By Erica Silverstein
Cruise Critic Senior Editor
5.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating: Dining

Crystal excels in both quality and variety of dining options onboard, especially with the addition of new dinner venues during the 2018 refurbishment. Everyone, from newcomers to loyal repeaters, can appreciate six different dinner venues, plus room service. The dining scene never gets stagnant, even on longer itineraries.

The line was previously known for a more formal dining scheme, with set seating and dress codes demanding tuxedoes and gowns, but Crystal is following the trends and relaxing just a bit.

Waterside, the main dining venue, is now open seating, and the look and feel of the venue is more bistro than banquet. Two new Lido Deck dinner options -- Silk Kitchen and Churrascaria -- offer more casual environments, though you should still adhere to the ship's evening dress code.

Solo travelers no longer have their own table in Waterside, but they should look for notes in the daily Reflections newsletter about group tables at the specialty restaurants, if they'd like to join others and haven't made their own plans. At Waterside, anyone looking to make new friends can request to join a group table.

Insider tip: Most passengers dine in Waterside or the new Supper Club on Black Tie Optional nights because the menu features star dishes, such as lobster and caviar. That makes those nights easier to snag a reservation in the specialty restaurants.

Crystal Serenity is inconsistent with marking menu items for dietary restrictions. Waterside and Silk Kitchen menus note vegetarian items, but Umi Uma and Prego do not. We occasionally saw a dish labeled gluten-free, but Waterside menus did not feature a healthy or spa cuisine section. Travelers with dietary restrictions should alert the cruise line in advance to make sure their needs are met.

If your sailing offers a Grand Gala Buffet, do not miss it. The ship's dining team sets out an elaborate buffet all throughout the atrium, with sculptures made from ice, bread, fruit and chocolate; towers of lobster tails; and beautifully arranged appetizers. It's so impressive that passengers are encouraged to take photos a half-hour before food service begins. You might think the food looks better than it tastes, but despite being a buffet, the cuisine was still up to Crystal's high standards.

Waterside (Deck 5): The ship's main sit-down dining venue was renamed and redecorated during the 2018 refurbishment. The goal was to morph from a formal banquet-style dining room with assigned tables and dining times into more of a restaurant, with open-seating dining and a modern but less formal look. The space is divided up to feel more intimate, and waiters dress in checked shirts and aprons, bistro-style, rather than in jackets. Passengers, however, are still expected to dress to the evening's code, and Waterside is the venue of choice on formal night.

Breakfast is served daily from 8 to 9:30 a.m. The menu is divided into Basics (cereal, fruit, pastries), Classics (eggs any style, pancakes, waffles) and Specials (crab omelet, steak and eggs). But it doesn't stop there. You can order smoothies, sides ranging from yogurt to bacon and hash browns, or all-in-one breakfasts for faster service.

Passengers looking for something a bit different can choose The Japanese (miso soup with tofu), The Chinese (congee, either plain or with chicken) or The Healthy (gluten- and fat-free muesli with fruit, an egg-white omelet with quinoa and spinach and vitamin bread).

Lunch is served from just noon to 1:30 p.m., often with a loose theme, such as Asian or Mexican. The abbreviated menu is divided into appetizers and salad, soup, a pasta special, mains (with a burger always available, as well as a sandwich of the day) and sides (French fries, steamed vegetables).

For your waistline's sake, you should probably avert your eyes from the dessert menu since -- if you're like us -- you'll snack all afternoon, but if you can't resist, you can choose from an array of sweets, including an ice cream sundae, sugar-free option, fruit and cheese, and ice cream and sherbet.

Dinner is the main event at Waterside, and when it draws its biggest crowds. You don't need reservations, but if you do prefer a specific waiter, you can request to be seated in his or her section. If you want to meet new people, ask to be seated with others; the dance hosts often preside over a shared table.

The Waterside menu is split into two sides -- Modern and Classics -- with appetizers, mains and desserts under each section. You can mix and match from either side. The Classics menu features traditional favorites and techniques, with dishes like calf's liver, crab cakes and sirloin steak, while the Modern menu is more cutting edge with options such as charred wagyu beef crudo or a Chilean sea bass with confit mushrooms and a leek fondue.

Across the two menus, you'll always find a pasta specialty, salad main course, a vegetarian appetizer, soup and main dish. If you're looking for lobster, escargot and other classic celebratory dishes, come to Waterside on Black Tie Optional nights because that's when the chefs pull out all the showstoppers.

Desserts always include ice cream, a sugar-free option, nightly trifle and a selection of changing dessert, such as creme brulee or flourless chocolate cake.

While there's the occasional miss, most dishes are executed well and are delicious. Portions are reasonable, and most people can order one or two starters and a main and still have room for a bit of dessert.

Service is excellent but unobtrusive; no one is pulling lids off plates simultaneously, but whatever you need can be accommodated. Waiters are friendly and handle the rare, but inevitable, mishaps with aplomb.

Supper Club (Deck 6): New as of 2018 is the Supper Club, an intimate dinner option only available on the first and last formal nights of every cruise. (Shorter itineraries with no formal nights will likely not have a Supper Club option.) The pop-up dining experience takes place in the Stardust Club, and features a greatest hits menu taken from Waterside paired with live entertainment.

There is no assigned seating (though reservations are required) so come early for the best seats. Every table is a four-top, so if you're not a foursome, you will have to share your table. Once everyone is seated, the ship's show band and a singer perform light jazz, meant to be talked over. Between courses, the ship's various performers, such as the violinist, do a few numbers, with the ship's singers and dancers taking the tempo up toward the end of the meal. Once coffee and dessert are finished, passengers take to the stage for dancing before the evening comes to a close.

There's only one 6:30 p.m. seating of the Supper Club, and as space is limited, early reservations are a must.

Umi Uma & Sushi Bar (Deck 7): Celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa has restaurants around the world, as well as one on each Crystal ship. He does not hold back his famed Japanese-Peruvian fusion dishes from his oceangoing venue, so Crystal passengers can enjoy his signature miso-glazed black cod and lobster with truffle-yuzu sauce.

The chef comes aboard once a year to host culinary cruises but also to check on his disciples in the galley, so menu items continue to be executed to his satisfaction. And, therefore, to yours. There was not one sour note in our dinner, and our group tried a good number of dishes.

The venue -- formerly named Silk Road, prior to the 2018 refurbishment -- is brighter and more spacious than its counterpart on Crystal Symphony and is done up in shades of gray and Crystal's signature mint green. A few larger group tables are sprinkled among two- and four-tops.

The menu, which did not change much with the name change, is divided into appetizers (try the lobster tacos or any of the tempuras), soup, salad, entrees, noodles and dessert (the chocolate souffle cake is an excellent ending). You can also order sushi and sashimi from a separate menu, either as appetizers or for your mains. If you can muster a large group, consider asking for a selection of the best the venue has to offer and dining family-style so you can try more dishes.

Watch out, though -- it's easy to get through an entire meal and realize you've eaten nothing but fish. Consider ordering the eggplant or a salad to add a vegetable component. Vegetarians should alert the venue in advance because there are no meat-free entrees on the menu, but the chefs can whip up a tofu-vegetable stir-fry or vegetarian noodles with a day's notice.

At least one dinner per passenger is included in your fare (more if you're residing in a suite); subsequent visits cost $30 per person. This is an incredible value; we checked the menu of Nobu's Los Angeles restaurant, and hot entrees alone range from $25 to $38. Umi Uma is open from 6 to 9:30 p.m., and reservations are required.

If you just want a sushi fix, or you can't get reservations, the eight-seat sushi bar is also complimentary and first come, first served. It's open when the main restaurant is, but you can only order off the sushi menu.

Prego (Deck 7): Prego is Crystal's Italian specialty restaurant, located next to Umi Uma. Its look was not updated in 2018, which is a bit unfortunate -- the scenes of Tuscany murals and fruit basket moldings belong more in an Olive Garden venue than on a luxury cruise ship. Focus your eyes on the menu instead.

The traditional Northern Italian cuisine includes antipasti (carpaccio of Black Angus beef), salad, soup (the signature mushroom soup served in a bread bowl is noteworthy) and mains that range from lasagna alla casalinga to roasted rack of lamb, osso buco and a variety of pastas.

Desserts range from the signature affogato (a take on tiramisu with espresso-flavored lady fingers layered with light mascarpone cheese) to pistachio zabaione cake and lemon semifreddo. We'd recommend the gelato or a cheese plate. The featured wines all hail from Italy; if you're not familiar, the sommelier can describe them for you.

As with Umi Uma, at least one dinner per passenger is included in your fare, with additional visits subsequent charged at $30 per person (unless you're in a suite). Prego is open from 6 to 9:30 p.m., and reservations are required.

The Vintage Room (Deck 7); price varies by event: Wine aficionados or passengers looking for an intimate dinner made with the finest ingredients should consider a meal in the Vintage Room. These wine-paired dinners can be arranged for a private group (up to 12 people for a flat $2,500 fee), or you can ask about joining an open dinner ($250 per person).

The menu is at the discretion of the chef and is unique to each event, but includes six courses, each paired with premium-list wines. A sommelier will guide you through the wines presented. Your menu might start with king crab and porcine-dusted sea bass with lobster-tomato soup and continue on to seared 72-hour prime beef and finish with "paradise" chocolate cake.

Additional Vintage Room events include the occasional lunch ($75 per person, or $125 person for Champagne or California wine themed meals). Ultimate Vintage Dinners are the pinnacle splurge, where a seat at the table costs $1,000 per person and dinner is paired with some of the best, most expensive bottles in the cruise ship's collection.

Dinners are held in the Vintage Room, which is a private dining room with one long rectangular table. For fun, look at the log books, which show the menu and a group photo from every prior Vintage Room dinner. It might give you inspiration for your next meal there.

Marketplace (Deck 11): Crystal's pool deck buffet venue is open for breakfast and lunch. The semicircular grouping of serving counters offers the same spreads port and starboard. Room dividers keep diners at tables separate from passengers in line for food, but make it tricky to spot your dining companion who has sat down first.

Breakfast truly accounts for all tastes. Choose from fruit, breads and pastries, cold meats and cheeses, yogurt, cereal and hot items like scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage, French toast and pancakes. Omelets and eggs are made to order, but you need to pick up your scramble; it's not delivered to your table. More unusual, there's a congee station, Miso soup and Japanese-style rice, as well as a "healthy" section with grilled vegetables, quinoa salad, yogurt with chia seeds and an array of gluten-free toppings and granola.

Buffet lunches are just as expansive, with hot dishes (often themed), a salad bar plus premade salads, deli meats and cheeses, a hot sandwich option, carved meat and smorgasbord of dessert options. (Be sure to have a cookie sometime, somewhere, onboard, as they're very good.) The buffet menu sometimes shares a theme with Waterside's lunch option. The dishes are tasty and fresh, and don't taste like they've been sitting under heat lamps for too long.

Waiters will bring drinks -- coffee, tea, juice, wine, cocktails, etc. -- to your table once you're seated, either in the Marketplace, aft on the outdoor patio or forward in the Silk Kitchen area. Don't be surprised if a waiter catches you juggling plates and offers to help carry something to your table.

Churrascaria (Deck 11): The most casual of Crystal Serenity's dining venues is its Brazilian steakhouse, which takes over the Marketplace at night. Meat lovers should prep for dinner here by having a light and early lunch; passengers who don't eat red meat will still find plenty to fill their plates, and vegetarians can put together a light dinner from the salad bars, sides and dessert if they need to.

Kick off this all-you-can-eat extravaganza with a caipirinha, a traditional Brazilian cocktail. Then hit the salad bar for ceviche, caprese salad and prosciutto with sweet melon and delicious mushroom soup (same recipe, different kitchen, from Prego's version). Ignore the long breadsticks and dive into the cheese rolls, which burst with cheesy goodness with every bite.

When you're ready for the main event, grab some sides -- asparagus or black beans -- and flip your circular sign from red to green. Waiters will come around with meats on skewers and serve you beef picanha, short ribs, linguica, bacon-wrapped pork medallions, lamb chops, Parmesan chicken drumsticks and garlic shrimp until you flip your sign back to red in surrender. If you can manage a round two, flip the sign once again. Pay attention to your favorites and request them again.

Pace yourself because dessert is worth saving room for. The churros are mediocre but the chocolate balls and passion fruit panna cotta are delicious. If nothing else, don't miss the roasted pineapple with cinnamon. Brazilians claim it helps with digestion, but even if not, it's the perfect sweet ending to your meal.

Silk Kitchen & Bar (Deck 11): Silk Kitchen might have the loveliest setting of all of Serenity's restaurants. It's got a wintergarden feel with a glass ceiling, living walls full of greenery and twinkle lights. However, the family-style Chinese menu fails to impress the way the other specialty restaurants do.

Start your dinner with Silk's signature drink, the refreshing Silk Rose (made with rose liqueur and lemon juice). The menu isn't technically divided into sections, but the first column lists starters and soups, such as a dim sum sampler, chicken won ton soup and the crisp duck salad (which can be made vegetarian and was the best appetizer we ate). As you might expect at a Chinese restaurant at home, order apps for the table rather than individually.

Main dishes, also meant for sharing, include a lobster and scallop wok, black pepper beef stir-fry and Chilean sea bass. The lobster and scallop got the best reviews; most of the mains we tried were fine but failed to impress. Vegetarian items are marked.

Dessert was perhaps the biggest win. The Chinese five spice dark chocolate slice was decadent, and the tapioca soup with fresh lychee refreshing.

Silk is also the location for a late-riser's breakfast every morning. At lunch, it serves as overflow seating for Trident Grill and Marketplace diners, but also has its own menu -- a mix of Asian small plates (dumplings, chow mein noodles, sweet and sour pork) and some western options, such as pizza, a grilled Reuben sandwich and shrimp Caesar salad.

Trident Grill (Deck 11): Not just another pool grill, the Trident has a wide selection of grilled items from the typical hamburgers and hot dogs to chicken, veggie and salmon burgers; grilled sirloin steak; grilled cheese with or without tuna or ham; and a wrap of the day. Sides include French and sweet potato fries and onion rings, and a soup of the day. Seating is under the glass roof opposite Silk at tables with wicker chairs and colorful orange or blue cushions.

Scoops Ice Cream Bar (Deck 11): Yes, your Crystal cruise comes with eight included flavors of Ben and Jerry's ice cream (plus two flavors of soft-serve and two of sugar-free ice cream); an array of toppings from hot fudge sauce to M&Ms, nuts and sprinkles; and even cookies to jazz up your frozen treat -- but let's talk about what really sets this Lido Deck ice cream counter apart. Freshly made waffle cones. As in, the attendant has a waffle maker and he'll make a waffle, roll it up and scoop in your flavors. Now that is luxury. Scoops can be found adjacent to the Trident Grill and Silk Kitchen dining areas.

The Bistro (Deck 6): Serenity's coffee bar and social spot, the Bistro is open from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Order coffee drinks at your table or at the bar; to-go cups are available. The small buffet is packed with snacks throughout the day. In the morning, you'll find fruit, yogurt, cereal, bagels and pastries. Midday, the selection morphs to offer deli meats and cheeses, bread and crackers, cookies and desserts. Packaged instant noodle cups are also a quirky addition. By evening, cheese and dessert rule, with a chocolate fountain making an appearance around 7:30.

Palm Court Tea (Deck 11): Afternoon tea is served daily in the late afternoon by white-gloved, tuxedoed waiters in the Palm Court. Choose black, green or herbal Julius Meinl teas, served in floral China. Waiters come around with trays of tea sandwiches (crusts cut off, of course), petits fours and scones with jam and whipped cream (clotted cream devotees must resign themselves to individual-sized plastic tubs rather than the fresh stuff).

The 2018 refurb added an afternoon tea prep station for the wait staff, as well as a counter for serving the pastries and other goodies that are the hallmarks of the line's themed teas, such as the Mozart and Chocolate Teas.

Room Service: Room service is available 24/7. You can order full (hot) or continental breakfast (hours vary) by marking your selections on a form and hanging it outside your door.

The lengthy 24-hour menu includes select breakfast items all day, soup, salad, hot and cold sandwiches and burgers, and entrees such as pizza, spaghetti and beef tournedos. Desserts include cheesecake, creme brulee, cookies, a cheese plate and ice cream.

Anyone can order from the Waterside lunch and dinner menus during dining hours; suite passengers can also order from Umi Uma and Prego.

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