The Crystal Serenity is a luxury ship for both experienced and first time cruisers who seek the very best. For many reasons as I was about to discover, guests are prepared to trade-off the lack of ‘all suite’ accommodation featured on Crystal’s competitors, for the smaller staterooms of this ship.
Over and above the ‘taken for granted’ aspects of excellent service, exceptional food, and extremely stylish and elegant surroundings, Crystal Serenity delivers something its ‘small ship’ competitors struggle with: space and choice. This is the essence of Crystal and why it stands out from the crowd.
The ship sports seven bars and eight unique dining locations, all of which deliver excellent service and exceptional food. And the extensive pool area (think ‘beach club chic’) is one of Crystal Serenity’s many strong points.
Throughout the ship, furnishings and decor are elegant, understated and contemporary. The list of onboard activities is large, even more so on ‘at sea’ days. The famed ‘Computer University @ Sea’ concept is industry-leading and enormously popular with guests.
These types of services and facilities require one thing in particular: real estate, the ultimate difference between large and small ship luxury cruising. Up until this trip, I had been a devoted disciple of the small ship, luxury cruising brigade; I viewed Crystal with some degree of skepticism. As it turns out, this voyage was one of the best cruise experiences I have had and while not perfect, it certainly came very close.
As I mentioned, Crystal can’t claim an ‘all suite’ offering, but that didn’t really matter once I was installed in my chic and elegant stateroom. For those who seek an all-inclusive luxury cruise and prefer the choice and activities that only a larger ship can offer, then Crystal is far-and-away the industry leader in this sector.
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Check-in experience and boarding
The check-in for a cruise departing from Malta is a challenge. The cruise terminal itself (where I checked in and cleared security) is actually located across a busy roadway from where the ship is berthed. Worse yet, if there’s more than one ship in the port, there may be a considerable walk involved.
This was exactly how it was when I boarded with just one extra hurdle: it was pouring with rain. But the ship had the whole situation under control. On arrival shipside, a forest of umbrellas ensured that I arrived on board only slightly damp.
I was greeted by a staff member and taken down one deck to the reception area, the Crystal Cove, and handed over to the embarkation and check-in desks. Formalities were handled quickly; I was offered a glass of champagne and escorted to my stateroom. The whole exercise was smooth and created a great first impression.
Staterooms and suites
Completely refurbished in 2011 (the remainder of the ship was completed in 2014), my stateroom was a delight. There are of course an array of suites to choose from and perhaps on a cruise longer than seven to ten days, these are probably the way to go: Penthouses (think Junior Suite in hotel terms) or a one bedroom, Penthouse Suite. Both these categories come with butler services.
And for those requiring the ultimate in seagoing comfort, the Crystal Penthouse offers an oasis of calm and contemporary style, one of the best available at sea.
My somewhat more humble surroundings were nonetheless very suitable indeed. Balcony staterooms sport a modern, ‘in vogue’ design with chocolate browns and beige accents along with white marble table tops and bedside tables. The couch in my stateroom was light grey leather; the room was dotted with silver and grey accent cushions.
Beds on cruise ships always worry me. It’s no secret that a queen-size bed is created by pushing two single beds together and adding a flimsy mattress topper. Usually, the end result is a bed with an uncomfortable ridge down the middle. But this wasn’t the case on this ship where although my queen was still the love child of two single beds, the mattress topper was a superior breed.
Bedding is the Italian Frette brand and, a welcome touch, there is a pillow menu with several options from which to choose.
Staterooms also feature a coffee table in front of the couch that can be raised to become a table for two for in-room dining. On the opposite wall is a unit featuring a desk, TV and Blu-ray system, and a fridge stocked with a selection of beverages. Wardrobe space is significant, as are clothes hangers.
Perhaps one of the most surprising features on this ship is the large size of the balconies, along with the style and quality of the outdoor furniture. A nicely styled outdoor dining table and two chairs becomes the perfect spot for breakfast on a calm, sunny day.
In room technology is a breeze: lights are controlled with dimmers, air conditioning had a simple push button pad to adjust the temperature, and the TV remote control is stock standard.
Bathrooms aren’t huge, but they are not tiny either. Interestingly, Crystal’s ‘all suite’ competitors might claim slightly larger bathrooms and separate walk-in showers, but Serenity’s smaller bathrooms make effective use of the space.
The vanity is large with twin basins and plenty of room for personal things and shelves and drawers for storage are plentiful. Lighting is excellent.
One of the common problems with cruise ship bathrooms, even on luxury ships, is that in an effort to have separate showers and bathtubs everything is ‘shrunk down’. Bathtubs end up being bird baths and showers are designed for size 0 supermodels. So, in the deluxe staterooms Crystal has forgone the walk-in shower and opted for the ‘shower over the bath’ combo. I personally don’t like this, but the end result is a larger, deeper tub and a shower with lots of room.
Main dining room
The measure of the culinary experience on board any cruise ship is the quality of the food and service in the main dining room. Hands down, the Crystal Dining Room has the best food and service I have ever experienced on a ship. Not only is the room itself elegant and refined, the whole operation is a lesson in fine, European style service.
Staff are friendly and outgoing but never step over the line of true professionalism. They are knowledgeable about the food, make suggestions, and the service is perfectly timed.
Because of the Serenity’s maximum passenger count of 1080 guests, the restaurant operates a two seating system, but at no time did I feel rushed along. The service here, and in fact everywhere throughout the ship, is excellent.
But wonderful surroundings and excellent staff aren’t worth a hoot if the food doesn’t measure up. So I am going to go out on limb here and say, quite unashamedly, that Crystal has by far the best food of any 6-star cruise line I have ever travelled with. The food is innovative, beautifully presented, and delicious. I had Prime Rib on my first night onboard and it was the best I have ever had.
Crystal Cruises, like its competitors, is an ‘all inclusive’ package with all beverages (alcoholic or otherwise) included. An excellent selection of wines at lunch and dinner (or anytime) were provided to pair with most food selections and they changed daily. There was always a choice of three white and three red wines and an extensive cellar list to choose from if one wished, although not covered in the ‘all inclusive’ deal.
Luckily for us wine lovers, Crystal has completely bucked the trend when it comes to pouring. Unlike its competitors, who appear to be reducing wine servings to the merest splash, Crystal Serenity servings were hearty to say the least, with constant topping-up throughout the meal.
Overall, the standard of food and beverage offerings on the Crystal Serenity were exceptional. No request went unfulfilled and nothing presented went uneaten.
Speciality restaurant 1 (Prego)
Prego is one of the two specialty restaurants onboard. The deal is that you will get to dine at least once at each one (the other is Silk Road) during a seven-night cruise. However, as long as you can secure a reservation (not a particularly difficult task) you can dine as often as you wish for a surcharge of $30 per person, per meal. Based on the meal I had in Prego, I would say it is excellent value indeed.
The cuisine at Prego is Italian, as are the accompanying wines. This is a small and rather lavishly decorated restaurant that, whilst slightly ‘over-frescoed’, has an old world Italian feel. So does the service, with white-jacketed waiters who are exceptionally professional and friendly, making sure this slick operation runs a top-notch pace.
The menu offers traditional hearty Italian fare, including soups, antipasti, salads, pastas, risotto, and meat and seafood dishes.
A choice of three whites and three red wines were presented, and whilst they were all good, the Super Tuscan was a standout.
Speciality restaurant 2 (Silk Road)
Silk Road is the ship’s Asian fusion restaurant and features the food of acclaimed chef Nobu Matsuhisa. I have been to a number of Nobu restaurants around the world and so I was not sure how successfully the formula would transfer to a cruise ship, but, as it turned out, very well indeed.
The restaurant itself is small and elegant in a contemporary Japanese fashion with minimalistic, monochromatic colors, offering a very ‘Zen’ feeling throughout. At the entrance is the Sushi Bar. Reservations are not required for seating at the Sushi Bar but demand is high (the sushi is exquisite), so plan ahead.
In room dining
One of the joys of a balcony on a cruise ship is that it’s the perfect place for breakfast on a sunny day. So on my only ‘at sea’ day during this cruise, I decided to do just that. What a treat it was. The choice is extensive and the delivery speed and presentation really impressed me: less than half an hour after my request was made a beautiful spread was set up on my outdoor table.
There are seven bars on board this ship. My favorite was the Avenue Saloon, perhaps somewhat inappropriately named as there is nothing remotely ‘saloon’ about it. It’s more like a library or a gentleman’s study: dark woods, plush seating, and cabaret style entertainment. The circular bar is the stand out feature and whilst popular with many guests, it never seemed crowded. Service was spot-on every time I visited.
The Pulse dance club is potentially a fun place to spend some time, albeit relatively small for those who like a lot of space to tear up the dancefloor. As it turned out, this wasn’t a problem as there were never a lot of people, at least not when I popped in, but that may have been because I didn’t wait around till the early hours when perhaps the party truly got started.
I also stopped over at the Galaxy Lounge to see what Broadway-style production shows were on offer for viewing. I soon wish I hadn’t. Perhaps one day ship entertainment will move beyond Sondheim and Cole Porter and splatterings of Broadway and West End musicals as my visit to the Galaxy Lounge was truly a horrible experience.
The pool deck
One of the biggest changes during Serenity’s makeover in 2014 was the pool area which was completely reinvented. And the end result is one of the best at sea of any luxury ship.
More of a South of France style beach club than a cruise ship pool, the layout, furnishings, and general vibe just scream ‘St Tropez’. Of course, all the usual sun loungers are present, but it’s the extensive deck area devoted to twin daybeds, lounge areas, and multiple seating options that make the pool deck look so good. Large sun umbrellas provide extra shade. When you combine this with some laid back music, the whole experience is second to none.
Pool-side service was, on the whole, reasonably good, although at times a little slow. It was a sea day when I was there and so things were busy, but a few more staff probably should have been assigned to the pool that day.
Spa and wellness
The Spa on Crystal Serenity was also remodeled as part of the ship’s 2014 makeover and it looks good. Ladies and gentlemen’s locker rooms feature showers, a sauna, and a steam room which are well laid out with plenty of room to move.
The relaxation area has floor to ceiling windows with wonderful views over a rock garden, out to sea. I chose a seventy-five minute deep tissue massage. My therapist asked all the usual questions and then we were down to business. I emerged very relaxed, with just enough energy to get myself to the jacuzzi.
Like most cruise ship spas, the price of treatments is hefty, but based on my experience of spas at sea, this one is, overall, worth the price.
The Fitness Center has a large array of machines as well as scheduled yoga classes that proved to be very popular with a wide range of guests.
Staff and service
It’s always a challenge to rate staff on a cruise ship. Not only does the human factor kick in, but the luxury lines themselves set guest expectations so high and no employee can be at their best every moment of every day. When you consider this, along with the unique environment and long hours, staff are under considerable pressure.
So how did the staff on Crystal Serenity measure up? As it turns out, very well. There are of course always exceptions but on the whole the crew were exceptionally friendly and polite and went out to their way to assist guests with even the most trivial of requests. Like all cruise lines, Crystal sources staff globally so there is a huge mix of nationalities and personalities but things weigh heavily towards Asian, Eastern European, and South African crew members.
This international combination works well because it combines the warmth (but often not efficiency) of Asian service with the efficiency (but sometimes the less than personable approach) of Eastern European service. What Crystal achieves is consistently good service across the whole ship rather than pockets of brilliance in one area and less than inspiring customer service in others.
Yes, there were moments where staff were chatting amongst themselves when they could have been a little more attentive, but overall the service delivered is some of the best in the 6-star cruise arena.
The guest profile doesn’t present any surprises for a 6-star ship. Lots of retired Americans and Brits, a small contingent from ‘Down Under’, and quite a few from Asia, with strong numbers of Japanese as well. And, as expected on such ships, there is always a smattering of ‘long stay’ guests who have been gently cruising the world’s oceans for months, or maybe even years.
Just as the check-in and arrival experience was very well engineered, so was my departure. Like most cruise ships, disembarkation is prioritized so that those guests with the most immediate travel needs (such as early departure flights or other arrangements) are disembarked first.
Crystal Serenity is fundamentally no different to any other cruise ship on a turnaround day. They want you off and on your way as quickly as possible as there is a whole new cast of guests waiting to board.
However, they managed to make this whole experience reasonably dignified for me. With staff everywhere to assist throughout the ship, at the end of the gangway, and in the baggage claim area, things were fast and efficient and I was quickly off on my way after disembarking.
- Year Built 2002
- Last Refurbished 2013
- Tonnage 68,000 tons
- Registry Bahamas
- Length 820 feet
- Beam 106 feet
- Passenger Capacity 1070
- Crew Size 655
- Total Inside Cabins 0
- Total Outside Cabins 548
- Cabins & Suites w/ verandas 468
- Suites 36
- Dinner Seatings 2
- Seating Assignments in Main Dining Room Assigned
- Dining Hours 6:15pm & 8:30pm
- Onboard Currency US Dollar
8 Dining venues
Golf practice range