Sailing aboard the Crystal Serenity from the white-cliff backdrop of Dover, England, to the beautiful Spanish port city of Barcelona provided a breathtaking introduction to the western and southern coasts of Europe.
Along the way, stops in St. Peter Port, Guernsey; Bordeaux/Bassens, France; Lisbon, Portugal; and Cadiz, Spain, yielded treasures of nature, history and culture.
Of course, on a cruise, the ship is also a destination, and the Serenity is a luxurious floating resort hotel. Indeed, the hardest part of such a trip is choosing among the incredible opportunities on board and on land. Nine days may seem like a lot, but not when there’s so much to do.
Crystal is a mid-size cruise line, with just two ships, the Serenity (1,070 passengers, 655 crew members) and the slightly smaller Symphony. It has carved out a niche serving people who enjoy a high-quality, stress-free, enriching and leisurely experience. Crystal boasts of guests who have cruised with the line 30, 40, 50 and even 200 times.
Crystal is becoming known for its world cruises. What’s neat is that travelers who don’t have time (or money) for a world cruise can share part of the journey with those who do. But there is no air of elitism or stodginess; only graciousness and hospitality.
Crystal invited writers for an expenses-paid cruise in early September. They flew me to London’s Heathrow Airport, where I was met by a driver for the 100-mile transfer through English countryside to the terminal in Dover. Boarding is allowed before the rooms are ready, which gives time to beat the rush and also to start exploring the ship, including the dining options. I found the Trident Grill on the Lido Deck first thing – and was at once smitten and eager for more!
That’s a good thing, because “more” — food, entertainment/activities, pampering and hospitality — came quickly and without ceasing aboard Serenity.
The accommodations and the service stand out. I expected the lushly appointed queen bed, sitting area and refrigerator, even in the confines of a ship, but was dazzled by my 10th deck penthouse’s elegant floor-to-ceiling furniture with drawers and cubbies for storage; a walk-in closet; a bathroom with separate shower and a spa tub; a dressing table, two desk areas, a huge TV and awesome sound system.
Sliding doors led to a private veranda with teak flooring, a table and chairs for optimal enjoyment of the ocean air and views — truly one of my favorite parts of a cruise. With just a phone call, my personal butler, Tamas, arrived — and sometimes I didn’t even have to call, as both Tamas and my penthouse stewardess, Reshma, often anticipated my needs and preferences. Complimentary bottles of wine and champagne greet penthouse guests. And in a matter of minutes, Tamas arrived with the first of many presentations of stunning appetizers.
Food and wine are major points of pride for Crystal. I restrict my diet and don’t drink alcohol, so I missed part of this experience, including Crystal’s signature wines. But listening to and watching others left no doubt of the satisfaction produced. And, per Crystal’s commitment to please, Tamas and the chefs and servers at the Crystal Dining Room and Prego Italian restaurant eagerly accommodated my preferences.
Interestingly, I didn’t eat sushi before the cruise and haven’t since, but aboard the Serenity, Asian fusion dishes prepared at the Silk Road specialty restaurant under the direction of chef Nobu Matsuhsia were irresistible. (However, while everyone else in my traveling party seemed to prefer sushi over other options, I was always glad to return to the Crystal Dining Room and Prego.)
Some of the things you won’t find on most Crystal sailings are the decadent midnight buffet with more food than you can imagine, presented in amazing shapes and styles among elaborate ice sculptures and other delights. The sense is that those are more of a “first cruise” experience, not a high priority to those who sail often. But you get the feeling if anyone wanted a grand buffet, the Crystal staff would accommodate the request. Another difference is that loud public address system announcements are kept to a minimum for the privacy and solitude of guests. This is mostly a good thing, but occasionally could leave a less-experienced cruiser without information that would have proved beneficial or interesting regarding arrivals, departures and places of interest by which we sailed.
The entertainment and cultural offerings cater to an older, largely retired crowd. World record-holding acrobatic and dance duo Rebecca Peache and Donovan Jones (semifinalists on Season 7 of “America’s Got Talent”) mesmerized with feats of balance, strength and grace, and top-rated Elton John tribute artist Jonathan Kane lived up to his billing, performing in the spacious and comfortable, state-of-the-art Galaxy Lounge.
I especially enjoyed the lecture of former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt, who, on the day of his first talk in the Hollywood Theatre, had been called by several national media outlets for “expert” commentary on that day’s breaking news headline, that Ariel Castro, the man who had held three women captive in his Ohio home for nearly a decade, had hanged himself in prison.
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For more information about Crystal Cruises, call (888) 722-0021 or go to www.crystalcruises.com.
Did you know?
•The 2015 world cruise aboard the Crystal Serenity already is being booked. It’s a 108-day jaunt from Miami with stops in South America, Africa, Australia and passage through the Panama Canal before returning to Miami.
•The cruise line recently completed two-year project that included $52 million in redesigns and renovations to the Crystal Serenity.