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Crystal Serenity
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Crystal Serenity
Reviewed by Chris Dikmen and Rickee Richardson
A cruise review of Crystal Cruises Crystal Serenity in Transatlantic
 
 
 
Crystal Cruises Review  
Crystal Serenity Cruise Review  

 
by Chris Dikmen and Rickee Richardson
December 2013
 
How I Rate This Review Rate Now!
 
 
   
Barcelona, Sea, Sea, Santa Cruz, de Tenerife, Sea, Sea, Sea, Sea, Sea, St Maarten, Sea, Sea, Miami

2013 Editor's Choice AwardsHaving sailed on every luxury cruise line multiple times, we have a unique perspective when we set out to evaluate a luxury brand. In addition to our experience on luxury cruise lines, we also have a lot of experience with luxury hotels and resorts. We understand the luxury market. We know what the upscale luxury consumer expects and demands from a cruise experience. A luxury consumer will not compare a "luxury" cruise experience to a mainstream cruise experience. They are more likely to compare it to a Four Seasons, a Banyan Tree or Fairmont Hotel experience.

THE EVALUATION PROCESS


The evaluation process that we use for a luxury cruise line is far more extensive than we use for a mainstream cruise ship. A luxury cruise experience comes at a significant price, so more is expected. Crystal Cruises is one of the most popular and recognized luxury brands in cruising. There's not enough room in this story to list all of the awards they have racked up over the last 20 years, but it is impressive. However, when we step aboard a luxury ship, we are not concerned with awards. Awards speak to the past; we are only concerned with the product we experience at this point in time. We try to experience as much of the ship's facilities and services as possible so that we can evaluate and write about them. Our goal is to provide the most extensive and in-depth analysis of a product that you will find anywhere on the Internet.


Thousands of photos and hundreds of minutes of video are shot during the cruise

THE ASSIGNMENT

We sailed on Crystal Serenity's 12-night Transatlantic sailing from Barcelona to Miami. Of the 12 days aboard the ship, 10 were at sea. We only had port calls in Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Philipsburg, St. Maarten.

THE DEMOGRAPHICS

While we did see a few "30-somethings" walking around the ship, the average age onboard this sailing was definitely older. Longer sailings with a lot of days at sea tend to attract an older, more mature crowd. In addition, this was a "Big Band" theme cruise which tends to attract an older group. We only saw a handful of children the entire cruise. More than half of the guests were from the USA and Canada. On formal dress nights, which are now referred to as "Black Tie Optional," most guests did opt for black tie.


Our sailing was a Big Band theme cruise featuring the Tommy Dorsey Band

THE SHIP

Crystal Serenity is one of two very similar Crystal ships. She is the larger of the two ships and carries 1070 guests with a crew complement of 655 and a crew-to-guest ratio of 1.65:1, one of the highest in the industry. The ship has 13 decks with guest accommodations on decks 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11. Decks 10 and 11 are Penthouse Decks which offer butler service to the Penthouse-and-above categories.


Crystal Serenity

Crystal pulled out all the stops when I came to Christmas decorations during our cruise. A special team was brought on board during the 12-day cruise to decorate the ship. It was fun to see new decorations every day. No venue on board was ignored. Every where you looked, there were beautiful, high-quality Christmas decorations.


Elaborate Christmas decorations could be found throughout the ship

PRE-CRUISE

Our flight from DFW to Miami was cancelled due to an ice storm in Dallas. We were originally scheduled to arrive in Barcelona two days prior to embarkation but, because of all the flight cancellations, we arrived the day before embarkation. We were met at the Barcelona airport by Jan from Avantgarde Limousine and transferred to our hotel. Of course, AA lost our luggage, so we spent a day in Barcelona in the clothes we had already been wearing for two days. Fortunately, our luggage arrived the morning of embarkation (48 hours late). We spent one night at the Mercer Hotel in Barcelona, an excellent boutique hotel perfectly located for pre-cruise/post-cruise guests. You can read our review of Hotel Mercer here. We also enjoyed a private Segway tour of Barcelona which is one of the best ways to see this amazing city. You can read our review of Barcelona Segway Tour here.



DFW airport was iced over on our scheduled day of departure
EMBARKATION

We took a taxi from Hotel Mercer and arrived at the Barcelona Port just after noon, the indicated embarkation time. There was already a line forming outside the terminal building. Baggage handlers took our two large duffel bags, tagged them with our stateroom number and loaded them on a cart. Getting through security was clunky and time consuming. Even though the terminal had three security x-ray machines, only one was in use, which really slowed things down. It took us about 45 minutes just to get through security. Of course, this was not a Crystal Cruises operation, so we can't blame Crystal for the lengthy process. Once we cleared security, we were given a boarding number. There was seating available in the terminal but it filled up quickly, resulting in a lot of guests standing around the room. Guests were being boarded in groups of about 20 at a time. Waiting for our group number to be called took about 30 more minutes. When our number was finally called, we stopped to have our embarkation photo taken, then boarded Crystal Serenity on Deck 6. A staff member greeted us and walked us down the stairs to Deck 5 where we would surrender our passports and receive our stateroom key cards.


Each guest received a boarding group card prior to boarding

We were a little surprised that no crew member offered to carry our hand luggage down the stairs for us. We had our photos taken for the room key cards and were told that our stateroom would be ready at 3pm and that lunch was available on Decks 6 (The Bistro) and Deck 12 (Trident Grill). One of the amenities listed for the Penthouse w/Veranda is a "fast-track check-in onboard ship." I did not see any special line for "fast-track check-in," so I am not sure if we experienced that or not. We were again surprised when we were not offered a glass of 'welcome aboard' champagne. We did see guests walking around enjoying the bubbly. Also, nobody mentioned that there was a space available to temporarily stow our carry-on luggage until our stateroom was ready. We discovered this on our own.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Our Penthouse with Veranda on Deck 10 forward (#10038) reflects a level of attention to detail you rarely find on a cruise ship. Every one of the 403 sq. ft. (including veranda) has been utilized to maximize guest comfort. It starts with the clever electronic Do Not Disturb/Clean Room switch by the front door. No need to fumble with paper signs hanging from the door knob, which by the way, always end up falling on the hallway floor. A classy doorbell alerts you that a visitor has arrived. And most likely, that person ringing the doorbell will be your personal butler. Well, maybe not "personal" as your butler will be taking care of several other guests, too. Nevertheless, your butler is on call 24 hours a day, and will provide you will any or all of the following services:

  • Unpacking and packing upon request
  • Confirming dining and spa reservations
  • Crystal Adventures shore excursion reservations
  • In-suite afternoon tea service
  • In-suite pre-dinner cocktail and gourmet canapé service
  • In-suite dining, including menus from Silk Road and Prego, served by course
  • Garment pressing and shoeshine upon request

Our butler, Richard, was always available whenever we needed anything. He greeted us soon after embarkation and made sure our stateroom was stocked with a bottle of our favorite Scotch. Each afternoon around 5pm, Richard would show up with a cart filled with canapés. Rickee mentioned early on that she liked shrimp cocktail. So every day thereafter, a huge plate of cocktail shrimp was waiting for us in our mini fridge complete with a delicious cocktail sauce!


Queen bed in Penthouse w/Veranda

The butler service is just one of the great perks you enjoy when you occupy a Penthouse w/Veranda stateroom. The large walk-in closet can hold enough clothes for a world cruise. There are shelves and drawers on both sides of the closet and three hanging racks. Rickee always needs extra hangers, and all she had to do was mention it to our stewardess, Jujo, and the hangers were delivered promptly. Frette bathrobes, kimonos and slippers are hanging in the closet upon embarkation for guest use during the cruise. We never use the bathrobes, so we had them removed to give us extra hanging space in the closet.


Large sofa and coffee table opposite the bed

A full-sized sofa faces the queen-sized bed and a nice-sized oval glass-topped coffee table sits between the bed and the sofa. A large and comfortable chair is placed to one side of the coffee table. The coffee table serves a dual purpose for in-suite dining as it can be raised to dining height. The aforementioned queen-sized bed was the only disappointment. The mattress, even though draped in a plush duvet with 100% Egyptian cotton linens, was sagging and worn. You could see visible impressions in the center of each side of the mattresses. We noted a similar issue on Crystal Symphony in 2011. The pillows were too soft for our liking, but a pillow menu offers a variety of firmness and materials and we soon had pillows delivered to our stateroom that were perfect.


Entertainment center and desk with tons of storage

A marble desk at one end of the entertainment center is large enough for my laptop. Walk around the corner from the desk and you will find an equally large marble vanity with lighted magnifying makeup mirror that became Rickee's favorite feature of the room. The desk and the vanity are separated by a mirrored wall. The design is ingenious because I could freely walk around the stateroom while Rickee was performing her makeup magic and never had to crawl over the bed, or squeeze behind her. The vanity also had two drawers large enough to hold all of Rickee's creams, powders, pencils and other concoctions.


Double sinks are a great feature on Crystal

The bathroom, too, is very well laid out with a large shower stall, Jacuzzi bathtub, dual sinks and tons of storage. A large shelf runs above the entire length of the vanity. There are multiple shelves above the toilet and large drawers under and on each side of the vanity. The dual sinks make it possible for two people to occupy the bathroom at the same time. There is a speaker in the bathroom connected to the TV and you can hear television programming while in the bathroom. There is also a telephone there. Aveda shampoo, conditioner, soap, body lotion and bath salts were provided in regular-sized bottles and replenished as necessary.


Even the end table has large drawers for storage

And, while on the subject of storage, the stateroom has drawers and shelves everywhere you look. There is a multi-drawer dresser beneath the television and a cabinet with shelves above the TV. To the left of the TV, there are more cabinets with shelves. If that's not enough, there are two large drawers in each of the nightstands, and even an end table with two large drawers! This is all in addition to the drawers and shelves in the walk-in closet. We couldn't begin to fill up all the drawers and cabinets.


The fresh fruit was replenished daily, as advertised

For in-suite entertainment, the large High-Definition flat-screen Samsung television offers a variety of closed-circuit channels with video feeds from the bridge, a channel replaying the days' lectures, a couple of movie channels, and popular news channels. On our transatlantic crossing, the television programming from the satellite had a few glitches and we were without programming for a few days. Apparently, there were some bugs in the new, larger satellite dish installed during a recent dry dock. A technician was brought on board in St. Maarten and the problems were rectified. The television is connected to a Blu-ray DVD/CD player capable of playing your own DVDs or any of the ones from the large selection available from the ship's library. The operation of the DVD player and television was seamless with a single remote control. There is an iPod docking station, but we could not figure out how to make it work.


Relaxing in our Penthouse w/Veranda

Crystal Serenity offers guests Wi-Fi throughout the ship. I was able to connect to the ship's network (and the Internet) from our stateroom with no problem. The Internet connection speeds were acceptable most of the time, with a few periods of dreadfully slow access. Access seemed to be faster in the Lido Cafe where I did most of my work in the mornings.


The lighted vanity was Rickee's favorite spot on the ship!

The lighting system in the stateroom took a little getting used to. Instead of individual light switches, all of the lighting is controlled by light panels placed in various locations throughout the stateroom. Basically, it is an all-or-nothing proposition. There are four different light levels from bright to dim. Various lights throughout the stateroom are turned off or dimmed at each setting. The only exceptions were the desk, vanity, closet and bathroom lights which each had its own on/off switch. A clever night-light button produced a slight glow underneath the vanity/desk to provide just enough light to see your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.


Lighting is controlled by switches placed throughout stateroom

A mini-fridge is located underneath the desk and is stocked with soft drinks, beer, white wine, or whatever you request. Of course, all are complimentary and replenished daily. Our fridge did not get very cold, even at the coldest setting. A fresh fruit basket on the desk was replenished daily.


Large balcony with excellent furnishings

One of the nits we picked on Crystal Symphony in 2011 was the balcony furniture. Well, someone at Crystal must be listening because the furnishings on our Serenity balcony were the nicest we have seen on any ship. Large wicker chairs with foot stools were outfitted with padded cushions.

Other amenities of the Penthouse w/Veranda include:


Free Crystal email 
24- hour room service

Two telephones
Order-in from specialty restaurants Silk Road and Prego

Wireless Internet and data port for laptop computer hook-up

Riedel stemware

Fresh flower bud vase

Guaranteed preferred dining in the Crystal Dining room

Complimentary welcome bottle of champagne upon arrival

Dining at an Officer table upon request

Complimentary soft drinks, beer and bottled water in room

Crystal Spa in-suite massage (Spa rates apply)

Complimentary wine plus choice of spirits upon embarkation

Security safe

Fresh fruit basket replenished throughout voyage upon request

Mohair blanket

Binoculars

Hairdryer

Personal stationery upon request

Twice-daily housekeeping including evening turndown service

Self-service launderettes (exclusive to Penthouse Deck)

Fast-track Check-in on board ship

Complimentary champagne and lunch for early embarkation
   


Overall, the Penthouse w/Veranda stateroom on Crystal Serenity gets a 5-out-of-5 rating from us. It is one of the most comfortable staterooms/suites of any ship on which we have sailed to date. It is well worth noting that, in a cruise industry first, Crystal offers 70 deluxe verandah staterooms that have been transformed into hypoallergenic luxury accommodations with a comprehensive, chemical-and odor-free indoor environment solution and allergy-friendly bedding. PURE® Marine Solutions implemented a seven-step air and surface purification process in each of these 70 rooms to remove allergens and reduce the risk of irritants. There is a state-of-the-art medical grade air purifier discreetly installed in each of these PURE staterooms which eliminate 99.9% of all airborne impurities, thus enhancing the overall relaxation experience. There is no additional cost for occupying one of the Deluxe PURE staterooms. In addition, effective with the first cruises of 2014, Crystal Cruises expands its non-smoking policy to eliminate smoking in all indoor areas, except for the Connoisseur Club smoking lounge.

FOOD AND DINING

Food is an important part of any vacation, and even more so on a cruise. We found the dining experience on Crystal Symphony in 2011 to be very good and we would have to say that the same is true of Crystal Serenity in 2013.

Crystal Dining Room


The Crystal Dining Room is the "traditional" restaurant on board Serenity. Guests can enjoy the traditional "early" or "late" seating options, or flexible dining is offered, as well, with open-seating. The Crystal Dining Room offers a lot of two-top tables for intimate dining. However, many of the two-top tables are placed in close proximity to each other, so it is almost like dining with the couple next to you. We also noticed this table arrangement in the Lido Cafe and Tastes. There are a few two-top tables that are located away from other tables for a more intimate experience. We prefer the table located in the far back corner of the dining room (#42). it is sort of hidden back in a little cove and it is much quieter and away from the traffic of the dining room. The Crystal Dining Room can get a bit noisy during peak dining periods.


Rickee outside the Crystal Dining Room

The food quality in the Crystal Dining Room was a bit schizophrenic. We were somewhat disappointed in our lunch visits each time we dined here. The evening meals, however, were superb, even better than we remembered on Symphony. The Grand Gala Buffet held in Crystal Plaza on one of the last sea days was lavish and beautiful! Anything you wanted in the way of food seemed to be available for the taking, from sushi to carved beef and everything in between.


Rickee enjoys a caviar appetizer in Crystal Dining Room

Service was excellent, day or night. The wine steward quickly took note that we like Riesling and made sure that a bottle was available upon each of our visits to the dining room.

The Crystal Dining Room is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. It was closed for lunch on days in port.

Lido Cafe

The Lido Cafe is Serenity's buffet dining venue located on Deck 12 aft and serving breakfast and lunch each day. During the ship's recent "Extreme Makeover", the existing Lido Cafe was demolished and extended forward to increase space for all new service and seating areas.
A variety of modern food "islands" (or stations) replace the long buffet counters and offer the same food on both port and starboard sides. The Lido Cafe offers mostly two-top tables and there is outdoor seating aft for al fresco dining. The layout is very well arranged and there are no long buffet lines to delay the dining process. Another innovation is the lighting which is carefully designed to showcase the food and makes the Lido Cafe Crystal's first LED low-energy lit restaurant.


Large selection of fresh fruit each morning in Lido Cafe

Food quality in the Lido Cafe was very good for a buffet. For those of you who follow our blog and reviews, you know that neither Rickee nor myself are big fans of buffet-style dining. Nevertheless, we found the food choices and quality to be at the top of what you will find on cruise ship buffets. We were a little disappointed that there were no "theme" buffets like we had experienced on Crystal Symphony. Our butler told us that one day was an Asian theme, but it was not advertised in the daily Reflections and, when we visited the Lido Cafe, we could not determine that there was any Asian theme.


The excellent cocktail shrimp was available on most days

Breakfast served in the Lido Cafe was excellent. Unlike most cruise ship buffets, there were no bland scrambled eggs on the buffet. All egg dishes where cooked to order, they way it should be on a luxury cruise ship! There is an excellent selection of fresh fruit, amazing fresh-baked pastries and breads, and cereals. Fresh squeezed orange juice and coffee are delivered to the table by Lido wait staff. We found the service in the Lido Cafe to be excellent. For some reason, our preferred Riesling was not available in the Lido Cafe, or any dining venue on Deck 12.


A wonderful selection of fresh-baked breads was always available in the Lido

I visited the Lido Cafe each morning with MacBook Pro in tow. This became my early morning blogging station. As some of you know, I travel with my own coffee and French coffee press. The main reason why I go to this trouble is that most cruise ships have lousy coffee. Don't ask me why, but they do. Not so on Crystal. I tried the coffee in the Lido Cafe on a couple of days and it was very good. Nevertheless, I had my own coffee and press, so I used it each day. Jun, a smiling member of the Lido waitstaff, was always there when I arrived around 5:30am and would greet me each morning. By the time I was finished with my coffee, Osvaldo, another fine member of the Lido waitstaff, would come on duty and always offered to clean my French press for me. This is excellent service that I did not even have to request; it was offered to me. Of course, Jun and Osvaldo always offered to bring me orange juice, or anything else I wanted.

The Bistro

The Bistro is a casual dining venue on Deck 5. Each morning, the Bistro offers a continental breakfast. In the afternoon, the Bistro offers charcuterie, international cheeses and freshly baked desserts. From 6-8pm you will find cured meats, prosciutto, international cheeses, all served with premium wines and champagne. The snacking continue from 8-11pm with artisanal cheeses accompanied with chutneys, honey, plus an assortment of fresh fruit and desserts. Late night munchies, served from 11pm to 12am include mini-sandwiches, pizzas, tandoori chicken and beef sliders. Every time we walked through The Bistro we visited the "tower 'o cupcakes".


The cupcake tower takes no prisoners

Trident Bar & Grill

The Trident Bar & Grill is not your typical cruise ship pool grill. Sure, they have burgers, hot dogs, fries, chicken sandwiches and the like. But there is style to Trident that puts the ultra-casual dining experience on a whole different level. What used to be a covered swimming pool on Deck 12 is now a plush, garden-like dining environment with comfortable white wicker furnishings. An innovative aspect of Serenity's Trident al fresco area, is the presence of four "living walls". One wall serves as a live herb garden for the onboard chefs to utilize. The walls definitely provide a touch of "green" and a nice backdrop for the American Riviera-style lounge seating in this area. The retractable sunroof remains closed so you are not exposed to the elements, but there's lots of natural sunlight pouring through. A waiter will take your order at the counter where you make your selections from an HD monitor. You are then given a number to place on your table for identification. Once seated, another waiter will take your drink order. Orders are delivered to your table.


The menu at Trident

We enjoyed lunch at Trident on at least four of the 12 days. It was just so darn convenient, plus, they begin lunch service at 11:30am. We were very pleased to discover that the minute steak sandwich was much improved over the one we tried on Symphony in 2011. Back then, we could not even cut the steak with a knife, and the cut of meat was very thinly sliced. On Serenity, however, our minute steaks were about 1/2 inch thick, cooked perfectly, tender and delicious.


Chips and salsa are available from the relish bar

Onion rings and sweet potato fries have been added to the menu since our last cruise. The lack of onion rings was something I mentioned in my last review as a disappointment, so I was pleased to see them being offered now. However, they are the pre-packaged, mushy onion rings, like you find at Burger King. They appear to be constructed of breaded onion puree formed into small rings. They are better than no onion rings at all, but not going to win any awards. The sweet potato fries, on the other hand, are absolutely delicious.


Waiting anxiously for my Minute Steak Sandwich to arrive

Notwithstanding my onion ring nit-picking, the Trident Bar & Grill is one of our favorite lunch venues on Crystal Serenity. The burger was thick, juicy and served on delicious fresh bun. And, Rickee was all smiles after devouring her chili-dog on one visit. Another cool feature is the relish bar where you can get mustard, mayo, ketchup, relish, cole slaw and even chips and salsa. Fresh fruit is also available.


Prego

Prego is Crystal's signature Italian fine dining restaurant. Located aft on Deck 7, this classy, intimate venue is popular with Crystal guests. And for good reason. The service and food here are both excellent. We only visited Prego once during our 12-night sailing and everything was as we remembered from our 2011 Symphony cruise. My Warm Lobster Poached in Sage Butter starter was delicious, and almost large enough to be a main course. The same was true of Rickee's Carpaccio of Black Angus Beef. No meal at Prego is complete without their signature mushroom soup served in a crusty bread bowl. The rich, creamy soup is infused with large chunks of varioust types of mushrooms. And the best part, you can eat the bowl! My Roasted Rack of Baby Lamb was perfectly cooked with a thick, impeccably seasoned crust. Rickee's Pan Fried Filet of Striped Bass was equally delicious. After three courses, we barely had enough room left for the souffle we had ordered.


Prego's signature mushroom soup is served in a bread bowl

Prego is one of the best Italian-themed dining venues at sea, so it is no surprise that it is so popular with Crystal guests. Reservations are required to dine in Prego. We recommend making those reservations before your cruise embarks by using Crystal's website. By the time this review is published, Crystal will have implemented a new policy regarding dining in Prego. Guests will be invited to dine once per cruise on a complimentary basis. Guests making subsequent visits to Prego will be charged a $30 fee. Of course, there are some exceptions to this policy depending on the length of the cruise, the number of cruises you've had with Crystal, your stateroom category, etc.


Rack of Baby Lamb was cooked perfectly and was delicious

Silk Road

Adjacent to Prego on Deck 7 aft is Crystal's Nobu-inspired Asian restaurant, Silk Road. As with Prego, reservations are needed to dine in Silk Road. However, Silk Road does offer one little secret. There is a sushi bar at Silk Road that seats ten guests. No reservations are required to dine at the sushi bar and the full Silk Road menu is available. We found this option too convenient to pass up. On a couple of nights, we were not hungry enough for a full dinner in the dining room, so we would pop into Silk Road for a sushi roll. A team of Sushi chefs expertly prepare a wide variety of fresh fish dishes right in front of you.


All sushi, like my Spicy Tuna Roll, are made fresh to order

The main restaurant at Silk Road is classy and the menu is upscale Asian cuisine inspired by Chef Nobu Matsuhisa. The menu at Silk Road includes Nobu classics such as Kawarayaki, and grilled Wagyu Beef with a choice of dipping sauces. When you dine at a Nobu restaurant, this dish is grilled table side; however, at Silk Road, most likely for safety reasons, the dish is prepared in the galley and delivered already cooked. Either way, the fork-tender slices of Wagyu are so delicious that the accompanying sauces are not even needed. Rickee and I both agree that the Black Cod with Miso Glaze is perhaps the best seafood dish on the planet. If you are not sure what to try, order the Nobu Box which gives you a chance to try the Wagyu beef, Black Cod and Shrimp. All dishes are accompanied by a bowl of delicious Jasmine rice, just sticky enough to eat with chopsticks.


Black Cod with Miso Glaze may be the best seafood dish on the planet

As with Prego, guests are invited to dine in Silk Road once per cruise on a complimentary basis. If you wish to return to Silk Road, there will be a $30 fee per person assessed. I was hoping that the additional fee would not apply to those who dined at the sushi bar, but the fee does apply, no matter where you dine in Silk Road. Again, certain exceptions to this policy exist as mentioned above with Prego.

Tastes

Tastes is Crystal Serenity's newest dining experience. This open-kitchen venue was added during Serenity's recent dry dock and occupies the starboard side of Deck 12 midship, just forward of the Lido Cafe. Its Global Cuisine comfort food menu was created in partnership with Sapphire Restaurant in Laguna Beach, California, where acclaimed chef, Azmin Ghahreman, offers cuisine with accents from around the globe. Tastes is open for late breakfast and lunch. I understand the timing of the late-riser breakfast service from 10:00am to 11:00am, but the 1:00pm lunch service leaves me scratching my head. Perhaps Crystal feels that the later start time will thin out the crowd at Tastes? In any case, we did have lunch at Tastes one afternoon. Waiters take orders on iPods that apparently transfer the order to the kitchen. The system seems to work pretty well, maybe too well! On our visit, we received duplicates of everything we ordered! I thought I would test Tastes' ability to do something out of the ordinary. I ordered the Caesar with Shrimp, but requested grilled chicken instead of shrimp. No problem, my salad arrived as ordered. The salad was large and delicious. Rickee's Margherita pizza was not quite as impressive. The pizza was hot, and good, but not great. It resembled a frozen pizza that had been heated in an oven. One of the specialties at Tastes is the noodle stir-fry, which we unfortunately did not have the opportunity to try.


Tastes becomes a romantic dining venue each evening

When we arrive at Tastes for dinner one evening, we are amazed at how the casual lunch venue had been transformed into a romantic, classy restaurant. Each table is candlelit and the blue lighting in the ceiling really creates an interesting atmosphere. Tastes has one of the most unique evening menus you will find anywhere and the food is served on small plates in portions that are designed to be shared. Our waiter was kind enough to make some selections from the menu of globally-Inspired cuisine. We started with a trio of appetizers, a smoked salmon dish, an octopus salad and Caesar salad fondue. The first "course' was soon followed with an "Alsatian Tarte" that looked more like a flatbread with sauteed leeks, Gruyère cheese, Bechemel and bacon. Then came the lamb kabobs. The food just kept coming! The highlight was the Chimichurri steak which was fork tender and delicious. The finale was the Bananas Foster Bread Pudding with vanilla bean ice cream. We could barely stagger back to the stateroom! If you sail on Crystal Serenity, make sure to book reservations at Tastes.

Room Service


Crystal offers a nice 24-hour room service menu. Of course, the most popular meal for room service is breakfast. Breakfast order cards can be placed on your stateroom door before retiring and breakfast will be delivered to your stateroom the next morning at the desired time. However, there are times when you may not want to get dressed for dinner. This is where Crystal's Room Service really comes to life, and where booking a Penthouse-level stateroom or suite really pays off. Penthouse guests can order dinner from the evening menu at Crystal Dining Room, Prego or Silk Road. I can't think of any other cruise line that offers this level of room service choice.


Richard sets up our en suite dining table for room service

One evening we decided to stay in our beautiful stateroom and watch a DVD movie from the ship's library. We called Richard, our butler, on the phone and ordered room service. Rickee ordered a caviar appetizer from the Crystal Dining Room menu and I ordered the Mushroom Soup and Rack of Lamb from Prego's menu. Within 30 minutes, Richard was ringing our doorbell and, soon thereafter, our coffee table was raised and converted to a linen-covered dining table. Everything arrived perfectly prepared and absolutely delicious. We had a similar experience two years earlier on Crystal Symphony. In our opinion, Crystal has the best room service of any cruise line.

Afternoon Tea


The Palm Court on Deck 12 forward becomes the perfect setting for an Afternoon Tea each day from 3:30pm to 4:30pm. Tables are covered in linen and wait staff are in tuxedo with white gloves for the service. A choice of teas are offered along with finger sandwiches, scones, cookies and other treats.


Afternoon tea each day in Palm Court

Scoops Ice Cream Bar

No review would be complete without mentioning Scoops, the ice cream bar located in the Trident Bar and Grill on Deck 12, where Crystal guests are treated to a variety of Ben & Jerry's popular flavors, and the ice cream is complimentary! The Triple Caramel Crunch is hands down the best flavor. We felt that it was necessary to try the ice cream each day, just for journalistic integrity, of course. The ice cream can be served in a cone or a cup and a large variety of toppings are available to complete the treat.


Rickee gets her daily dose of Triple Caramel Crunch at Scoops
Bar Service

Now that Crystal has implemented a new all-inclusive drink policy, guests are no longer required to surrender their key card and sign a ticket each time they order a drink. We found the bar service throughout the ship to be excellent. There was one small hiccup when I ordered a Dewar's on the rocks the first night and was told by the waiter that Dewar's was not available on the ship. I was a little surprised since our butler provided a bottle of Dewar's in our stateroom. Nevertheless, I ordered Johnny Walker until two days before the end of the cruise when I discovered, from another bar waitress, that Dewar's IS available.

When you order a Scotch, you get a very generous pour each time. All drinks we ordered were very good.

ENTERTAINMENT

One area in which we noticed improvement was Crystal's entertainment. Perhaps it was because we were on a transatlantic sailing with nine days at sea, but Crystal Serenity Cruise Director, Gary Hunter, pulled out all the stops and had something interesting each and every evening. The highlight of the entertainment had to be the Production Shows starring the Crystal Ensemble of Singers and Dancers featuring Sara K. Story and Eric Strong. The Galaxy Orchestra provided the music for these shows (mostly) and were often accompanied by the Astoria String Quartet, a group of talented female musicians. The Astoria String Quartet also performed daily in other venues around the ship. Nightly shows in the Galaxy Theater were usually held twice: the first show for those eating a late dinner and a second show for those who dined earlier.


Johnathan Kane & Sara K. Story sing an Elton John duet

Other shows featured a variety of entertainers ranging from 12-year-old virtuoso pianist, Umi Garrett, to a fantastic Elton John impersonator, Jonathan Kane. There were also amazing up-close magic performances by Magic Castle's Mark Haslam. Classical guitarist, George Sakellariou, and classical violinist, Hanna Starosta, provided beautiful music and the vocal duo, Journey South, were great. Vocal performances by Toni Warne and by Joe West were featured. A special highlight was a ventriloquist performance by Cruise Director, Gary Hunter!


Rickee with Gary Hunter

The "Big Band" theme of our voyage called for a "Big Band" orchestra. The Tommy Dorsey Band filled this bill and provided music for dancing in the Palm Court most evenings. The Crystal Sextet also played music daily for dancing in the Palm Court and the Stardust Club. Hal Fraser entertained in the Avenue Saloon and DJ Edgar held down the fort in the Pulse disco. Scott Mitchel played the piano in Crystal Cove.


The Crystal Ensemble of Singers & Dancers performs a number from the musical Cats

ACTIVITIES AND ENRICHMENT


There is no better test for a cruise director and his/her staff than a transatlantic sailing. Days at sea can become boring if nothing is going on around the ship. Not to worry on Crystal. Gary Hunter and his staff offered guests a variety of activities, lectures, movies and enrichment experiences throughout this sailing.

Computer University @ Sea - Crystal guests are invited to participate in a series of computer software classes during days at sea. A transatlantic sailing is the perfect time to brush up on computer skills. The classroom has more than 20 new iMac computers capable of running Mac OS or Windows.


CU@Sea Classroom

Internet Access Pricing

Crystal's Computer University@Sea offers guests several Internet plans (below) with per minute costs that decrease the more minutes you purchase. The prices are competitive with what other cruise lines charge for comparable services. On our 12-night sailing I had no trouble using up the 25 hour plan, but then again, I do a daily blog, check and send email each day, etc. At a net cost of $0.20 cents per minute, the 25 hour plan is one of the best values per minute of any cruise line Internet package. I keep wondering which major cruise line will be the first to include unlimited Internet in their "all-inclusive" pricing, but until that day comes, Crystal has one of the most affordable offerings.

Plan
Cost
 Cost Per Minute
Pay As You Go

$0.74
2 Hours
$50
$0.42
5 Hours
$115
$0.38
10 Hours
$200
$0.33
25 Hours
$300
$0.20

Note; Pricing table as of December, 2013. Rates and plans are subject to change

Just Announced: Crystal is now providing 60 minutes of free W-Fi per day/per person for Crystal Society Members on repeat cruises. Read more.

Yamaha Passport to Music- Have you ever wanted to learn how to play the piano? Crystal has teamed up with Yamaha to provide a series of classes using Yamaha keyboards. Rickee had experienced the keyboard classes on Crystal Symphony in 2011, but we only had two days at sea on that cruise. On this cruise, she had several days to develop her skills under the capable guidance of instructor, Thomas Swenson.


Rickee practices her keyboard skills


USC Digital Filmmaking Course - 
This course focused on using an iPad to take and edit movies.

Hollywood Theater Movies
- The Hollywood Theater on Deck 6 became our favorite afternoon movie spot. Each day, a different movie was presented here. The 210-person theater offers very comfortable seating, a large screen, great sound, and popcorn! What more could you want?

Lecture Series - On days at sea, we enjoyed a wide variety of lectures by noted experts on a variety of interesting topics ranging from politics to brain health to the Royal Family of England to the history of Big Band. Lectures were held in the Hollywood Theater on Deck 6 and most found the theater filled to capacity. Crystal tapes the lectures and makes them available for viewing on the stateroom televisions. This is a great feature since there are so many activities scheduled for the same time period during each day. You can take part in something else and still be able to "attend" the lectures without leaving the comfort of your stateroom. Nice!


Dr. Jeffrey Cummings from Cleveland Clinic in Las Vegas spoke on how to improve brain health

Exercise Classes
- For those who want to continue their fitness routines while on board the ship, Crystal provides many ways to accomplish this. There are a variety of fitness classes offered each day, including the "Walk on Water" program using the WALKVEST and the Nordic Walking Program. Pilates and Yoga classes are offered. Stretching sessions, stationary bicycle classes, Body Sculpt boot camp were offered and informational seminars were offered on such topics as flattening your abs, detoxing and the benefits of acupuncture. Crystal Serenity also has a nicely-equipped fitness center on Deck 13.

Various other activities filled each day including:

  • Bingo
  • Team Trivia
  • Berlitz Spanish classes
  • Bridge lessons
  • Art lessons using Watercolor
  • Scarf-tying
  • Napkin folding
  • Oragami lessons
  • Golf clinics and golf simulator
  • Table tennis and Paddle tennis tournaments
  • Casino gaming lessons and slot tournaments
  • Needlepoint and knitting sessions

Since ours was a Big Band theme cruise, there was no shortage of ballroom dancers onboard. Twice each day, dancing lessons were offered, one session for beginners and the other for more advanced dancers. No partner was necessary for anyone to attend these classes as Crystal provides partners in the form of Ambassador Hosts. There were eight male Ambassador Hosts on this cruise and, for the first time, there were actually two female Ambassador Hostesses to dance with the men.

SPA AND SALON

The Crystal Spa & Salon, located on Deck 13 aft, is operated by Elemis. And, the only way to get to it is by using the aft elevators/staircase. Rickee and I both indulged in the offerings of the spa and the salon. Rickee got a haircut ($85) in the salon, while I enjoyed a Shiatsu massage ($140) in the spa. My Shiatsu massage was 50 minutes of serious muscle relaxation. Before the massage, I had the opportunity to enjoy the complimentary steam and sauna in the men's locker room. This is probably the best steam and sauna I have experienced on any ship. The locker room is very nice with plenty of lockers and showers. However, the locker key they provide when you check-in at the spa desk, does not have a wristband, and the robes provided do not have pockets, so where to put the key when you are in the steam, sauna or shower? My massage was very good, even though I prefer a Swedish massage to Shiatsu. The only Swedish massage offered was a 75-minute/$245 massage. I love a Swedish massage, but not that much. After the massage, I did get the typical Elemis sales pitch for their line of products that would "benefit" me.

PORTS OF CALL

On our 12-night sailing, we only visited two ports: Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Philipsburg, St. Maarten. Crystal Serenity was docked in Santa Cruz, but tendered in St. Maarten. There were eight other ships in port on the day we visited Philipsburg. Needless to say, it was crowded in town!

STAFF AND CREW

As you might expect on a 5-star cruise line, the staff and crew on Crystal Serenity were friendly, helpful and engaging.

THE GOOD AND THE BAD

The Good

  • All-inclusive policy is a hit
  • New smoking (or non-smoking) policy
  • Best staterooms of any cruise line
  • Excellent 5-star service
  • Great dining options
  • Incredible room service

The Bad

  • No Fast Track Check-In as advertised
  • Mattresses were worn and in need of replacement
  • Daily menus and activity schedule should be displayed on stateroom TV

SUMMARY

The new, all-inclusive policy (gratuities and beverages included) not only makes Crystal a better value than before, it secures a place among the "Big Four" luxury cruise brands. By the time this review is published, Crystal will have implemented its new smoking policy, restricting the activity to a few designated outer deck areas and the Connoisseur Club. That means no more smoking in staterooms or balconies. In some of these areas, Crystal is playing catch-up with the competition. But, in other areas, Crystal is clearly leading the pack. When it comes to the combination of guest comfort, dining, entertainment, attentive service and value, Crystal leads the industry.



SLIDESHOW

CruiseReport's Crystal Serenity 2013 album on Photobucket



VIDEO


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6 Comments
CRUISEREPORT.COM EDITOR
@Mark, I hear where you are coming from. We ate at the sushi bar 3 times on our sailing, and the Silk Road restaurant twice. I was actually surprised that you could order from the fill Silk Road menu at the sushi bar. I would have been happy with only having access to the sushi.
Tuesday, January 07, 2014 8:16 PM  
MARK D.
Thank you for your response. There are a few issues here: the first is that Crystal bills itself as being "all inclusive" certainly in terms of food. They have now taken a step backwards which is a discouraginng direction. Secondly, one of the main joys of sitting at the sushi bar is to watch the chef preparing the fish before your eyes which is a part of the overall experience. The food is a part of it but partaking the entire experience is so much more. Having to get a penthouse to obtain the food would deny that experience as well as the interaction with other sushi loving cruisers. You are correct that the new restricted eating policy allows a visit per segment but having sushi once a week at best for couples who really crave it does little to satisfy their palates.
Tuesday, January 07, 2014 7:47 PM  
CRUISEREPORT.COM EDITOR
@Mark, I can understand your frustration. However, one workaround would be to book a Penthouse or above and you can have room service from Silk Road for free. There are also special considerations for world cruise guests with multiple cruise segments and for those with 50 or more cruises with Crystal. I think you get one free meal in each restaurant per segment. Also, if you want, you can dine in Silk Road twice and skip Prego, or Vice-Versa.
Tuesday, January 07, 2014 6:30 PM  
MARK D.
As a couple who has signed up for their world tour cruise we are very seriously considering canceling. Although we love sailing with Crystal our biggest pleasure is stopping by Silk at the sushi bar either before or after the main dining room or as our main dining venue. To have to pay to sit at the bar is outrageous and we are now looking at other luxury cruise lines for our future sailings. There has never been an issue of finding a seat at the bar so their new policy has nothing to do with giving all passengers an opportunity to try this speciality restaurant. Maybe they will revisit their new policy before we and some of our like minded thinking cruisers abandon ship.
Tuesday, January 07, 2014 6:11 PM  
M ERGER
With the shortcomings you mentioned - this would not be considered a "LUXURY" ship by our rating system. Bad mattresses, no satellite for days, no priority board, poor food in some restaurants. You've got to be kidding! Doesn't sound worth the money!
Tuesday, January 07, 2014 5:16 PM  
DICK GRIFFITHS
We are long time Crystal cruisers. Our favorite has always been the Symphony but your review tempts us to try the Serenity again. We tired it when it was first launched and things were not quiteanized yet.
Tuesday, January 07, 2014 4:27 PM  
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