seeing trips, one all the way to the east coast of Russia for a port visit there. There were several excursions which provided overnight stays on the ice cap of Greenland. Hiking and sea kayaking were very popular choices. I enjoyed the local hiking opportunities very much. Crystal also offers “voluntourism” shore excursions, where guests may participate in helping in many ways at the places they visit, and this was a very worthwhile experience I participated in while the ship was docked at Boston, MA. Many times Crystal had managed to secure extremely luxurious coaches for land-based more typical shore excursions. Transport on shore trips and for shuttle service in the Passage areas visited were supplied by the local populace. This added a great chance to interact closely with the locals and ride in their school buses and personal vehicles.

Community visits to the Native settlements in the Passage itinerary were amazing. The elders were respectfully greeted on the shore by the arriving passengers from the ship, and most residents of the communities I visited were delighted with this intercultural interaction. The children were friendly and one highlight for me was playing soccer with a group of young kids inside their community center. A smile and a common sport can bridge a lot of differences, and we enjoyed a fun time together. The watching adults thoroughly enjoyed seeing their kids and I having a good time. Expedition guides and ship’s staff were everywhere to guide, answer questions, and assist the visiting ship guests with anything they needed. The Zodiac operations especially were amazingly organized, safe, fun, and handled with thorough professionalism with every trip. I loved riding in those open Zodiacs, and could have happily spent the whole day riding back and forth from ship to shore. Visits to the various communities were capacity-controlled in these tiny areas so we did not overwhelm the inhabitants or community resources. The timing was impeccable, and everything went very well at each new place visited. At times, the small groups of passengers from the “Serenity” resembled colonies of red-coated penguins, as we all were very noticeable in our complimentary bright red Arctic-weight parkas with fur-edged hoods which Crystal wisely provided for us. The parkas were a treasured keepsake for the passengers, and Crystal had set up a shipping program on board to get the parkas back to guests’ homes without needing to overload luggage.

Shore excursions were offered in every port the ship visited, and I toured every time I had the chance. "Unexpected Adventures" added to the excursions already available gave some guests who had signed up for this option a short-notice chance to get out on the Zodiac landing craft boats and see things up close and personal, such as ice bergs and polar bears.

Shopping was available for souvenirs at the Community visits and in Greenland, but many of the truly beautiful hand-crafted items were made of materials that were not able to be imported into the USA and perhaps other countries as well. There were museum-quality items made from carved walrus tusks, and musk oxen tusks, and hand-embroidered and beaded items, with the warm and practical sealskin and fur boots and gloves. There were also beautiful fur pelts and other items made of regional furs. Jewelry items made from the local animals and carved soapstone were lovely, as were the knitted items made from the warm, fine wool of the musk oxen. Most souvenirs were very expensive, but the Communities visited subsist on hunting and very little if any tourism, and this was a chance for them to provide for their families and get through their very tough winters.

At he very few places the “Serenity” could dock, mainly in Alaska, Greenland and east coast American ports, complimentary shuttle buses were usually provided, or the walking distance made the port visit easy for those touring on their own. A decent variety of shore excursions provided guests with choices for every age, ability, and interest.

The only port call which was cancelled was at Ilulissat, Greenland. This was to be a Zodiac landing, but the entire entrance to the harbor area was packed nearly solid with thick ice. Very sparse ice was noted during the entire Passage transit, with a few spectacular icebergs, but this one port had more ice than seen during the entire cruise.

A personal scenic highlight for me on this cruise was viewing the two Diomede islands in the Bering Strait region. These two small islands are separated by the International Date Line. Some of my early ancestors were from Siberia and Russia’s northeast regions, and I was able to clearly see the gray shape of the second Diomede Island, which is part of Siberian Russia.

Weather for most of the trip and the shore visits was typically cool to cold temperatures, some very high winds and seas at times, and gray cloudy skies. There was some freezing fog and rain at times, which made the very few sunny clear days treasured and deeply appreciated. Some areas were visited visually, as the ship cruised by very slowly, in many uninhabited Arctic region islands, inlets, fjords, and bays. An on-board collection of high-power viewing binocular telescopes were placed by the expedition staff to enable enhanced viewing of shore scenery and wildlife by on board guests. There was also a fascinating high-tech television camera setup which could pan and zoom in on anything and be viewed on the on board TV sets and various screens around the ship. This was definitely a blessing to those on board who had mobility issues or who chose not to get off the ship. The viewing scopes placed on deck were usually manned by one of the Expedition guides who were experts in various subjects, and who explained to guests just what it was they were seeing. These patient and amiable guides also willingly took photos for people who asked.

The shore excursion staff worked heroically to make all the guests happy. There were many cancellations, some unavoidable cancellations due to weather or sea conditions, and an ever-changing wait list. It was amazing how the staff worked tirelessly to clear the wait list, often doing this on short notice to the delight of those who wanted specific tours or times and were not able to get their first choice. A job done very well!

Food and dining are always a major source of pleasure and entertainment on cruise ships, and perhaps even more on Crystal. “Serenity” has a large main dining room with traditional early and late seating. late. There are also two specialty restaurants, Prego for Italian cuisine, and Silk Road for traditional Japanese and Asian specialties. Eight complimentary dining dates in the specialty restaurants were allowed for most passengers on this cruise, and then a $30 per person charge was applied. Penthouse guests had unlimited visits. There was also an elaborate Lido buffet dining venue, Tastes (for informal light meals), an ice cream bar, grill, and other smaller places to get food. The menus had far more choices than other cruise lines offer, and if there was something a guest wished to have and it wasn’t on the menu, chances were very good that they could enjoy what they wanted, either on the spot or with advanced planning. Complimentary alcoholic beverages were available at lunch and dinner. The table linen, charger plates, crystal and silver were beautifully arranged at every meal in the dining room. The buffet area also had nice table settings, with wait staff always there to hold and carry plates as guests collected food. The wait staff quickly learned my beverage preferences, and I was greeted by name and my beverages at every buffet visit. Portion sizes were large in the dining room, with the sensible option to order a half-portion serving. Most of the multicourse menu selections were very good and prepared properly and served at the proper temperature. At times, it appeared that menus were constructed using the leftover food from the day before, which is so common on cruise ships to avoid wasting good leftover food. The cuisine appeared to be designed to appeal to European tastes, but the favorite American comfort food of meats, burgers, fries were available, too. A main entrée in all the food groups was available at every lunch and dinner, and some at breakfast as well. An overabundance of foods containing nuts, fruit and vegetables seemed common on the buffet choices, and foods containing nuts were not always identified for those with allergies or sensitivities. The buffet food items were almost always identified with little tags placed next to the serving dishes, but the print was very small. Sometimes the servers did not know what the food was that they were serving, or what was in it. I’d like to see this situation improved, as not everyone is able to enjoy certain food items or ingredients. As with most cruise ships, unfortunately some of the buffet items were not held to proper hot temperatures, and appeared to have sat there for some time before the buffet opened.

Some of the menu selections featured “modern” cuisine, which appeared to me to be a rather psychedelic combination of odd food groupings. Presentation was spectacular, however, with some plates appearing as edible art. One chaotic night in the main dining room unfortunately had extremely slow service, for whatever reason, and the fish I had was only partially cooked and inedible. The design of the main dining room is lovely, but due to a lot of metal, low ceiling, and very few soft furnishings to mute the sound, it can be very noisy with everybody enjoying conversation. In comparison to prior cruises on this ship, it seemed to me that there had been a very slight but noticeable staff reduction among the waiters, and the service was a bit slower as a consequence. I prefer a table for one, and received this, and had two superb waiters who were extremely professional, efficient, and gracious with their prompt service.

Entertainment on the “Crystal Serenity” offered a good variety. There were movies, DVDs available for in-stateroom viewing, lounge singers, a variety of production shows, comedians, featured singers, a very versatile and gifted organist, a classical pianist from China, and themed parties in the atrium plaza area with the ship’s very good live orchestra and dancing. I’m very much a fan of Crystal’s gentlemen hosts program, which offers a chance at enjoying dance and conversation with “cultured gentlemen” for those ladies who are traveling alone. On this trip, however, with the very full days, I could not stay awake late enough to dance even once. It is nice of Crystal to think of those who do travel alone, either by choice or circumstances, and I’ve always loved dancing and usually make the most of it on Crystal cruises. At intervals during the day and evening, an extremely talented group of lovely female musicians, the Astoria String Quartet, played both classics and contemporary music in the atrium plaza area. These gifted ladies from Russia have been with Crystal for several years. They also play with the ship’s orchestra for special production shows, and at the elegant afternoon and Mozart tea events. The highlight of the production shows was a marvelous Celtic music, song and dance combination early in the cruise – it was so good, many wished it had been repeated. For those so inclined, there was a disco on board for late evening dancing and music. The days were very full on this cruise both at sea and on port days, and if guests had the energy and desire, there was some form of nonstop entertainment and activity to please all individual preferences. I enjoyed what I could, and also reveled in the luxury of reading in my comfortable bed until I fell asleep to the rhythm of the ocean.

All good things eventually must come to an end (unless you are one of the permanent residents living on the “Serenity”), and debarkation is another function where Crystal is an expert. Guests select the time they need to leave the ship from a listing of times, and are given the proper color-coded group time and tags for their bags. Bags go out by 11 PM the night before debarkation, and are silently collected. There is early walk-off service if desired. On debarkation morning, room service was available for convenient breakfast in my cabin, and I enjoyed this last small luxury before facing the harsh reality of New York City. I went to my assigned meeting place on the ship, waited less than 1 minute (I timed it), walked off the ship with my carry-on bag, and found my luggage in under five minutes. This was miraculous organization, as two other larger ships were also using the baggage claim structure. I had reserved a limo for my ride to JFK Airport, and it was there waiting for me. The whole process probably took 15 minutes, and I actually was off the ship a few minutes ahead of the published departure time for my group. No noisy announcements, no lines, no stress, no hurry.

Despite the 32 day length of this remarkable cruise, every day raced by. It was almost as if I were on two cruises at once – one with the usual shipboard activities, and the other a unique expedition into a part of the world rarely visited and mostly unknown. Seeing the Canadian Arctic and Greenland had always been a wish list item for me, and it did not disappoint despite lack of ice in most places. Very few people have ever seen this part of the world, and it was quite exciting and an honor to be part of the company of explorers and scientists who first sailed this area several hundred years ago in fragile, tiny wooden sailing ships. I loved the silence, peace, beautiful stark scenery and landscapes of the many remote islands and waterways. The air was some of the purest on earth. At times there was no internet or TV reception, producing mental serenity free of constant connection so many of us experience on land in their daily lives. My natural senses sharpened as my mental processes calmed. It was a marvelous study in contrasts between the barren but beautiful Arctic regions and the luxurious ship which was my home for the cruise. I truly enjoyed the chance to meet people from other cultures, both on the ship and at the communities visited in the Arctic regions. There was an amazing variety of weather, ocean conditions, clouds, color, temperatures, as well as some awesome views of ice and icebergs occasionally. The sea creatures I viewed seemed happy and welcoming with wings, fins and flippers all waving. I’m glad I had a chance to talk with and listen to the many international Arctic Expedition guest lecturers aboard the ship. This select company was a true and valuable enhancement to this unique historic voyage. Crystal’s multi-year investment in preparation and organization for this historic voyage definitely paid off in the nearly flawless quality of this cruise. I’m sure this particular cruise added enhancement to Crystal Cruise Line’s already very high ranking among luxury cruise lines, especially considering that this type of voyage has never been done before. The very few minor issues aboard the ship with some of the services, cosmetic details, and hotel functions could have happened on any cruise ship, and the actual expedition activities took place without problems thanks to rigorous planning and preparation. This was my chance to live childhood dreams of experiencing what I read in the National Geographic Magazine, and actually being in the Arctic personally experiencing what I had only read about or viewed through photographs. All my Crystal cruise experiences have been outstanding, and being part of the Northwest Passage Expedition Cruise was the highlight of my 36 years of cruising.
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