Just off a 10-day sailing of Crystal Cruises Crystal Serenity, we have what turned out to be a wonderful experience fresh in our minds. Rated an ultra-luxury brand, a sailing with Crystal Cruises will include a number of features; some exclusive, some done by other lines in one form or another. Different from our personal takeaways, detailed in Our Crystal Experience: Shared, these are line items not open to personal interpretation or subjective by nature.
Inside and Outside Lifeboat Drill
Some cruise lines hold mandatory safety drills in a comfortable lounge while others stack up passengers on an active, outside deck. Crystal begins in an interior muster station, close to the lifeboat those mustered passengers will use. At the completion of the drill, passengers are required to walk by and see exactly where that particular lifeboat is. Also, while most cruise line ask passengers to bring life jackets to the safety drill but to put them on only when shown the proper way to do so, Crystal has passengers report to muster stations wearing their life jackets…like they might in a real emergency. We like those “like they might in a real emergency” ways of doing a safety drill.
ALL Really Nice Lounge Chairs
On deck we have seen a number of lines with nice lounge chairs in the adults-only area of the ship or scattered around the deck on a first-come, first-served basis. That Crystal Serenity had ALL lovely chairs with attractive and plush cushions and pillows was a nice touch, similar to what we found in other areas of the ship. Little things that solidly position Crystal Cruises as a luxury brand. Add in an attentive deck crew that only had to be told what a guest drinks once for bonus points.
The Bistro…and other assorted dining venues
Here is one that is not unique to Crystal Cruises, The Bistro. Their version of a centrally-located dining venue with a menu that changes throughout the day. Different here is full bar service, any coffee drink imaginable and, most importantly: lots of crew members on hand to take care of business. This ‘fully-staffed’ element of the Crystal Cruises experience is one we would enjoy every step of the way, every day, in every venue, all the time. For cruise travelers who might lament of the olden days when all cruise ships “treated us like kings and queens”, this one still does…especially if booked in Penthouse Suite or above.
Responsive Butler Service
One would think that ‘responsive’ and ‘butler’ would go hand in hand. Not necessarily. We have been in other situations where top level service or accommodations include little more than anyone else receives. Upper concierge level accommodations on other lines might include champagne upon embarkation, upgraded bath amenities and upgraded or exclusive access to events and areas of the ship. All done on paper or before passengers arrive, those efforts are nice but not nearly as impressive as Responsive Butler Service. In a way, Crystal Butlers are like the Guardian Angels of luxury land-tour operator Abercrombie & Kent that are with travelers every step of the way. While Crystal butlers will unpack and pack Crystal guests, arrange anything they want or need on the ship or off, the most effective part of what they do is to be there for guests, all day, every day. That close association allows them to anticipate the needs of their guests more effectively than we have seen before, at sea or on land. Add in a friendly demeanor (others have been a bit aloof) and good sense of humor and if there was one single reason why we would love to sail with Crystal Cruises again it would be Almir, our Crystal butler.
Quick story to show how committed to their guests these butlers are. We were chatting with Almir one night and asked how long he would be on the ship, how long contracts were and other related topics. This is a standard line of questioning that comes up on every cruise. Commonly we hear of the crew member anxious to get back home to their family and friends, and rightfully so: They work long hours, seven days a week, for months at a time.
Almir: “(my) contract was supposed to end in January but I extended it…some guests had requested me.” Impressive and not heard before.
Nicely Done Shore Excursions
At Crystal Cruises, much like the intense off ship focus of a river cruise, tours have been given a lot of thought. Stealing the headlines recently, Late Riser Adventures are aimed at those who might have had to choose between catching up on much needed sleep and embarking on a great adventure. Offering the same enriching experiences in the world’s most stunning and significant destinations,Late Riser Adventures are just later in the day.
We were interested in walking tours thinking they would help us fend off weight gain on a line reputed to have fabulous cuisine. (They did, we didn’t, but it was worth it.) There was a walking tour available at each port that was more than an orientation tour. Here is where we saw Crystal Cruises taking some bold chances.
In Boston, for example, we had recently done an overall city tour when visiting earlier this year. Called Colonial Countryside, Lexington and Concord, our Crystal Cruises tour took our group of 38 out of Boston’sBlack Falcon cruise terminal in the late morning. The four-hour tour began with a drive through Boston, passing a number of historically significant sites along the way. Then we got out of town, visiting Harvard University in Cambridge then passed a number of Georgian-style mansions, including that of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as well as the first garden-style cemetery in the country. We walked through history, visiting Lexington Green where Minutemen faced British troops in 1775. In rural Concord, we stopped by wooden North Bridge, walking the grounds where the “shot heard around the world” was fired by an embattled farmer.
In Halifax, Nova Scotia, we took a short bus ride to the Halifax Public Gardens, a city center-like place where local residents had stopped come to have lunch bought elsewhere, read a book or just consider the lovely day. From there we walked up to the unassailable Citadel was built high above Halifax at a strategic position so strong that no one ever attempted to breach its mighty walls. During our visit, we witnessed a changing of the guard as well as rifle practice, said to be two of the activities commonly performed when the Citadel was in actual operation.
Bold Culinary Offerings
As with shore excursions that go beyond a one-size-fits-all plan, Crystal Cruises bold culinary efforts are epitomized at alternative dining venue Tastes. There we tried interesting menu items like Fried Chicken On A Jalapeno Waffle, or California Street Tacos. A new menu premiered at Tastes while we were on board. Coming back a few days after our first visit for another seating at Tastes, they had re-defined the new menu, tweaking a few things here and there. Responsive. Get a really good feel for Crystal Cruises cuisine on a topic that many cruise lines fail at: Room Service, by visiting our Facebook Gallery on that topic.
Other cruise lines have their claim to fame and signature items that no other line can touch. Under a day to day, meal to meal, bite to bite scrutiny; Crystal Cruises efforts are solid home runs: Every. Single. Time. Extra credit: Crystal does not hesitate to try different, cutting edge menu items that may or may not resonate with their upscale clientele.
Here is a photo gallery that captures our entire voyage and experience: