Number of Cruises: 17
Cruise Line: Crystal
Ship: Crystal Serenity
Sailing Date: November 26th, 2005
My name is Phil Haggerty and my wife is Edith Goble. I am a retired city attorney and Edith is a homemaker and retired health services provider. We live in Phoenix, Arizona and this would be our 17th cruise. Our first cruise in 1999 was on Carnival’s Elation down the Mexican Riviera. This was followed by an 11-day Caribbean trip on the now defunct Commodore Line’s Enchanted Isle. Then came our first Celebrity on Galaxy, a 7 day Caribbean jaunt followed by the marvelous cruise on Celebrity’s Mercury from Valparaiso to Buenos Aires. We made an Alaska cruise/tour on Sun Princess in May 2002, and our only NCL to date on Norwegian Sun to the Caribbean again. In November 2002 we did a Panama Canal transit on Celebrity’s Infinity, followed by a summer trip in 2003 to the Mediterranean on that line’s Millennium. In August we did a another cruise/tour with Princess, spending 6 days in Europe and then sailing on Regal Princess for its Baltic tour. We returned to the Infinity in November for a Hawaiian cruise. In March 2004 we did our first HAL cruise in the Caribbean on Veendam, and later sailed on Galaxy once more, this time across the Atlantic. We then did another Caribbean on HAL’s Zaandam and a second Mexican Riviera on Diamond Princess. We enjoyed a unique cruise on Oceania’s Insignia down the Amazon River in March 2005. In May we took a 6 day West Coast repositioning cruise on Radiance of the Seas, our first Royal Caribbean trip. All but the first two of these trips have extensive reviews on www.cruisereviews.com and the last two are also on www.cruisecritic.com and www.cruise-addicts.com.
WHY THIS CRUISE?
This was a ten day cruise with 3 sea days and stops at Key West, Grand Turk, St. Barts, St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Nassau, Bahamas. We wanted to sail on Crystal to see if it lived up to its reputation for spoiling its passengers. We also had, despite our 5 prior Caribbean cruises, visited only one of the ports, St. Thomas, on this itinerary, and though a few of them might be interesting. We were correct in both of our estimates.
PLANNING THE CRUISE - INSURANCE
This cruise did not involve a huge planning effort. Crystal informs everyone fairly early on concerning its cruise dress code, so we knew there were three formal, two informal and five casual nights. We deviated from our usual habit of booking land excursions on our own through the internet in advance. The most unique excursion was the St. Maarten 12 metre America’s Cup yacht race; and we were told by the company that it only accepted bookings through cruise lines. The snorkel offering on Grand Turk by Crystal seemed better than wandering around looking for a snorkel tour on my own, and the same seemed true for our St. John Eco Hike during the St. Thomas stop. Crystal’s prices for all these tours was very reasonable, and their handling excellent. So the only real concern was making sure we were under the 50 pound per bag air carrier limit, and we are getting well experienced at that.
While we do not always buy insurance, we did purchase a policy with fairly low limits. There was not much chance of Crystal canceling or going bankrupt (it is a small division of the largest shipping line in the world), so the main reason is to provide for emergency medical care, including airlifting if necessary. You get the same amount of medical insurance no matter what the dollar amount you list; at least with Travelguard, the company we chose.
We always try to fly to the East Coast the day before sailing, just in case; and this was especially true since we were leaving the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We arrived in Fort Lauderdale at about 5:00 on Friday and went to the Best Western Oceanside Inn. It probably rates two and a half stars, but was convenient, and did provide a fairly solid breakfast for its $125.00 rate. The city still shows signs of damage from Wilma. The hotel was filled with people sailing on various cruises, and we went out to dinner with a pleasant California couple sailing on Princess the next day.
There were 5 other ships docked in Port Everglades the next day. They included Crystal Symphony, Zuiderdam, Enchantment of the Seas. Carnival Liberty and the Princess vessel whose name I did not see. Our shuttle arrived at the pier at about 1:00. We went quickly through security to a second floor waiting area where a Crystal worker gave us a card with a number. There were perhaps 175-200 people waiting as no one had boarded yet. We were not initially told we had to check in then, but when the first 20 staterooms were called to board we realized we had to go to the check in counter. There were a number of stations and it only took about 5 minutes. Our number was called in about another 10 minutes or so, and we were on board after a short wait in line at 1:35.
Crystal did not swipe our credit card at the check-in. We were told to go to Guest Relations any time after we boarded to accomplish this. Our room cards were good for all charges immediately upon boarding.
We expected to be led to our cabin, but instead were escorted to the main dining room for lunch. We like to be seated with other people so we joined a young couple from Wisconsin who told us that this was their first cruise! Talk about starting at the top!
The menu was somewhat limited in options, but certainly sufficient. Since I prefer light lunches I settled for an appetizer, soup and dessert. The meal and service were excellent.
Our stateroom was 8106, a standard B class verandah cabin. The A class cabins were on Deck 9. It is 269 square feet including a verandah, so it was a decent size, although a little cramped at the closet area with its sliding doors opening out into the cabin next to the bed. The wood trim and cabinetry was medium dark stained to resemble mahogany. The walls were cream colored and with a pleasant smooth textured surface. A two seat, fully upholstered love seat faced the desk, cabinet, and television unit, which had an upholstered arm chair. The refrigerator contained complimentary bottled water and soft drinks. The TV set had a VCR unit combined. There was a mirror, almost full length, on the wall opposite the space between the bed and the closet. This mirror had a small ledge about a foot from the floor, and there was a night light shining down from beneath this ledge which was controlled by a switch on the bedside table. Edith though this was a really nice touch. There was the usual framed print above the bed and two more on the wall opposite the bed. The door to the verandah had both a light gauzy curtain and heavy drapes. The verandah furniture consisted of two plastic, but solid, and adjustable chairs with padded seats which were removed every night by the room steward and brought inside. There was a small square white plastic table also. The deck was teak. The verandah dividers did not go up to the ceiling, but left about a two foot gap. However the verandah light was at floor level so your neighbor’s light did not shine into your verandah as on some other ships. In front of the couch was a small table. One of the room literature items said it was adjustable, and when I pressed a lever on the shaft, it came up about twelve inches. I never found out how to lower it (you have to lean on it heavily) until the last day, but we thought the raised height was more convenient anyway. The closet had some drawers and a shelf. It also was stocked with a long handled shoe horn, shoe bags, laundry bags and a clothes brush. It had well made, nice wooden hangers, but not quite enough of them since I hang up all my shirts, including short sleeve sport shirts. We obtained extra hangars very quickly in response to our call.
The bathroom was very attractive for a standard cabin, all in marble and tile, with a nice marble double sink, a small, but serviceable tub shower, and a full supply of Aveda toiletries. Both thick bath towels and long bath sheets were provided. There was a shelf above the sink which was very useful in holding things, and with side cabinets and cabinets beneath the sink, more than enough room. Both a built in bathroom hair drier and plug in hand held hair drier were supplied. All the fixtures were top notch and the toilet was the quietest we had ever experienced. There was only one electric outlet in the bathroom, and that was part of the hair drier set-up; not the most convenient arrangement. The thermostat was clear in its directions and actually changed temperature. A thermos ice bucket was provided along with minimal stationary and pen.
Wine and beer glasses were also provided, and fortunately we had brought our own wine bottle opener for Edith’s bottle of wine. There was no clock provided other than on the phone, and we had, for the first time, forgotten to bring our little travel clock and alarm.
The bed was made up into a king size format. Two pillows each were provided, along with a note that there were five different types of pillows available. The bed covering was a very nice duvet. All in all the sleeping arrangements were fine and the room very nicely done and a pleasant place for living. As usual, the ship’s architects had done their excellent job of providing more than enough closet and drawer space in a limited area.
Shortly after we arrived we met Milica from Slovakia, our cabin stewardess. She had just joined the ship that day on her second Crystal contract. We chatted a little about Serenity’s 108 day world cruise from Los Angeles across the Pacific to Africa, the Suez and finally Rome commencing in January. She said she had been told that about 35% of the cabins had been sold for the entire trip.
Three of our four pieces of luggage were in the cabin when we first arrived after lunch and the fourth showed up in a couple of hours, so unpacking and storing everything went smoothly.
As usual, at least when time has allowed it, we went exploring as soon as possible. Serenity is a good sized vessel, 68,000 gross tons, making it only slightly smaller than Mercury & Galaxy, almost the exact size of Elation and larger than either Veendam or Zaandam. But its total capacity is only 1080 passengers, so there is a space ratio of almost 63; a huge amount of room for each passenger. Since Crystal distributes a list of passengers showing names, U.S. state, Canadian province or country; and the total I counted was 821 people, we really had a lot of room on board.
Proceeding from top to bottom and fore to aft, the layout is as follows. The Sun Deck, 13, is open forward which really gives you a great view and a strong breeze. Proceeding aft along a walkway above and past the open pool area you come to the paddle tennis courts, which actually did some business. The aft section housed the well stocked gym, aerobics studio, fitness center, spa and salon. Deck 12 forward contains the Palm Court and Sunset Bar with excellent views. There is a decent size dance floor and dance stand also. This area was used daily for tea and also for the Captains Receptions as well as other activities. Edith’s yoga classes were conducted on the dance floor for example. Aft of this were a couple of small rooms, Fantasia for children and Waves for teen-agers with the obligatory video games. Since there were only a few children, mostly of pre-school age, and no teenagers that we saw; these rooms did not get much action. Midships held the open air pool with its deck chairs and two hot tubs. The deck chairs were plastic with rubber strapping and fairly thick and comfortable pads. There was never any crowding at any time that I saw. Aft of the pool there were two small food stands, one on each side. One was Scoops, the ice cream bar, which served all its offerings without charge. The other side was the Trident Bar and Grill, which was a hamburger/hot dog type facility. Aft of these was the Neptune Pool area which had a sliding glass roof that was never opened. This is a very small pool, and while it also had nice rattan seats and couches, I never saw anyone in the Neptune pool. Aft of this was the Lido Buffet area. At the entrance to this area on the starboard side is another grill called Tastes. The Lido buffet has two serving lines port and starboard and a further service area connecting them aft. It also has another serving station off to one side for pasta at lunch and omelets at breakfast. There is a small open deck area for eating aft of the main Lido seating area.
Decks 11,10,9 and 8 are all passenger cabin decks; except for the bridge and officers’ quarters forward on Deck 11. Each of these decks has corridors which open at the aft end to small covered seating areas. These are out of the wind and have nice views and deck chairs. They can also be reached by stairs up and down from decks 12 to 6. Decks 8 and 9 also allow access to a forward viewing area. Deck 7 is the Promenade deck which has a true teak promenade around the entire vessel. It is a wide walkway with no deck chairs intruding, and it seemed to get a lot of use from dedicated deck walkers and participants in the Walk on Water WALKVEST® program.
Deck 7 has cabins without verandahs of course, since they face out to the promenade, from forward to midships. Aft of that there are two special venues, the Computer University at Sea, followed by a large bridge or card room and a small studio room on the starboard side, and the Yamaha electronic piano studio, followed by the Library and the Vintage room and Century Suite portside. The Vintage room is set up as a private dining room with wine serving facilities. If you wish, and care to spend about $1400.00, you can order a multi-course multiple vintage dinner for yourself and fourteen friends. I did not see it in use. The other rooms were small meeting rooms.
Aft of these rooms were the specialty restaurants, The Japanese Silk Road with its Sushi Bar on one side and the Italian Prego Restaurant on the other.
Deck 6 was the main activity area. The show venue, the Galaxy Lounge is forward. This is a one story theater seating about 500, although it was never full because each show went on twice each night, once for regular and once for late seating diners. Aft of this is Caesar’s Palace at Sea, the casino. This is a relatively small venue with about 100+ slot machines, one roulette table, one craps table and five blackjack, baccarat or poker tables. Proceeding towards the rear there is a small art gallery. And then one arrives at the shop next to the atrium. There is one jewelry store, Facets, one small general supply store, Captain’s Choice, and Apropos, a fairly good sized clothing store. Across from the clothing store is the Bistro, my favorite spot on board. Here, between 10:00 and 6:00 one can be served coffee, cappuccino, latte, tea, snacks and pastries, sitting in comfortable chairs, looking out to sea, all at no charge.
Aft of this is the movie theater, holding about 250 people. It was used extensively for lectures as well as a good run of movies. Then came the photo shop and photo gallery down the starboard side, and past that is the “night life area”. This has four separate venues. First there is the Connoisseur Club, a small place with a tiny bar and a few sofas and deep leather chairs, all quite dark, with brass lamps and dark wood, supposedly to be used as a men’s cigar hideaway. Aft of this is the Avenue Saloon, which also runs to dark wood and brass fixtures, with a larger bar and a piano. This had a pianist playing every evening, and I greatly enjoyed him the one time I attended. Opposite this is the Pulse Lounge with a small dance floor and a disco set-up, also used every night. Behind both of them are the main lounge, the Stardust Club with small tables, and a dance floor with its band stand. The dance floor area was quite small, and two of our dinner table companion couples complained that tables and ramps leading on to the floor made dancing difficult. The aft deck of Deck 6 held the golf nets (2), a small putting green and table tennis facilities.
Deck 5 had cabins forward, which I found out were occupied either by officers, or entertainers/lecturers. This area also housed the Medical Center. Midships was the lower level of the Crystal Atrium, containing the Reception Desk and Excursion Desk. There also was an area for the future cruise consultant, the Crystal Society concierge and a pleasant bar, called the Crystal Cove with a piano and its own musician, Joe Fos.
Aft of this area is the Crystal Dining Room, the main dining room. The gangway opened off Deck 5, but access to the tenders was on Deck 4. There are three elevator bank/ stairwell bay areas, which make getting around the ship relatively convenient. The forward and midships banks have three elevators and the aft area two.
The general décor is minimalist and decorative rather than heavily artistic in the vein of the HAL or Celebrity ships. Everything physical about the ship is beautifully finished and very attractive however, and the art works displayed are nicely done and appropriate. The furniture is first class. The tables and chairs in the buffet area are good wood for the tables with full arms on the chairs and comfortable seats. The library was very attractive, had a good selection of books and music with disc players. It also had Jackie Sanchez, the only full time librarian other than Erin on Celebrity that we have ever seen. She was very pleasant and helpful. The Galaxy showroom had a nice mixture of armchairs and small sofas, and every seat had a good sight line. The theater seats were also comfortable. Serenity is as elegant as Insignia, but more spacious, and very easy to navigate, although it is not a small ship. In my review of Insignia I said; “It is . . . as pleasant a venue for 14 days as can be imagined.” This is equally true of Serenity.
Flatly and simply, Crystal is ahead of everyone else in this facet, and it is hard to imagine how any cruise line could surpass it. They truly put the passenger’s care, comfort and convenience ahead of everything. From the ease of booking excursions on line, to the confirmation of every detail, to the truly pleasant attitude of every crew member, dealing with this company is a pleasure. The only problem we ever had was occasional difficulty of reaching the wake-up call service.
The excursion service was great. When, as the result of a change of anchorage for our tender service at Grand Turk, we had a minor change in the snorkel sites, the excursion desk called to apologize, and gave us a half off rebate. When the winds at St. Maartens’s were light for the 12 metre America’s Cup Regatta, they called prior to departure to tell us and offer a full refund it we wanted to cancel. The excursion director was always available at the disembarkation point, and every excursion was accompanied by a crew member to make sure things went right. This member filled out a report on each excursion. Typical crew members assigned were the Guest Hosts, Casino staff etc.
The front desk answered all questions with a smile and greeting. The balance of the crew always was pleasant and friendly. When I went to make reservations for the specialty restaurants, the maitre’d could not have been nicer, even though the night I first requested was “sold out”.
We had the New York Times newsletter, about six or eight page 8”x11” document, delivered to our cabin every day. Reflections, the regular information flyer, had very complete information, and good information columns without much advertising. When we left the dining room on the last day, we were presented with a folder that contained all the dinner menus for the cruise! I mentioned the booklet that had the passengers’ names, but it also contained the names of the crew members who were either senior officers, entertainers, lecturers and teachers/trainers or people who had frequent passenger contact. Port information was complete and accurate. In short, Crystal does everything right, and with the right attitude.
To be fair, I did not use any e-mail; and there were some remarks that it was highly priced; but by comparison, the shore excursions were reasonably priced.
FOOD AND FOOD SERVICE
The food and service in all areas ranged from excellent to superb. Our dining room waitress was Julia from Heidelberg, assisted by Zoltan from Hungary. He was pleased when I said I could always remember his name because of Zoltan Kodaly, a great Hungarian 20th century composer. At our initial seating on embarkation day we were joined by Jill and Tony from Nottingham, England, JoEllen and Ken from a Maryland suburb of Washington and Steve and Linda from Naples, Florida. Steve and Linda found friends from another cruise, so we were six for the rest of the cruise. The table next to us had five, so our wait staff had only eleven people to serve. Other tables seemed to be arranged so that the maximum number of people for service team was no more than 14, and usually less. This created a quiet, well paced and attentive milieu for each meal; a definite improvement over most lines. To give Celebrity credit, they also manage the number of patrons to be served by each team so that there is the same pleasant atmosphere. In addition to our two servers our assistant maitre’d was always around to assist when needed, and the wine steward was attentive. I like non-alcoholic wine and beer. Crystal’s policy is that all non-alcoholic drinks are free. So the wine steward faithfully inquired whether I wanted a glass of white or red Ariel at every meal.
The standard dinner menu had four appetizers, three to five soup and salad offerings, a pasta dish, a salad “entrée”, a main entrée with four choices, including at least one fish and usually one fowl choice, the option to order a steak or salmon dish at every meal, and a range of vegetables. The dessert menu offered six choices normally, with at least one sugar free, an ice cream, frozen yogurt or sherbet selection, a cheese trolley, and coffee, latte, espresso, cappuccino and tea. A vegetarian offering was also available.
The main selections had no duplication during the cruise, and a good deal of imagination. I heard no complaints from anyone, and did not expect any based on my own observation. The seafood, including oysters, lobster and crab, was very fresh; the meat moist and tender, the vegetables nicely done, and the sauces excellent without being overbearing. The portions were small, as they should be with so much food being offered. The pastries, both at dinner and everywhere else, were the best I have ever had on board ship, or indeed almost any other place except Vienna. This was not surprising since the head baker was Austrian, and no one does pastry better than the Austrians and Germans. The table settings were particularly nice, with a selection of Villeroy and Boch charger plates. Our dining table was towards the aft end of the room, thus out of the way and fairly quiet, so we had no way to judge the complaints contained in some books that the main dining room is noisy.
We ate at each specialty restaurant once. Our first such experience was at the Silk Road, with the Japanese menu created by Nobu Matsuhisa. I had a single spring roll, a clear mushroom soup served in a small iron Japanese tea pot, lobster and crème brulee. The roll and soup were delicious, but hardly preparation for the fantastic lobster. I am not given to hyperbole, but this was a unique and true gourmet experience. Of equal merit were the three small crème brulees, one ginger, one mango and one passion fruit. Altogether, this was one of the finest meals I have ever had.
Our experience at Prego was also of an excellent, if relatively standard, Italian meal. Both restaurants have a “suggested” $6.00 per person gratuity charge, and the service at both was excellent, personable and friendly.
We also enjoyed the Lido Buffet for both breakfast and lunch. We were “adopted” by Jun Sai, a waiter for breakfasts; and he carried our trays, brought coffee, and made sure we had refills. The buffet setup was for trays with plates, and the cutlery was provided with the trays. There were no crowds except at the specialty lunches, of which there were three on the sea days. One was oriental, one Nuevo Latino Buffet which included South American as well as Mexican food; and one described as the Grand Gala buffet, which ran to a lot of good seafood. The first two were set up around the pool, but the Grand Gala Buffet was served in the Crystal Atrium on deck 5. This is a pleasant venue, but with fewer seats, requiring some people to carry their trays to the main Dining Room. The other daily lunch buffets had a very good selection, although I typically eat only a small portion of a main entrée, always of course saving room for dessert. Edith could find good salads and vegetables all the time.
We ate once at the Sushi Bar, after a show, but were not able to persuade our smiling sushi makers that we only wanted one or two pieces, not the many delicious and fresh items they gave to us. Instead of a snack, it became a late meal which sat a little heavily as we went to bed.
We noticed at every buffet that the maitre’ds from the two specialty restaurants were supervising this operation and were very quick to step in to help and make sure everything was running smoothly.
We went to the afternoon tea on many occasions with the usual “problem” of fending off the diligent white gloved servers who were determined to stuff us two hours before dinner. As I noted, the pastries were excellent, and we were able to get very good tea. Like the tea time on Insignia, this break in the day is very relaxing and civilized; and we quite understand the British love of tea time. On one occasion the servers were dressed in 18th century attire for a “Mozart” tea. We also noted that the waiters assisting at the specialty buffet lunches all had attire appropriate to that lunch. These little touches mark Crystal’s efforts to provide a special experience.
Although Celebrity on our six cruises, and Oceania on our sole cruise to date with them, both do a very fine job with food and service, Crystal is the best in this important area of cruising that we have ever experienced.
Crystal provided fairly detailed information on both its website and via a cruise specific booklet sent out after we made our final payment. I had contacted the company that runs the 12 metre America’s Cup Regatta Race on St. Maarten directly and had been advised that they book only through cruise lines. The other excursions we booked were a snorkel one in Grand Turk for me (Edith does not snorkel) and an “eco hike” for both of us on St. John at our St. Thomas stop. All three were reasonably priced, and as noted above, very well run by Crystal. There were four boats in the race excursion, which had two races of two boats each. Out boat had ten of us from Serenity, including the crew member who was a Casino employee. We had one ringer from a Princess. We won our race. The eco hike had about fourteen of us and our snorkel trip about the same number, so we were never crowded or rushed. I should note that at every port there was at least one other cruise ship present from the Radisson Seven Seas Voyager at Key West, to a Sea Dream Yacht at St. Barts to the 3500+ passenger Mariner of the Seas in St. Maarten.
On Key West we simply strolled around town. It is a place to see once. The Truman Southern White House and Hemingway House, which is set in a small, but attractive park setting, are both worth a visit, but we will not rush to return. Edith walked around Grand Turk in the morning, and I did also in the afternoon after my snorkel tour. It is not an impressive place. Unless you are heavily into scuba or snorkel diving, there is no reason to go there. It was the butt of several well appreciated jokes by the comedian.
St. Barts is definitely French. Not only is that the language, with the Euro as the currency, but most of the locals we saw were European French. We rented a car for the reasonable rate of €45 plus €5 for gas. It was a small, but nice Japanese car with an automatic transmission and air conditioning if we needed it. We obtained a good map of this small island and by the time we returned, had seen most of it. It is hilly, but attractive, with a lot of upscale housing and very little that was not at least middle range in pricing and appearance. We stopped at a small hotel called Le Toiny, which, in a typical Caribbean construction, had an open entrance with a restaurant behind it looking out over a pool to the sea beyond; in this case, down a hill. The art instructor from the ship was there also, and we joined him in the office to one side, There a very attractive young French Girl told us in response to my question of how many rooms were in the hotel that there were no rooms, only 15 suites, each with its individual pool. She handed us a brochure. This is a Relais & Chateaux establishment; which means ultra-ultra luxury, priced to match. The small Villa Suites ran from €775 per day in the off season from late April to October 31; €800 in the “Inter Season”; November to mid December; €1550 in the high season from January to April, and €1700 in the Festive Season, from December 20 to January 4. For the larger 2 or 3 bedroom suites, the same seasonal rates were €1450, €1450; €2600 and €3000. For those rates you also got breakfast in addition to your room, and transportation from the airport. But she was a charming young lady and it was a striking and beautiful place. She also recommended a local beach for swimming, which I took advantage of. St Barts is quite small as I noted, but very nice; a place you might want to visit for a few days – with a large suitcase filled with money. Actually, we had a lunch at a truly local restaurant which provided quite nice traditional provincial French food for a reasonable price.
We had been to St. Thomas twice before, on Galaxy and Zaandam, both cruises being reviewed on this (www.cruisereviews.com) site. We opted for the St. John Eco-Tour, which consisted of a half-hour ferry ride from Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas to Cruz Bay on St. John, a hike up and over a hill down into Caneel Bay. Here we went swimming on Honeymoon Beach, which has extremely fine white sand. This is just around a bend from the hotel at Caneel Bay, and we walked out through its grounds to a taxi. The hotel occupies about 120 acres carved out by Laurance Rockefeller from his original 5000 acre gift to the National Park Service in 1956. More land was donated later so that now over 2/3 of the island is National Park land. We had a local guide who was fairly well informed about local flora (there is not much by way of fauna). We had a good deal of rain upon arrival in Cruz Bay and everyone took advantage of the visitor center’s rain ponchos for sale. Despite the weather, it was a very pleasant and relatively easy hike and good swim. I even persuaded Edith to go in the water, and she liked it.
Our final stop was Nassau, Bahamas. Here we went out on our own, first stopping to buy an emerald pendant and then walking about a mile and a half out of town to a combination zoo and botanical garden called Ardestra Gardens. Here the feature was a group of very pink flamingos who had been taught to “march” on command, turn, stop and start again. This was quite a sight. In addition to this there were about forty or fifty bird and animal exhibits, including a marvelous family of father, mother and two small serval cubs along with a jaguar and caracal. This was a nice break and a pleasant venue. Nassau itself was crowded with three other large and one small cruise ships at dock.
The Cruise Director was Rick Spath from the United States. I told him I appreciated the fact that he did not attempt to be a comedian or entertainer, and he said he was pleased to hear my reaction. He was present at all of the main shows of course, but also at many of the other events during the day. He made a point of saying that he could be contacted after each show for suggestions on how to improve things, and some people took him up on it, with varying degrees of success of course. He was generally quite visible around the ship, and in short, was the best, hardest working and most effective cruise director we have seen.
The formal evening entertainment laid huge emphasis on the singer/dancer shows. There were five of these on a ten night cruise; not counting the sailing night abbreviated show but including the final night variety show which was a combination including some of the earlier acts. Apart from these shows there was one night with a singer, one with the comedian and one with a harpist. This meant that there was a lot of singing and dancing. As in many of these cruise shows, the ensemble consists of four men and four women who are primarily dancers, and a lead male and lead female vocalist who do some simple dance routines. This group was among the more highly talented we have seen, and the costumes were amazing. The Galaxy Lounge is nowhere nearly as high tech or versatile as the theaters on larger ships, but this does not detract from the enjoyment of talented young people.
Edith actually enjoyed the comedian; Mike Goddard. His humor depends on his acting as much as the actual verbal content, and he is a talented actor. In the final show he played a maid with a strong Norwegian accent – obviously a take off of our Captain Edvardsen with his strong accent, and this really had everyone rolling in the aisles.
The singer was British, with a stage background, but we did not enjoy her as much as we had appreciated Lindsey Hamilton, also a British stage performer, on Mercury. We felt that this lady, Petrina Johnson, was a little too loud and strident for our best enjoyment.
Edith loves harp music, but the harpist played with an electronically amplified instrument that sounded far too metallic and harsh for our taste. There also was a dance duo that was quite good. A classical pianist performed once, but it was between our dinner and our normal show, so we never did get to hear him. I believe he should have been presented at a time (or at times) when everyone would have had a chance to enjoy this music.
The entertainment also included the ship’s orchestra, which backed up all the Galaxy Lounge performers, providing live music instead of the prerecorded variety now common for some of the stage presentations in larger showrooms on board the mega-ships. The crystal sextet played mostly dance music, either in the Stardust Lounge on Deck 6 or the Palm Court on Deck 12. The Wind and Strings trio, which was composed of violin, guitar and flute, played mostly in the Crystal Cove and also wandered around playing requests at dinner in the main dining room. A pianist named Joe Fos played mostly in the Crystal Cove while Daniel Davies did the same in the Avenue Saloon. Both were excellent and very knowledgeable. However, on one occasion when we wanted to sit and listen to Joe Fos after a show, he was interrupted by a passenger who proceeded to have a lengthy private conversation with him, stopping him from playing, and depriving us of our entertainment. A better plan would have been for Joe to gently remind this person that he was there to play for all passengers.
Movies were shown in the theater every day, and the movies available on closed circuit TV were both very extensive and varied. A TV program for each day was provided. On a typical day there were four movie channels with four movies each. The channels were: “Movie Laughs & Romance”; “Action Drama and Suspense”; “Silver Screen Classics” and “The Destination Channel.” For example, one day’s offering on the Silver Screen channel gave you: “A Man For All Seasons”; Singin’ in the Rain”; Gone With The Wind” and “Sunset Boulevard”. On the same day the Destination Channel showed “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”; “The Italian Job”; Man of La Mancha” and “Notting Hill.” This is quite a line-up as anyone would agree. In addition we could see the Discovery Channel, and depending on the ship’s location, up to 4 news channels. The usual, but more than ordinarily thorough port and ship information channels also were available.
GUEST EDUCATION AND RECREATION EVENTS
I have made this a separate section because the offerings in this area were so extensive, particularly on the 3 sea days.
This was labeled as a “Fitness” cruise. Every day there was at least one fitness walk in a “Walk on Water” WALKVESt® program with an instructor trained in that program; one or two fitness classes and perhaps a yoga class. Edith attended each yoga session, which was run by a husband and wife team who own a yoga studio, and do this for a living. This was obviously much better that the typical cruise yoga session run by one of the gym instructors. The Computer University at Sea had three separate sessions, repeated during the cruise. I took the one on getting your digital photos edited and transmitted. I discussed the Yamaha electronic keyboard studio in my description of the ship. Edith attended one or two of the classes offered and had a fine time. She also attended an art class with prizes. There was an arts and crafts class and I attended three golf instruction sessions offered by Bruce Murray, a Canadian Golf Professional with a Masters Professional status awarded by the PGA in 1981. This was typical of the caliber of people hired by Crystal. Spanish lessons were also offered, along with bridge instruction by a couple, both of whom are Silver Life Masters with the American Contract Bridge League. The credentials of the other instructors are equally impressive. There was no charge for any of these activities.
Crystal also has a “Cleveland Clinic Health Talk” program as part of its overall Life Style offerings, and on this cruise it featured a MD Dermatologist.
The “Enrichment” series of educational talks was so extensive and varied that I can only give a short overview. The cruise had members of PBS people known as the PTV at Sea group, including many business analyst types such as the Chief Investment Strategist at Standard and Poor; the founder and CEO of Riley Asset Management and Paul Kangas, co-anchor of the PBS “Nightly Business Report.” There were many other presenters, and one could not possibly attend them all. Edith enjoyed a doctor speaking mainly on nutrition and diet, and I enjoyed a talk given by Aimee Mullins. This very beautiful young lady lost both her legs to amputation below the knee at 8 months of age. Despite this, while attending Georgetown University (my alma mater also) she competed in and won several NCAA Division 1 track events, including world records in the long jump, 100 and 200 meter dashes. She since has gone on to a modeling career. Perhaps typical of her marvelous attitude was her closing remark after mentioning that she has several different prosthetic legs for different purposes. “I can be any height I want to.”
I also greatly enjoyed a joint presentation on politics for the 2006 and 2008 given by Charlie Cook, a widely known political writer and TV analyst, and Gwen Ifill, moderator and managing editor of Washington Week on PBS, and a regular senior correspondent and moderation on The NewsHour with Jim Leher.
We had enjoyed the Enrichment offerings on Celebrity on sea days and the lectures on Oceania; but the Crystal programs go way beyond those. There was no excuse for anyone to have had a moment’s boredom on this cruise.
THE CRYSTAL CREW AND OUR FELLOW PASSENGERS
The “sailors”, meaning the Bridge and Engine Room officers were mostly Norwegian with a sprinkling of Japanese. The hotel and food service managers were either German or Austrian, with a supporting cast from other European countries as well. The staff in the main dining room was European, and they also served tea each day in the Palm Court. The buffet staff was largely Filipino. The room stewards seemed to mostly female and from Europe. Their hallmark and motto was “Service – service and better service.”
While most cruise lines make extended efforts in providing good service, and many succeed at a fairly high level; we have experienced nothing as good as Crystal. We do not make special requests of the dining room staff, but some did at an adjoining table, and their requests were apparently cheerfully supplied. The front desk was always a pleasure to deal with on the few occasions I went there. I have mentioned the excursion staff’s dedication. The Captain and senior officers were often seen around the boat. The entertainers and lecturers were also visible and willing to chat with passengers. Every request of our room stewardess was promptly met if we dialed her number, she was paged, and replied in every case in a minute or two. In short, we were thoroughly spoiled.
Our fellow passengers were also a pleasure. Our dinner companions were extremely nice, and we had a very pleasant and at times hilarious level of conversation. Most on board were American, with 27 British couples according to Tony and Jill, the usual sprinkling of Canadians, a group of 30 from Bermuda, a few Europeans and a number of Japanese from Japan, Hawaii and California.
Just in case you missed the message; we loved this ship, its on board offerings and the cruise company. We enjoyed the places we visited, but after all, the Caribbean is still the Caribbean with a lovely climate, good swimming, shopping if you want it, but not the most exotic or exiting spot in the world the sixth or seventh time around.
On the level of professionalism, customer attention, service, attitude and the overall product supplied to its passengers including the ship’s appearance, ambience and convenience, Crystal Serenity was the finest we have ever experienced. There have been some entertainment on Celebrity we thought was better, and some cozy aspects of Insignia that delighted us just as much in a slightly different way; but the total value of what Serenity provided was the highest.
Of course you pay for this, even though this was a “Value” cruise at a rate approximately 55% of the normal fare. This was still almost twice the cost of a comparable Celebrity cruise. Whether or not this high level of service is worth either the discounted or the full price, I leave to each individual, but we certainly felt we got our money’s worth.
Would we sail again on Serenity? In a heartbeat – if the price was right and the itinerary appealing. Unfortunately it is not possible to get discount prices on Crystal’s more exotic itineraries, as I expect that they will book them fully. But if Serenity sails again at a time and place convenient and desirable, we would sure love to be her pampered guests again.