Suddenly, everyone’s talking about world cruises – or at least it seems that way on social media.
For the past month, people have been following influencers – and regular passengers who have become ones – traveling Royal Caribbean’s Ultimate World Cruise on TikTok, under the hashtag #9monthcruise, looking for drama and in some cases, creating it.
In what seems to be another galaxy, Crystal embarked on its first World Cruise since the line relaunched in 2023, setting sail from Miami on January 18 for a 141-night voyage that will bring guests on Crystal Serenity all the way around the globe before the 740-passenger ship returns to Florida in June. The 2024 World Cruise encompasses 31 countries and started at a cool $68,800 per person.
Who signs up for that much time at sea? A total of 80 people are onboard for the entire Miami to Miami journey, almost all of them repeat Crystal passengers. Another 90 will be joining the ship in San Diego on February 3; there’s an option to take your 141 nights roundtrip from California too.
As with most World Cruises – Royal Caribbean’s aside – the demographic is decidedly in the Boomer category; while internet on ships has gotten better, thanks to Starlink, most people we’ve met are retired.
We joined Crystal Serenity for the kickoff of its World Cruise in Miami to see how the most faithful of the luxury line’s fans marked its return. Here’s what we found.
First, some background on Crystal. One of the most recognizable names in modern luxury cruising, Crystal Cruises was known throughout its 27-year history for elegance, with a focus on service and fine dining. It tended toward formality, with traditions such as gentlemen hosts for dancing, classical entertainment and passengers who embraced a stricter dress code.
(An aside: My late parents sailed on Crystal in the 1990s, on several voyages. I remember their cruise preparations included shopping trips for my mom so she could pick up new St. John knitwear and grumbling from my dad over whether his tux would still fit. My sister and I were not invited to join them on their luxury cruise adventures on Crystal – this was their time. Shortly before she died, my mom named the Mediterranean cruise the two of them took as the favorite trip of her lifetime).
Acquired by Genting Hong Kong in 2015, Crystal Cruises went through a period of expansion, adding river ships, a yacht, an expedition ship and even a private jet before the pandemic. Alas, the line’s parent company went bankrupt in January 2022, and Crystal fans feared their vacation of choice was gone forever.
Luckily, luxury travel powerhouse A & K Travel Group, headed by former Silversea founder Manfredi Lefebvre D'Ovidio and Geoffrey Kent, bought Crystal name, as well as the line’s two ships, Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. The ships were given a thorough refurbishment: suites were enlarged and modernized, spaces were refreshed, and the number of passengers onboard dropped so the vessels would feel even roomier.
The result: Crystal Serenity does not seem like a ship built in 2002. Even though we were in a “classic” suite instead of one that was renovated in 2022, it still felt spacious, comfortable and elegant. Our segment -- Miami to San Diego via the Panama Canal -- was sailing almost full, but no venue ever felt crowded; in fact, there were times when I wondered where everybody was.
In short, Crystal is still Crystal – there’s no mistaking that you’re on a luxury cruise.
Confession: I have not been on a World Cruise before. The closest I came was a segment on luxury cruise competitor Silversea’s Silver Muse in South America. Most passengers had been on the ship for over a month before I boarded in Buenos Aires for seven days onboard.
The effect of joining a long cruise mid-stream is that of being a new kid in town – only more popular. Passengers were curious about my friend and I, and as newbies, we received numerous dinner and trivia invites. We joked that we were “fresh meat,” full of stories and anecdotes that people already hadn’t heard yet.
The embarkation of the World Cruise in Miami drew similar new-kids-on-the-block comparisons – only this time, we were not part of the cool clique. World Cruisers had a special lounge in the PortMiami terminal, complete with a red carpet, fresh flowers and Champagne. People raced into each others’ arms, hugging and laughing.
On all cruise lines, passengers who are doing a full World Cruise receive more perks than their brethren on shorter segments, and on Crystal, that was no exception. World Cruisers could board first, and so the group sashayed back to the red carpet and through the terminal to get on the ship, in full view of the segmenters still stuck in their regular seats.
The first night also came with a special World Cruise reception in the Pulse nightclub, followed by a banquet in the Stardust Lounge (we were allowed to crash the party). The vibe in the nightclub was festive and joyous, as people found old friends and made some new ones. Staff circulated with small bites, including caviar. I wasn’t the only one comparing the scene to a younger rite of passage: “It’s like a high school reunion!” one man said as we made our way from the party to the lounge.
While most people on the World Cruise were in the older demographic, we noticed two 20-somethings with their parents. At the party, we found our way to their mom, who confirmed they were traveling with her until the ship reached Athens on May 14, at which point her sister will swap in.
Sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – only it’s not, she noted – the entire family went on a Crystal World Cruise 15 years earlier, along with a tutor for the kids. Was the World Cruise a better education than a typical school? I asked. Absolutely, she said. (We couldn’t help noticing these past few days that their trivia team has won numerous times).
At dinner, we were placed at a table hosted by the assistant hotel manager Natalya and met some World Cruisers. Dale and Diane, a couple from Calgary, were Crystal World Cruise veterans, with five months-long sailings under their belts. They viewed their World Cruise habit as an alternative to having a vacation home in a warm climate; by the time the cruises were over and they returned home, winter in Canada was over.
Sounds like a perfect way to snowbird.
Beyond getting out of the snow and seeing the world, we heard time and again that it was the crew that kept Crystal lovers coming back. Guests seemed just as excited to reunite with their favorite servers as they were to see each other. Hugs were given at the Trident Grill, as bartenders in the Avenue Saloon brought drinks to regulars without having to ask.
Crystal did a yeoman’s job at hiring back its former staff, and almost every crew member we met had been with the company in its original iteration. That included our butler, who excelled at being intuitive and proactive, as opposed to reactionary.
I expected good service on Crystal from the experiences my colleagues had on the line last year; Cruise Critic awarded Crystal “Best Service” for luxury cruise lines in our 2023 Editors Picks awards. Even during the four days I was on, I was happily surprised at how good the service on the ship was.
In almost every venue, a server greeted me within minutes, asking if they could get me a drink or a snack. Wait staff circulated the pool, even on a day so windy, the water had to be drained. Servers in the restaurants were quick with recommendations, taking time to ask us about our food preferences before helping us with selections. The sommelier was happy to get us a wine that wasn’t on the daily menu.
Service has been an ongoing issue with cruise lines since the pandemic, and many ships seem to be sailing with too few crew members to handle full capacity. It was nice to see a line getting it right.
The World Cruise market has grown in the past few years. Luxury lines Silversea, Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas, as well as premium lines such as Oceania, Holland America Line and Cunard Line, have long had World Cruises. Viking started its first World Cruise in 2017, and even does a “longitudinal World Cruise” between the poles.
What’s more recent is the growth of World Cruises among mainstream cruise lines. MSC Cruises had its first World Cruise in 2019, at a much lower price point than its more luxurious counterparts. Royal Caribbean’s Ultimate World Cruise – the one that’s taken over TikTok with more than 3,750 posts under the #ultimateworldcruise hashtag– set sail for the first time on December 10, 2023.
Oddly, the destinations visited on the World Cruise seemed secondary to many Crystal Serenity passengers, probably because most people were already very well traveled. No one onboard batted an eye when our one stop in the Caribbean, Grand Cayman, was canceled because a crew injury meant the ship had to turn around to Key West for an emergency debarkation. Three consecutive sea days is nothing for these veteran cruisers.
And the passengers onboard still don’t know what the final itinerary will be, as the stops along the Red Sea and the Middle East are likely to change because of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as well as recent attacks on cargo ships.
No matter. “We don’t care where we go,” Dale admitted. And when you’re swaddled in luxury, with included drinks, daily gelato, butler service and even a Nobu restaurant onboard, at which World Cruisers can eat at as much as they want, who can blame them?