When I embarked on Crystal Serenity in Barcelona on Sunday October 7, I recalled that my last cruise on this ship was well over almost 4 years, yet I was pleasantly amazed (but not surprised) that many restaurant staff, under the direction of Leo, to me the master of all cruiseship Maitre D’s, could still greet me in name. Such is the hospitality level of Crystal cruises that many Crystal Society members return to the ship. The embarkation took no time, even the ship was practically full. Embarkation began at noon though in theory rooms are available from 3pm, but in a PH cabin mine was ready. There was a special luggage storage that takes care of hand luggages so that any guest can enjoy a leisurely lunch. Such is the hospitality with full attention to detail that makes what Crystal is, particular with direct comparison to the two cruises that I just had disembarked (I took 3 consecutive cruises in 30 days).
This cruise, trade named Iberian Sojourn, a standard 7-day trip ending in Lisbon, has an ideal itinerary in that travel distance is short so that it is all port days and passengers have ample time in each port. The Spanish ports are, to me, more interesting than the Mediterranean ports in Italy that practically every cruiser has visited. In each port Crystal of course provides free shuttle so that one enjoys free and easy visits. Because of all-port, there was no formal night and the well-loved Mozart tea was not served.
I have had many Crystal Cruises (my first was on Crystal Harmony, before Serenity was built), and as an old timers I can see good changes under new ownership of Genting Hong Kong. The ship was renovated only about 4 years ago, and on embarkation I learned that after this trip the ship will undergo dry docking for a whole month for another important renovation, probably the most important because the ship will re-emerge in November offering open sitting dining (Crystal Symphony had completed that process). Hitherto if Crystal was to be faulted as a luxury ship it was the two sitting system that requires one to eat either too early or too late. No more, and then my only regret is that, if I had this knowledge, I would have chosen to cruise after the renovation.
A luxury cruise differs from a standard one mainly in space per passenger and crew to passenger ratio, and of course in service and food. Crystal offers best service second only to SeaDream (but the latter carries only 100 passengers with similar number of staff). Crew members here do not change ships, though there can be re-deployment as since the Genting takeover, Crystal has added two yachts and five river boats (not to mention even a luxury air operation). Great that virtually same staff members serve so that the important ‘recognition scenes’ are in place.
But it is the delicate improvement of food standard that makes the ship remarkable, at a time when cutback is seen in the whole trade (including Silversea which serves packaged orange juice unless you ask for the fresh). I agree with the latest Berlitz guide as it now rates Crystal above competitors Silversea, Seabourn and Regent. The Crystal food is truly enjoyable, now that the restaurant offers two menus, one modern and one traditional, therefore many choices. On this visit I tend to conclude that the ‘modern’ menu has improved much, with artful presentation and good taste (it had been a bit ‘funny’ in the beginning as I tasted it on Symphony two years ago). There are three alternative dining choices in addition to the main restaurant, all offering good quality of food (rather than quantity in the number of available restaurants). All guests can dine twice in an alternative restaurant free (otherwise it is a mere cover charge of $35). Dining on Crystal Serenity is a real pleasure even for gourmets, and among the best at sea.
Entertainment is never a strong area for Crystal. Ship size and mature passengers not really keen on shows do not justify lavish productions such as on sister company Dream Cruises, but the quality is good, and even more than on a big ship, there are always also alternative local shows in port in addition to the production show. Of these I watched one of the best acrobatic show at sea (or indeed on land) in the Balskat Duo which had performed with Circuit de Soleil. But I see the very same production shows that are old fashioned. The singers try to make more noises to lure the young, but I see few youngish passengers. The cruise director, Gary Hunter is a master of his trade, however.
It is the most port intensive cruise that calls on a port very day, and all ports are interesting except for me, Gibraltar, which is however a convenient stop on route. The last night we stayed overnight in Lisbon.
Valencia was the first port of call and the free shuttle takes passengers directly to the old town. It was a great visit, walking old streets and seeing various historic landmarks.
Next port is Alicante and we arrived on a Spanish holiday that most shops are closed, but the town is beautiful and even with some initial rain it still makes a day of pleasant stroll. The weather was cool and pleasant.
Malaga is next, and alas there was no sunshine on the Costa del Sol on our arrival. Some rains in the morning and I wonder if those who took excursion to Seville fared better. Malaga itself is interesting and it is gateway to many interesting points. As a frequent visitor to this region, I did not rush to any places, having seen them many times, and to me the ship is the destination Particularly the ship is Crystal, no matter rain or shine.
Pouring rain in Gibraltar in the morning but it cleared up in the afternoon. I always think it is funny to see UK chain stores in town and here one dispenses the British pound.
But Cadiz is interesting, as we had the full day I went out on my own in the afternoon my way while I have time to take an excursion in the morning. As if by bad luck it falls on another Spanish holiday, though many shops open for tourists. The morning excursion was good in that I visited sights slightly out of town that I had not seen out of my two previous visits. There was ample time to return to Cadiz proper for a stroll in its old streets in the afternoon.
The trip ends in Lisbon and we stayed overnight here. It was good as there is much to see in Lisbon but a very strong wind arrived at dinner time so that the terminal was closed for the night. This is strange; though I am sure no one will opt to go ashore in such windy condition anyway.
I took Crystal’s transfer to the airport early in the morning and the trip was perfectly organized, with many helpers that virtually take your luggage from ship to your check-in counter. This ends my very pleasant trip and I look forward to returning to Crystal Serenity when it operates the Open Sitting Dining.
Great cabin, with real butler service, fully equipped with jacuzzi bathtub. Oversize balcony.
Good port and convenient embarkation
Great stroll in old town
Beautiful seaside rambras
Good port for excursion but much to see on its own
Nothing to see......hate it for after many unwarrented visits
Good excursion and the port is interesting
Good excursion to be acquainted with Lisbon lanbdmarks out of townView All 13 Jeronimos Monastery Reviews