AT THE HEART OF EVERY LUXURY CRUISE is that particular and distinct something – as the French would say, it’s a Je ne sais quoi moment. In my experience, this most appealing quality is invariably present on Crystal Cruises’ ships and seems to truly resonate. I believe that this charming French expression of delight personifies Crystal and is, in part, responsible for their continued success and constant acclaim. Their guests' loyalty is remarkable, and at times, one notes an almost pure reverence between those guests and the staff onboard each ship. True to the meaning of the phrase, it’s somewhat intangible and hard to express unless one experiences it first-hand. They do seem to have an innate understanding of what is required and when, and how the guests should feel.
This high level of service was evident early in the cruise at the Stardust Supper Club, which hosts a special dinner and dance evening once or twice per cruise on those designated as optional black-tie. The Crystal Serenity carries up to 980 guests, and the Stardust Supper Club can only accommodate just over 100 guests, so reserving in advance is a must. And there are always tables kept for those who are sailing in the grandest suites of all. Guests arrive promptly, the entertainment is ready, tables beautifully set, and the lighting is just so. It harkens back to the supper clubs of New York in the ‘50s and ‘60s and is exceedingly popular for myriad reasons – one being that Crystal guests love to whirl around the dance floor. It’s an elegant yesteryear moment and seems to suit the whole personification of Crystal’s onboard experience.
Tea in the Palm Court
Looking on from the bar, sipping some Champagne and hoping to snag a table for ourselves, we saw that all the guests were seated, the room was full, the band was playing, and the dinner was about to be underway. Suddenly two guests arrived, somewhat tardily but expecting a table. We watched the maître d’ and his brigade of staff, find a table, whisk it into place, ensure it was perfect in every way, and the guests were seated without any knowledge that they had almost upset the apple cart. At Crystal, no detail goes unnoticed, no guest is turned away, and everything is as it should be. To me, that is a sign of a brand that pays attention, is caring in a kind, gracious, and warm fashion, and ultimately, does their very best to delight everyone onboard.
And so it went for the duration of our 10-day Caribbean voyage from Fort Lauderdale to San Juan visiting such charming spots as St Barts, Tortola, St Kitts, and Nevis and other ports such as St. Thomas and St. Lucia with several days at sea which are always such a joy.
Seabreeze Penthouse Suite
The accommodations are stellar, one of the most beautiful suites I have enjoyed at sea. Ensconced in a Sea Breeze Penthouse on Deck 10, I felt cosseted and pampered, particularly by the most attentive and personalized service from the butler, Richard. Nothing was too much trouble for him, and he literally could not do enough for my travelling companions in the adjoining suite and me. Every day he brought the breakfast tray precisely on time, and seemingly was everywhere and on the ball, ready to proffer some assistance or to prepare afternoon treats, deliver more ice, organize some caviar and Champagne for a special celebration, and generally take care of all the guests in his part of the ship. Every suite on Decks 10 and 11 offers the treat of having a butler, and they actually are butlers and not glorified room stewards. Well trained, elegant, intuitive, and charming, so that, by the end of the cruise, he was indispensable!
Seabreeze Penthouse Suite
The suites are quite glorious and very well designed, feeling more like a typical large hotel room or even one’s bedroom at home. There are 36 Sea Breeze Penthouses located on Deck 10, introduced during the major renovation and refit that Crystal Serenity underwent in late 2018. They are very popular, and guests should book them well ahead. The décor and colours throughout are calming, and the palette with its tones of blues and greys offset by neutral tones and that delightful Crystal turquoise, carried through in lighting, art, and objets was incredibly charming, with no harsh notes at all. This soothing sensibility and these hues, along with greys, sea greens, and mauves, carries on throughout the whole ship, which provides a very pleasing backdrop in all of the public rooms.
I loved the elegant, art-deco feel of my spacious suite with its incredibly comfy bed, the various lighting options at one’s fingertips and a gorgeous, luxe couch, a stocked bar and fridge to complement the feel along with a Keurig coffee maker. Colourful glass installations and other art donned the walls. My walk-in closet had everything I needed, with Etro bathrobes, kimonos and slippers, was also spacious as was the bathroom with its two sinks, although I did miss having a bathtub in addition to the fantastic walk-in shower. There’s a Dyson hairdryer, two make-up mirrors, lots of drawer storage, and many nice touches throughout. A verandah with ample seating and several tables completed the array of suite amenities. It became a sanctuary, a beautiful, calm oasis in the bustling world of a cruise ship with so many activities and events it was hard to fit everything in during our voyage.
Stardust Supper Club
The cuisine is another aspect of a Crystal cruise, at the heart of the guest experience. Various dining options include Umi Uma, by Chef Nobu with its sushi bar, and restaurant with Nobu trained chefs to ensure the quality and consistency of every incredible dish. Each guest may dine here once during the voyage for no charge, and then additional reservations come at a small fee of $30US per guest. The same applies to Prego, the alternative Italian restaurant, which also has a traditional feel, much like the Stardust Supper Club. Crystal guests, with a fifty percent average repeat factor on every voyage, seem to enjoy a time-honoured and proven styling in some of the public rooms such as Prego and also the Avenue Saloon being another delightful example with its rich woods and very clubby feel.
During the significant refurbishment that Crystal Serenity and sister ship, Crystal Symphony, underwent in recent years, several more dining venues have been added. These include the Marketplace, formerly the Lido, which now transforms into Churrascaria, Crystal’s version of a Brazilian steakhouse serving succulent cuts, ceviches, tapas, and more. A casual, open-seating dinner is offered here every night from 6:30 to 9:00 pm. Another new dining option is Silk, a contemporary venue with modern Chinese-inspired fare with family-style dinner plates ideal for sharing and self-service for breakfast and lunch. For dinner, reservations are recommended. The former Crystal dining room is now exquisitely transformed into the Waterside Restaurant and is quite gorgeous with attractive, soft colours and décor and open-seating dining. The service is a delight here, whether for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and the menu choices, featuring modern cuisine selections, are delicious.
A special event, always very popular with Crystal guests, is the Mozart Tea Time, which we enjoyed on our first sea day. Staff dressed in costumes of the era ensured a gracious tea service, to the accompaniment of a violinist and pianist playing Mozart and other classics. Cakes, tea sandwiches, as well as scones with jam and clotted cream were among the tasty treats we enjoyed in an elegant setting at the redesigned Palm Court venue high atop the ship with marvellous views. It’s yet another example of the thoughtful aspects of a Crystal cruise. The Gentlemen Hosts are another such feature, to dance with the ladies, and accompany them at dinner as required.
White Night Party
The White Night party, in the ship’s atrium, was exceedingly popular with guests donning white outfits and dancing away to live music and singing. The entertainment, in several venues throughout the ship, included piano stylings, a duo, a full-scale Broadway production show, the previously mentioned dancing to an orchestra, movies, and so much more, including a casino, bridge, and card games and a wide-ranging series of enrichment lectures.
It seems that one of the reasons for Crystal’s resounding success, as they celebrate their 30th anniversary this year, is their ability to understand the desires and wishes of their guests, no doubt leading to the fifty percent or higher repeat factor. A harmonious onboard atmosphere, the attentive service with its inherent desire to please, and the stunning redesign of many areas of the ship, have all contributed to Crystal’s superb offering. Magic, fairy dust, or just a determination to never take an eye off the ball – whatever it is, they do it exceedingly well and should be congratulated for honing their craft and ensuring their guests a most refined and lovely experience at sea.
Written by Vanessa Lee for Cruise & Travel Lifestyles (Winter/Spring 2020). All photos courtesy of Crystal.