Cruising in Style on Crystal Serenity

| July 13, 2009

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

It isn't often one can revise an old perception for the better, but we just left the Crystal flagship, Serenity, and that is exactly what I must do. My last cruise on Crystal was more than 10 years ago, and that has been my only frame of reference for far too long. Serenity changed my entire view of Crystal Cruises, and I am now convinced it is one of the best lines in the world.

Because its onboard style of operations are more consistent with those of a mainstream cruise line, early and late dinner seating with assigned tables, for example, it is easy to mistake Crystal for something more ordinary until you actually experience it. You are in for a surprise. Crystal is all luxury in everything that counts; accommodations, cuisine and service. And because of the quality of Crystal Serenity, I have even revised my personal definition of luxury cruising.

My old definition said specific amenities must be included in the cruise fare -- e.g. all alcoholic beverages and gratuities for room stewards, butler and waiters. It was also required that luxury ships be relatively small -- less than 35,000 tons and never more than a 500 passenger capacity. The final aspect of my definition included single-seating, open dining, not the traditional pre-assigned dining times and tables with two seatings per night.

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Celebrating the chefs   Officers up on the bridge

That very specific set of standards applies to Silversea, Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas, each fully qualified as a luxury cruise lines. But I now realize that it is not the size or operational procedures of the ship that matter the most: It is the quality of the cruise that counts, regardless of what is included in the fare. Crystal breaks the mold for luxury cruising in a neat and unexpected manner; my recent cruise on Serenity proved that the most important aspects of luxury cruises are incredible service, extremely comfortable staterooms and perfectly prepared cuisine.

Cruising in Crystal Style Crystal Serenity is the larger of the two ships in the Crystal fleet. At 68,000-tons and a passenger capacity of 1,080, she is far bigger than average luxury cruise ships, which generally carry no more than 450 passengers. This gives it a passenger-to-space ratio of 62/1. If you look at Seabourn's luxury yacht, the Seabourn Legend -- 10,000-tons for 208 passengers -- the passenger-to-space ratio is a less generous 48/1. So even though Serenity is larger, it offers more space per passenger than some luxury ships. More importantly that size has its advantages.

Crystal Serenity has a state-of-the-art theater, a separate movie theater, two alternative dining venues, beautiful public rooms, all the kitchen facilities necessary to prepare the most sumptuous meals and deliver and serve them in your suite, and enough passengers to justify a full fitness center and complete spa services.

While giving a ship greater passenger capacity changes some normally expected aspects of luxury cruising, change is not necessarily a bad thing.

Both of Crystal's ships have just one main dining room, large enough to feed half of the ship in one seating. This means both ships adhere to a pre-set dining schedule, the traditional cruise ship dining schedule almost all cruise lines used for years. Ironically, the new trend in mainstream cruising is toward open seating and anytime dining, which had always been an exclusive hallmark of luxury cruise ships. Ironically, many people and especially experienced cruisers, still prefer tradional dining practices and Crystal will remains committed to pre-set dining times and assigned tables just as the concept is disappearing from the mainstream market.

There are reasons why many people enjoy the old style of cruise ship dining. One is the regular presence of the same waiters, who can anticipate your needs, offering your favorite dining flourishes before you ask for them. You get to know your waiter and busboy on Crystal, and more importantly, they get to know you. The same is true for your Maitre' D, headwaiter and sommellier.

Having more guests also means Crystal can provide better entertainment and enrichment, especially the onboard lecturers who add so much to every cruise. During our two-week cruise on Serenity we had so many lecturers I lost count -- everything from a former CIA spy's tales to a lecture on cycling through Iowa. Football buffs were delighted by four luminaries from the NFL, Coach Don Shula of the Miami Dolphins, referee Jim Tunney, NFL coach Marty Shottenheimer (San Diego Chargers) and former quarterback Earl Morrall -- all on our cruise.

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NFL Lecturers all together   Extensive Daily Computer Education   Piano Lessons twice each day

Crystal also excels in other aspects of onboard enrichment. The Crystal Cruises Creative Learning Institute offers continuing classes in a number of topics througout the cruise. On our trip, we had a bridge instructor for card players, lessons in Spanish using the Berlitz method and dance classes in all the classic forms (tango, rumba, waltz and more). Speaking of dance, the ship carried a number of Ambassador Hosts, who could be seen nightly in their bright blue tuxedos taxiing single ladies around the dance floor.

The Arts at Sea program provided budding artists with lessons in perspective and form -- paper and charcoal provided. There was a tennis instructor who stretched himself with ping pong lessons. Of course there is a golf instructor. Crystal has named TaylorMade as the official golf club of the cruise line; clubs are available for use at the driving nets on board and during classes and golf clinics. In addition, Crystal will rent clubs to guests who want to play golf at local courses ashore for only $30 per day.

Wine tasting is another popular Crystal pastime. Serenity's wine list boasts more than 200 selections, with an inventory of 20,000 bottles from every wine producing region in the world.

The most comprehensive programs are the computer classes and music lessons. Both Crystal ships have extensive computer learning centers with onboard instructors giving classes in everything from "introduction to personal computing" to "creating spreadsheets in Excel," "organizing your contacts with Outlook," and almost everything you ever need to know about using digital cameras and photo software.

The Passport to Music program is sponsored by Yamaha Corp. The instructor on our cruise was Debbie Skinner, a professional musician working for Yamaha who designed the original onboard program. The music lab provides 25 individual keyboards so each student can learn how to read music and play by ear. Classes are given twice daily and almost every day of the cruise. In the course of two weeks, there were several budding Mozarts onboard. Class titles include "Introduction to Reading Music," "Exploring Chords" and "Playing by Ear."

Continue Article >> Crystal Cuisine (Part 2)

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