For those interested, here are impressions of a first-time Crystal cruiser on Serenity, comparing our experience mainly with Regent Seven Seas. We’ve also cruised Oceania, Viking Ocean, Azamara and a number of other lines.
In summary, Crystal wins big on food and service to passengers, and also on public spaces. It loses big to Regent on cabins and included excursions.
The food was outstanding. Some of the presentations in the main dining room rivalled dishes we've seen at expensive restaurants ashore. The Japanese restaurant was outstanding and the Brazilian steakhouse was fun. The Chinese restaurant disappointed us and the other Chinese people we talked to. We found it ordinarly; Red Ginger on the larger Oceania ships is far superior. Italian is Italian, although Regent and Oceania do a better job than Crystal of making that experience special.
Crystal's service was better than any other line we've cruised on. Speed of dining room service was far better than other lines (except Viking Ocean which is also fast). We could get dinner in an hour to 90 minutes; other lines can take as long as 2 hours. At the breakfast buffet we rarely had to wait more than a minute or two for tea or another cappuccino.
Perhaps best of all, in the hour before the start of before breakfast service, the buffet room was open to passengers. I could sit down and get coffee and whatever food was already out. On other lines I have stood outside with my nose pressed against locked doors until the stroke of 7 am. This speaks loudly of a cruise line that prioritizes the passenger experience, more so than Regent despite its slightly higher crew ratios.
Cabin service was also great. I mentioned a non-adjustable showerhead to our attendant. Although I accepted that it was normal, the next time we got back to our cabin it had been replaced with a newer model.
I would never have considered Crystal had it not relaxed the dress code a few years back. There are still occasional formal nights, so I had to pack a dinner jacket for the first time in some 15 years. The code is “dark suit and tie” but many of us wore a sport coat or blazer with tie. On our next Crystal cruise I may well leave the jacket home and forego the main dining room on formal nights.
What we really missed from Regent were the larger cabins and the included shore excursions.
One of the best things about Regent is that almost all shore excursions are included at no extra charge. Beyond the price-value equation, this provides a wonderful flexibility and relief from stress. Money isn’t a constant consideration in planning shore activities. If we get up in the morning and feel like skipping a tour, we just do. Last-minute changes are almost always available. In contrast, I thought Crystal’s shore excursions were overpriced and usually quite short. For the first time ever on an ocean cruise, we didn’t take any of them.
Crystal’s ships were built in the early 2000's and our cabin reflected that. Although Serenity was remodeled late last year, I understand that our deck 9 and those below did not get much in the way of cabin upgrades, except for a large screen TV. We had a bathtub with a cloth shower curtain. Our 265 sq. ft. (including veranda) cabin was miniscule compared to Regent’s minimum 356 sq. ft. All Regent cabins have verandas; some cabins on Serenity only have fixed windows.
We are used to 30-42,000 ton 600 passenger ships. Serenity is 69,000 tons and 980 passengers, and with the small cabins it makes sense that public spaces are larger and there are more of them.
Shipwide wifi was upgraded lat year, and easier to use than other lines - no sharing of an account and rarely necessary to re-login.
Finally, as to price, those comparing Crystal with Regent should keep in mind that Regent prices include business-class airfare, almost all shore excursions, and often a pre- or post-cruise stay. The air and pre/post-cruise can be declined for a credit which lowers Regent’s prices dramatically. However, those who prefer to make their own shore excursion arrangements will not benefit from Regent’s included tours.
We will add Crystal to the list of lines whose itineraries we inspect for possible future cruises.