After much anticipation, the newest ship in the Crystal Cruise Lines fleet, the Crystal Serenity, made her debut, under some interesting circumstances. While preparing the ship for her maiden voyage, the new propulsion system experienced some problems, causing a return to the French shipyard and a week of drydock. This caused delays in crew training, interior finishes and general deliveries of ship's stores. Consequently, Crystal contacted every passenger booked on the maiden voyage and offered them a choice: canceling their cruise and receiving a full refund, or remain on the cruise and still receiving a refund. Most, if not all passengers, chose to continue on with their plans to cruise.
The Serenity looks much like her older sisters with two important variations. There is one additional deck of Penthouses, and the lifeboats are recessed into the ship's hull on Deck 6, which removes the problem of obstructed view cabins. All cabins are outside, and all having verandahs, with the exceptions of the Category C cabins, which have a large picture window.
I sailed on the Grand Inaugural Voyage on July 7, 2003, in an AA Stateroom on Deck 10, and all I can say is that it was a fantastic experience, even with the very few glitches that happened due to the delay. While there were some problems with crew training and the absence of things like tableware and certain beverages, this did in no way diminish what has become known as the "Crystal Experience".
It's obvious that Crystal spared no expense in making their public rooms the finest at sea. From the rich, darker woods to the luxurious fabrics and liberal use of color, the Serenity has a completely different visual feel from her sister ships. Instead of using light blond wood in the public areas, Crystal has chosen a deep butterscotch tone which provides a very soft and appealing feel to the rooms. While the Crystal Cove's waterfall, located on Deck 5, isn't as dramatic as on the Symphony, the use of stained glass in colors of deep purple, gold, green and white, provides a lovely backdrop for the waterfall and the bronze statue of a harpist. The Cove is large and well lit via natural light and provides a very welcoming ambiance embarking passengers. The Crystal Cove Lounge is virtually the same as on the other two ships and includes the signature "Crystal Piano". Also on Deck 5 is the Crystal Dining Room. While the dining room is somewhat larger than on the other ships, there seems to be more of an intimate feel to the room and it appears Crystal has solved the problem of too much noise in the room in the form of overhearing other tables' conversations. There is a magnificent mural on the ceiling in the center of the room in shades of pale blue and pink, to complement the carpet which is dark chocolate brown with tiny rosettes, also in pale pink and blue. White tablecloths and the signature Crystal dinnerware along with Christophle flatware makes a beautiful table setting.
The deck plans for Deck 6, the hub of most of Crystal's activities are quite a bit different from the other ships. While the location of the Galaxy Lounge and Caesar's Palace at Sea casino are the same, the location of the Hollywood Theater, and the Stardust Club took some getting used to. The theater is located midship behind the atrium and the Stardust is located at the very back of the deck. Both show lounges are beautifully decorated and rich jewel tones. The Galaxy is finished in tones of sapphire blue and dove gray, with love seats in blue velvet replacing the long banquettes found on the other two ships. There are also the rounded swivel chairs covered in dove gray and blue patterned fabric. And, in this Galaxy, there are no pillars obstructing the views of the stage. The Stardust is very warm and inviting in shades of red, blue and gold, but it just doesn't seem to have the small and intimate feeling previous Stardust Lounges. Also on Deck 6 are the Avenue Saloon, which was busy every night, the Connoisseur Club, which didn't seem very well utilized, and Pulse Disco, which was quite empty every evening. The Saloon's design, in my opinion, isn't the best due to the fact that the huge bar is located right inside the doorway, which, during busy times, makes it very difficult to get to the tables, which are located farther inside the room. But the acoustics in that room are fantastic for the nightly piano entertainment.
Deck 7 contains what I believe to be the most interesting and most dramatically different rooms on board. The computer room, which serves as not only classroom space for the wonderful computer instruction classes Crystal provides, but it's also the link to the outside world for many of the passengers. There are two rooms with numerous Dell computers equipped with flat screen monitors where passengers can send and receive e-mail and access the internet. The room is bright and cheery, decorated in tones of blue, red and yellow and the large windows provide lots of natural light. Next door to the computer room is the Bridge Room which is at least twice as large as similar rooms on the other ships. There are approximately 20 tables to accommodate bridge lessons, tournaments or informal play. The port side of Deck 7 contains Crystal's newest innovations, the Vintage Room where special Wine Tasters Dinners are held, and the Studio, where classes in piano, language, cooking and wine appreciation are held. The Vintage Room is elegant and beautiful decorated in red and gold. There is a long rectangular table that will seat a maximum of 14 lucky passengers who chose to participate in the fabulous dinner and wine tasting experience. One-half of The Studio is equipped with Yamaha electronic pianos, while the other half contains tables and chairs for instructional purposes. In the center of the room is a teaching area equipped with a cooking demonstration station and cameras recessed into the ceiling, which gives all participants a clear view of what the chef is preparing on two large TV monitors located on either side of the area. The classes in The Studio were exceptionally popular on the Inaugural voyage. The Library, containing DVD's, CD's and a wonderful selection of books is directly next door to the Studio. Also located on this deck are the two alternate restaurants, Prego and Silk Road. Prego is nothing like the other two Prego restaurants, giving up the pizza parlor feel for a more romantic and elegant setting. The bright blue, red and yellows are replaced by understated and elegant pastel shades. The room has the feeling of a more formal restaurant and not that of a bistro. Silk Road, the Asian alternate destination, is absolutely beautiful decorated in shades of pale blue, black and white and as the name inplies, the furniture has a modern Asian influence. Tables in both alternate restaurants are well spaced affording some dining privacy. Deck 7 is also the place to do your morning walks with the large wraparound Promenade, which was also a very popular place for those who wished to work off the inevitable weight gain.
Deck 12 is the daytime hub on the Serenity. On that deck you'll find the swimming pools, spas, the Lido Buffet, the ice cream parlor Scoops, the Trident Grill and Crystal's newest alternate food station, Tastes. All are casual dining alternatives to the formal dining room with Tastes also being open in the evening for those who wish to forgo the Crystal Dining Room for dinner on several evenings on each cruise. Deck 12 is also home to the Palm Court, one of the most beautiful lounges at sea. This room has a very tropical feel with wicker furniture, palm trees and fantastic sea views from every seat. This is a favorite after-dinner spot for dancing and relaxing.
On Deck 13 you find the Paddle Tennis Courts, the Crystal Salon and Spa and the Fitness Center. I have to say that these facilities are the best I've experienced at sea. The Salon is large and provides every amenity you can ask for while the spa is dramatically larger than her counterparts on the Symphony and Harmony. The salon/spa are wonderful places to unwind and relax with facials, massages and other treatments. The Fitness Center is one of best equipped facilities I've seen at sea. There are running machines, each equipped with individual television screens, free-weights, stair-step machines and an area for yoga, aerobics, Pilates and Tai Chi classes. There are also saunas and steam rooms.
All staterooms are beautifully decorated in richer, darker woodwork, well-designed and functional furniture and upscale Frette linens such as down comforters and pillows. The bathrooms feature double sinks, with Aveda bath products and are decorated in shades of beige and white, with a surprising amount of natural granite on the countertops and floor. The PH, PS and CP penthouse rooms feature separate whirlpool tubs and showers. Closets are adequate for hanging clothes, with very good drawer space and personal safes. There are refrigerators in all rooms that are now stocked with complimentary soft drinks and water, while the Penthouse rooms are fully stocked with requested bar items. The televisions are equipped with DVD players and have 24 hour CNN, CNBC, ESPN, and movies. The televisions in the CP, PS, and PH suites have large flat screen televisions.
Dining and Service
This is where Crystal outshines everyone. The food and service are consistently wonderful and continue to receive yearly awards. The word "no" is not in the Crystal dictionary and a passenger only need ask for something and it will be done. On my cruise, tablemates asked for specially prepared entrees or desserts, and they were prepared with absolutely no problem. Even with little training time, dining room service was flawless, food was prepared as ordered and no one missed a beat. The food in Prego and Silk Road was fantastic. The black cod and sushi platters of Silk Road were the best I've ever tasted. And don't forget to try the toasted sesame seed ice cream with chocolate mousse cake for dessert.
Tastes, the newest alternate dining destination, was quite popular not only for lunch but for those who wanted to avoid the formal dining room after a long day of touring. The menu for lunch consists of salads, soups, sandwiches and pizza. For dinner the atmosphere is a little less casual with the tables being set with linen tablecloths and napkins. Service for dinner at Tastes was quick and attentive, with a changing menu.
The Lido and Trident Grill are the same as on the other two ships. Very good food that includes burgers (veggie, salmon, chicken and beef), wraps, salads, and a pasta bar. The food is varied and plentiful in the Lido and the service is excellent.
The productions shows, with the exception of the new show, Curtain Call, weren't ready in time for our sailing, so Crystal brought in celebrity entertainers for the evening shows. Alan King, Marvin Hamlisch, and Dionne Warwick entertained in the evening along with various musical performers brought on for this cruise. The new production show, Curtain Call, was finally ready for our last evening. by far, it's the best show Crystal has produced to date. The cast performs scenes from a number of popular Broadway shows, including, but not limited to, Chicago, The Man of LaMancha and Evita. The costumes and staging are fabulous.
Despite the delays, this was a typical Crystal experience. Fantastic food and service, wonderful accommodations, and more entertainment and activities than there is time to experience. People often ask if Crystal is worth the money and all I can say is "Yes". While other lines might have larger rooms, go to the same destinations and have more flashy entertainment, they cannot possibly provide all the little touches that make Crystal special. A stewardess who remembers you prefer three pillows on your bed, a butler who knows you prefer Jack Daniels or diet Coke, waiters who have your favorite drink waiting at your table when you walk into a lounge, and the head waiter who remembers you love bananas foster for dessert and surprises you with that for dessert one evening. Those are the things that most other cruise lines cannot do for you. Couple that with a crew who are always smiling, officers who are accessible to the passengers, and a general ambiance that cannot be copied all make Crystal worth the cost. I guess the Crystal experience can be explained by this simple gesture: when we were disembarking in Southampton, the process of walking down the gangway was quite slow. The reason? Captain Maalen was standing at the end of the ramp, shaking hands with each passenger and thanking them for cruising Crystal. For me, it's summed up in the music that the Captain plays as we leave each port. The song, by Louis Armstrong, says "sailing along on the Serenity,....... With my Crystal family, and I think to myself, what a wonderful world".