Cruising in Style on Crystal Serenity (Part 2)

| Tuesday, 05 Mar. 2013

It's hardly your typical luxury line -- not that there's anything wrong with that.

Crystal Cuisine Perhaps the most impressive thing about Crystal is the quality of the food. I have been on dozens of cruise ships and I have to say Crystal is at the top of my list for consistency in dining excellence. Although it is unusual for a luxury ship to have two seatings nightly with assigned tables, this is part of the formula for making Crystal's food so good.

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Sumptuous buffets   A Tower of Shrimp   More lobster than you can eat

Having the same waiter and busboy night after night makes it easier for them to anticipate your needs, but more importantly, the culinary staff can schedule preparation of dishes for the best results. Every steak was delivered at the melt-in-your-mouth consistency, and every seafood dish was delivered piping hot. Crystal also does not cut corners on the quality of ingredients.

While the dining room delivered first-rate quality nightly, passengers could also choose either of two specialty restaurants (for a service fee of $5 per person). Silk Road is an Asian fusion restaurant with an outstanding sushi bar and a menu designed by the famous Nobu Matsuhisa, who practically invented the Asian fusion genre.

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Chefs on Board   Dedication to detail   Amazing Desserts in astounding amounts

The other alternative dining spot is Prego, an Italian trattoria. Reservations can be made in either restaurant during the afternoon. All restaurants are non-smoking.

Breakfast and lunch are also served buffet style on the top pool deck in the Trident Grill. The hamburgers at the grill are an inch thick, or one can opt for a veggie burger or chicken patty.

Nearby is a small special menu restaurant called Tastes that features a different signature dish every day. Special themed buffets, such as Mexican or Italian, were offered every few days. The special dishes here include Chinois chicken salad (recipe by Wolfgang Puck), a tasty Reuben sandwich and excellent thin crust pizza cooked to perfection in a brick oven. Tastes is also open as an alternative casual dinner spot.

Also on the pool deck is Scoops ice cream bar, with a selection of 12 different ice creams, sherbet, or frozen yogurt, accompanied by an array of toppings. Freshly baked chocolate chip, oatmeal and peanut butter cookies are also on tap.

The highlight of the cruise, as far as buffets go, is the seafood buffet with towers of shrimp higher than your head and tubs of lobster deep enough to drown in. It is impossible to overstate the quality of the food on Crystal. It is the best in cruise ship cuisine.

Crystal Service The perfect companion to excellent cuisine is superlative service, and the stateroom service onboard Crystal couldn't be better. On our cruise, we had a butler who went by the name Poppa; he has been working on cruise ships since 1982. He started on Royal Viking Line, just like I did, but he never left the field.

Poppa is the perfect butler, always anticipating our needs without becoming overbearing. He would call at 4 p.m. and suggest a tray of caviar, with all the accoutrements. How could we resist? One night we invited newfound friends, an international law professor from Princeton working onboard as an enrichment speaker, to join us for pre-dinner caviar with cheese and wine. We ate so much caviar we couldn't make it to dinner.

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In cabin party, caviar, wine and cheese   The Best Butler Ever - Pappa   Surf 'n Turf on our Terrace

That is the life, and the life is what Crystal is all about. Another night Poppa set up a special table on our veranda for a perfect, private al fresco dinner. We enjoyed lobster from Maine, French onion soup and chocolate soufflé beneath the stars, with the sound of the surf breaking below.

Once again, Crystal's policy varies from other luxury cruise lines. Gratuities are not included in the cruise fare, and guidelines are as follows: stewardesses receive $5 per day per guest. And each stewardess has an assistant, so cleanup takes half the time. Your senior waiter gets $5 per day, the assistant waiter gets $3 per day. The butler earns $5 per day per guest. Altogether gratuities come to a total of $13 per day per stateroom, per guest.

Another area where Crystal departs from the luxury pack is in the world of entertainment. Crystal's entertainment has won awards, which is especially surprising for a cruise line with smaller passenger loads. The production shows have 10 singer/dancers and various other entertainers such as classical pianists, magicians and comedians fly in to provide variety throughout the cruise. The entertainment's content was appropriate for the average age on Crystal ships -- i.e., older than baby boomers.

Unlike other luxury lines, Crystal does not include alcoholic beverages in the cruise fare, with the exception of the penthouse suites, where they will provide and replenish all the wine, champagne, beer and your choice of any one spirit that you consume in your suite.

In dining rooms and bars, you will pay for drinks just like on any ordinary cruise line. If you bring your own bottles of wine on board, you will be charged a corkage fee of $15 if you choose to sip in the dining room.

Cruise Director Rick Spath I want to mention one final thing that is especially important to me: Crystal Serenity's most popular cruise director is a friend of mine named Rick Spath. Rick has been in the cruise industry for decades. We worked together on the Holland America Statendam during its inaugural season in Europe in 1993.

Rick was later tapped to become the first cruise director for Disney cruises when Disney Magic debuted. He has sailed nine world cruises with Crystal, and that's a pretty good job. Rick is a class act who works in an officer's uniform instead of a tuxedo and he is wise enough to leave the comedy to the comedians.

Summing Up Crystal Serenity Crystal is not like any other cruise line in procedure. They have pre-assigned dining times and tables, and beverages and gratuities are not included in the cruise fare. That could lead one to believe the onboard experience would be like an average cruise line -- but nothing could be further from the truth. Crystal is all luxury all the time, in terms of accommodations, cuisine and service. The onboard enrichment program is without comparison and you will be pampered to pieces.

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Spacious and accommodating suites   Bath with two sinks, jet-tub and shower   After the wine, cheese andcaviar party

Although Crystal offers outstanding and unusual shore excursions, that is not the main focus. While some cruise lines offer as many as 90 ports of call on a typical world cruise, Crystal will only schedule about 50. That is okay with Crystal Society members, however -- many of whom take advantage of a loyalty program that continues to add rewards even when the number of completed cruises reaches as high as 100.

In the long run, consistency is the hallmark of Crystal Cruises. Its formula has not varied since the early 1990s, and when you have a good thing going for you, that the way it should stay.

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