For many who loved Crystal Cruises, sadness was the prevailing emotion when in January 2022, Crystal suspended sailings for several months after its parent company, Genting Hong Kong, declared bankruptcy.
Then A&K Travel Group, which owns the luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent, acquired the Crystal Cruises brand and with it, two of its ships: the Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. Both ships were then extensively refurbished and refreshed with little expense spared. Another ship in its original fleet, the Crystal Endeavour became part of the Silversea brand as the Silver Endeavour, while Crystal’s river boats were sold to various other cruise lines.
I had the opportunity to sail on Crystal Serenity from Quebec City to New York earlier this month, and without doubt, Crystal Cruises is most certainly back. Adding to that, Crystal has an incredibly loyal crew: over eighty-five percent of its former crew happily returned to work for the line. It also has a very loyal cruiser following; most cruisers I met onboard during the week had sailed with Crystal before, with several guests having sailed with Crystal over a half dozen times. That repeat guests were thrilled Crystal was sailing again would be a vast understatement.
Serenity has a capacity of 740 passengers with 500 crew hailing from 38 countries. The week I sailed, the ship was about half full and the demographic was mostly mid-70s and up. However, this could have been due to the bridge season timing of this particular cruise and the itinerary.
A Refined Refurbishment
Just prior to the comeback maiden season when Serenity was in dry dock, it went through a refined refurbishment. Additionally decks 8 and 9 were completely gutted and redone while signature restaurants Umi Uma by Nobu and Osteria d’Ovidio were likewise refashioned. The Bistro café on deck 6 received several upgrades as well. (Deck 10 had been thoroughly redone in 2018 along with Palm Court and Waterside Restaurant.) Additionally, the casino was removed and replaced with The Lounge.
What resulted are exceedingly lovely, elegant spaces, where comfort is paramount. In most public areas different shades of blue and turquoise reflect shades of the sea, so one is left with a floating island sensation. Even the Corinthian columns, and the ceilings in The Lounge are a dark marine blue.
I stayed on deck 9 in a Sapphire Veranda Suite that contained about 430 sq.ft. The living room had a three-seat turquoise sofa with chic velveteen pillows, and a bronze-based glass-topped coffee table. A comfortable corner club chair was perfect for daydreaming. The living room also boasted a dining table with two chairs, working desk, and a 60-inch flat screen television. The bar area had a stocked refrigerator replenished daily, and a Julius Meinl espresso machine. Waiting for me on arrival were bottles of champagne, Chardonnay, and a Cabernet Sauvignon because the Crystal life is all about making good choices.
The spacious walk-in closet had an appreciated waist-level safe. The in-room iPad was loaded with the daily Reflections – the schedule of all activities, events, and restaurant hours onboard – as well as newspapers. The large balcony had some of the most comfortable outdoor furniture I can recall experiencing.
The king-sized bed was fantastic with dreamy, high-count cotton sheets, two full size granite-topped nightstands, and another 60-inch flat screen television. There were enough outlets and USB ports to satisfy even a serious tech junkie.
The dual-vanity bathroom was accented with mocha, gray, and white granite and boasted a large walk-in shower possessing the largest rain shower head I’ve ever seen on a ship or in any 6-star hotel anywhere. Conveniently, it was accessible from both the bedroom and living room.
Seriously Strong on Service
Service onboard was, in two words, consistently excellent. This was true whether it was a perfectly prepared cappuccino at The Bistro, delectable dishes at Umi Uma by Nobu, a butler whose aim to please was self-evident, or mixologists making the perfect shaken not stirred martini.
For many of the crew and devoted, repeat guests, it was a happy homecoming. Glee at being back onboard a ship they loved was both delightful and contagious. For those new to Crystal, repeated discussions were overhead extolling the virtues of its great service.
Diners Will be Delighted
For guests who live or love to eat, the Serenity is a slice of heaven on the high seas. Though I have been on countless cruises in the past decade, this is the only one where every single meal was a truly delicious experience. From the delectable blue cheeseburger at Trident Grill to the Italian gelati at Scoops so creamy and rich, I nearly started singing Volare.
For the only Nobu experience at sea, Umi Uma is a culinary joy. Whether eating traditional sushi, sashimi, mouthwatering miso cod or exquisite soft shell crab roll, or spicy tuna with crunchy rice, it was all perfect. I nearly wept with joy devouring the mini chocolate soufflé topped with homemade sesame ice cream. If ever there was the ultimate culinary marriage, it would be Nobu Matsuhisa and his Japanese-Peruvian magic.
At Osteria d’Ovidio, named after Crystal’s owner, outstanding Italian fare included lobster ‘Acquasale’ with basil olive oil, Tortello pasta with filled with braised beef, figs vincotto and gorgonzola, lamb so tender my knife was bored, and a swoon-worthy hazelnut ice cream with coffee foam and salted caramel.
Tastes Kitchen & Bar’s globally inspired cuisine made me happy with all manner of fresh salads, pizzas, and Asian buns, pot stickers, and noodles. Breakfasts at Marketplace were a delight with both healthy choices, omelet station, a Japanese section and all the usual gorgeous carbs including French toast so spectacular that the word ‘keto’ will fall out of your lexicon. Waterside Restaurant serves seasonal American dishes in an elegant space. Then of course there is afternoon tea and 24-hour room service.
Enlightening Enrichment Programs
While many cruise lines have refrained from political commentary, not so Crystal. A real treat onboard was Thomas DeFrank, a world affairs lecturer and former Newsweek's senior White House correspondent for 25 years who covered eight Presidents and 12 Presidential campaigns. He gave three lectures during the week, ‘Buckle up for 2024’ and two on ‘Great Presidential Stories that Never Made it into Print.” They were all excellent, thought provoking, and very well attended.
On the lighter side, triple Writers Guild Awards winner and Emmy nominated comedian Tony Daro worked extensively on Saturday Night Live. No small wonder he has written for so many of the greats, including Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Tina Fey. Also onboard the ultimate impressionist, the hilarious Steve Caouette, who has worked on ‘The Late Show’ with David Letterman and with several SNL veterans.
For those that like to hum a few bars, Allan Rich, once a shoe salesman who graduated to songwriter nominations for an Oscar, Grammy, Golden Globe, and Emmy was on hand for lectures.
For the techno-challenged among us, Computer University at sea provided courses on photo application uses, photo editing, and cloud computing. Also, a comfortable library for traditionalists with over 2,000 titles.
Then of course there were several performances during the week by the Crystal Ensemble of talented singers and dancers, including Rock & Pop-a-mania, Broadway, Hollywood Leading Lady Greats, and a Salute to Sinatra.
Health & Wellness
With all the great cuisine, happily there were plenty of activities to keep me fit. The spacious state-of-the-art fitness center was open 24/7 and had floor-to-ceiling windows and all manner of Techno-gym equipment. There were also exercise, stretch, abs, and spinning classes. For pickle ball and paddle tennis afficionados, tennis legend Anand Amritraj was onboard.
The Aurora Spa had a full menu of facials, massages, and for those wishing to turn back the hands of time at sea, a physician-administered medi-spa with Thermage, Dysport and Restylane wrinkle treatments. A physical therapist gave me an excellent massage and the modern salon had a full menu of blow-outs, mani-pedis, teeth-whitening and men’s grooming options.
When it came time to relax, the Seahorse Pool with its orange and turquoise daybeds and two outdoor Jacuzzis was a pleasurable respite.
If you’re looking to divinely dine and get spoiled by great service in an elegant, yet unstuffy atmosphere while being seriously entertained, Crystal Cruises is for you. Happy travels!
Julie L. Kessler is a journalist, attorney, and the author of the award-winning memoir: “Fifty-Fifty, The Clarity of Hindsight.” Her work has appeared in several major publications around the world, including The LA Times, The SF Examiner, The Asia Times, The Jerusalem Post, and The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, among many others. She can be reached at Julie@VagabondLawyer.com.
Written by Julie L. Kessler
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