This is a mixed review for what should have been a stellar cruise experience .... based on the considerable price per person that was charged. It appears that since the Chinese consortium has taken over this line ( last year ), some things have changed, perhaps not for the better.
We booked this back this back-to-back "tres cher" 16 day cruise two years ago. We wanted to try what we thought was more upscale than Oceania cruises which we have enjoyed immensely. Unfortunately, we found that Crystal does not compare to Oceania on several important levels. Overall, while the entertainment on board Serenity was terrific, supported by very good and friendly service, the food was a major disappointment, in many venues including some of the specialty restaurants.
The food was consistently overly salty, highly spiced and meats were tenderized ( we itched hours after a meal that had meat) ... with many dishes "smothered" in sauces that contain five spice, coriander or other distinctively tasting spices. Desserts were particularly disappointing, especially since the Executive chef is Austrian. Sadly, we had very few good meals, morning, noon or night in Waterside ( main dining room). Meats were not top quality cuts, along with very infrequent availability of steak. Fish, was abundant but overtly fishy even for fish that is supposed to be mild. Fruit juices ( just about all) highly watered down, and mixed cocktails lacked proper sweetness or condiments. We tried Mojitos, Pina Collada, Daiquiri's of different flavors, none of which tasted like what you would get in any restaurant. They did, however, make a good Bloody Mary. Wine was abundant.
Waterside main dining room always had seating availability and service was superb, except for one disastrous lunch when we had no one to service our table. Except for soups, pasta entrees and bread, which were consistently good, most other dishes were lacking. We had so few fine dishes, whether it be lunch or dinner that we began to wonder how the reputation of this line still exists? One night I had a rib-eye that was chewy and lacked flavor. Hubby had the Monkfish which was very fishy. Pecan pie that was so dense with pecans that it lacked moisture and was very dry. For the "reported caliber" of this ship, we expected better. You would also expect them to have sorbet, which is always available on the upscale ships. Not so, night after night, Sherbet is listed on the menu ... and Sherbet it is. Salads are usually overly complected with add-ons like cauliflower, peas, chopped beet cubes. Who wants cauliflower in their salad? Homemade Pastas, sauces are indeed a strong suit. Try the fettucini alfredo or carbonara. One night Prego, specialty restaurant, offered spaghetti ala vongole which was very good. If I thought the fish was going to be fishy, and did not want the other entrees listed, I usually opted for pasta. We had a very poor meal at the specialty restaurant: UMI, where I ordered the famed "black cod", their signature dish, which was so terribly fishy. I sent it back after taking a few bites, and got sick afterwards from the small portion I ate. Marketplace turns into Churriscaria (Brazilian Rodizio) at night, something to which we looked forward. No reservations are possible. You show up, there is no Maitre'D, at the stand where you are greeted by simply a sign that says stay there and wait to be seated. You learn that the Maitre'D is way around the bend in another part of the restaurant and he cannot see you/vice versa. We waited 10 minutes for someone to show, and finally walked around to other side of the restaurant and was escorted back to where we started and told to sit and wait for a table. We waited 45 minutes and finally were called. We could see the chaos of this restaurant, as gauchos carrying meat on skewers scurried about, missing tables, walking to other sections, skipping tables who wanted to try what they were carrying. The funny thing is that this restaurant probably has some of the best food on the ship, in terms of appetizers, meats only one cut of steak -sirloin) and desserts, but is so poorly managed that people get frustrated and leave because of long waits to be seated. This restaurant should have a reservation system. Our advice, get there a few minutes early for the 6:30 PM opening and know that there is a Maitre'D, but he is somewhere else where you can't see him and he can't see you. Note: We tried this restaurant again, during the second week we were on board, and got there a few minutes early. As people came we explained that someone will eventually come and seat them ... and that it is worth waiting for ...
Our last night ( of 16 nights) at Waterside main dining room was the pits. Service was terrible, kitchen was slow, and our meals ... Pork Tenderloin, and what was supposed to be whole duck ( came as two small pieces of duck) were both dry and overcooked. Then, we could not believe our eyes as we saw the table next to us get served Alaskan King Crab - never on any of the menus the two weeks we were on the ship, and Dover sole, served only once in the two weeks. Apparently the ship, will, if you ask ... make upscale, off - the -menu meals for you, but you have to know to request them, at least a day before. Who knew??? Apparently not many people.
Silk specialty restaurant has Chinese food ... sort of dim sum ... dumplings, egg rolls, terrific hot n' sour soup ( ask that they skip the hot oil added on top), other soups, and mini entrees, all in very small portions and share-able. The food was consistently good. You do need a reservation though, and it does not count against the rules of only two specialty restaurants per week. You can also eat late lunch in Silk, from 1 to 3 PM. It has some non-Chinese ( Reuben - awful, greasy, dripping mess), pizza and different Chinese specialties than at night. Prego, overall, is the star of the specialty restaurants and does a good job with its offerings .... dense mushroom soup baked in a bread mini tureen; good salads, many interesting apps; wide range of entrees ... fish, veal, steak, all order-able with a side of potato, pasta or polenta. We had superb service from Petar and Marko at this restaurant.
There is also Scoops ice cream in Silk restaurant which offers Ben & Jerry's ice cream during limited day hours. Note: the waffle cones are home made, break apart in your hands and taste very "eggy". Stick to the paper cup serving of ice cream. Around the corner is a burger stand, with all the usual sides. They tend to overcook the burgers, so make your request for rarer cooking, firm.
We were very surprised at what was not on the menu. All the major cruise lines usually offer, with regularity, shrimp cocktail in the evenings, as an appetizer. Not so on Serenity. And only once, in 16 days, did they offer Escargot. The lack of upscale appetizers and steak left us feeling that this line is cutting back, yet not representing this in price.
Further, by offering overly salty food it is costing the ship a small fortune in drinks since salty food makes you very thirsty!
The pool is small and so shallow that at best you can walk and do a few calisthenics. The pool area has very nice couches, tables. Get one if you can by getting there early. For some strange reason, there are no bathrooms near the pool area and you have to walk all the way to the back of the ship or front to find a bathroom. Two whirlpools are right by the pool.
Shopping is outrageously expensive. Full price++ for Ferrigamo accessories, very upscale and overpriced brands of jewelry and watches. Even if you have a $1000++ OBC, it will not go far. The last two days they ran a few sales on Brahmin bags, priced close to full retail, only 15% off. Like us, any couples who had large unused shipboard credits were struggling to find useful items to purchase.
Entertainment is the star of the ship. They have multiple venues for such: Hollywood theater for movies, presentations. Galaxy theater (main theater) for major shows .... Starlight Ballroom for smaller shows. Serenity offers superb singing, dancing, music that rivals any major cruise line. Do not miss the evening shows which are held twice each night. Stardust ballroom, a small, intimate nightclub, also transforms on formal nights to a "Supper" club. On two nights we had Comedians who were excellent. John Joseph kept us laughing continuously with his jaded slice of life commentary. The Billy Joel review with Welshman J. Fox who starred in the UK and Broadway Bill Joel plays was terrific. Lovena B. Fox, songstress was also superb .... did justice to Tina Turner's Proud Mary.
Computer room is also a high point. It is properly staffed during the day, with two experts. It also has 12 very large screen Apple computers for use for passengers that do not bring IPAD. They worked well and were greatly appreciated. Kudos for having a well supported computer system aboard.
Our balcony cabin was nicely appointed, but quite small and tight. Only room for a love seat, not full sofa. Bathroom has dual sinks, granite counters. For some insane reason, instead of a walk-in shower, this redesigned ship had a mini-tub-shower. Since the average age of passengers is somewhere around 75, the idea of seniors stepping almost three feet high into a tub and holding on for dear life while showering makes no sense. At least they supplied a rubber mat to prevent slipping. The balcony is small and tight. Here is where Oceania balcony cabins have it all over Crystal. Oceania has spacious balconies, lavish marble bathrooms with both shower and full tub.
We boarded fairly easily, only waiting 30 minutes to get on board. Disembark was a nightmare. Apparently customs did not clear the ship as expected and getting off the ship was delayed for an hour and a half for everyone? People with early flights were panicking, trying to change their flights. The ship told people to report to Galaxy room ( forward) to sit and wait for their color tag to be called. Because, everything was backed up, there was not enough room in Galaxy, , and so people had to sit and wait elsewhere, and announcements were not being made about exiting by color code. Finally at 10:20 AM, someone came by and verbally told us, "everybody get off the ship". They just wanted us off.
Overall, we did not feel we got value for this expensive cruise and probably would not cruise on Crystal again. There is no substitute for fine food that was expected. At best, we got a full notch below good food, certainly not the best possible cuts of meat, fish. Masking food with salt, spices and gravies is not fine dining ... which we expected