Serenity, Crystal-Style

The cruise line offers clients a ‘grown-up’ voyage

By: Maryann Hammers

You could describe my recent Mediterranean voyage aboard Crystal Serenity as a cruise for grown-ups. While I’ve sailed on mainstream big ships and small explorer-type vessels, this was my first experience with a premium line. Everything about the ship, from the buffets to the nightlife, was as classic and elegant as her godmother, Dame Julie Andrews.

Passengers who seemed to be mostly retirement-aged Americans tend to be well traveled, well heeled and well dressed.

One fellow described his affinity for Crystal this way: “I can’t find anything to complain about.”

I chose the Serenity because I was eager to experience the Rome-Barcelona itinerary. While visiting the Mediterranean in the fall, I became enchanted by small weathered boats bobbing in picturesque harbors, centuries-old cathedrals and colorful hillside homes.

‘Six-Star Service’

One of only 18 liners to be included in the “Five-Stars Club” in the “Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships 2006,” the 1,080-guest ship features soaring stained-glass ceilings and marbled elevators. The main dining room feels like a five-star restaurant with dim lighting, wandering musicians and a domed, frescoed ceiling. Couples can choose a private table for two (those near the floor-to-ceiling windows are the most coveted) or traditional, more convivial tables for four, six or eight. Lunchtime on sea days ranged from an abundant Mediterranean-themed extravaganza to a gala buffet.

Our spacious stateroom came complete with a flat-screen TV, DVD/CD player, Frette robes, sofa and armchair and walk-in closets. The bed featured down pillows and fine linens, while the roomy marble bathroom featured double sinks, Aveda products and a full-size shower. We also had a Jacuzzi, complete with bath salts.

Crystal’s main claim to fame is its “six-star service.” After the first night, Branislav, the dining-room waiter, knew I preferred sparkling water with lemon, while my boyfriend, Damon, had a fondness for pumpkinseed rolls. At the breakfast buffet, crew members greeted me by name, carried my tray to a table of my liking and delivered my coffee always remembering that I drink regular with cream, while Damon opts for decaf. No matter what I requested, the response was always a swift: “My pleasure.”

Dignified Offerings

We were aboard one of Crystal’s wine-themed sailings the line hosts over a dozen each year. The cruise featured wine tastings, wine-paired dinners, Mediterranean-themed feasts complementing our ports of call and a 25,000-bottle wine list representing every grape-growing region in the world. In addition, members of the Society of Wine Educators led several seminars.

Anyone who has cringed at boozy conga lines will appreciate Crystal’s dignified daytime offerings, which resembled college extension courses. In a day I could attend a cooking demo, sip afternoon tea, practice putting at a TaylorMade golf clinic or take up ballroom dancing. The library had a huge selection of books, CDs and DVDs, and the bridge lounge for playing cards was the most popular place on the ship. When it comes to onboard shopping, forget about T-shirts and trinkets; instead, think evening gowns and fine jewelry.

Nightlife was equally refined. The Hollywood Theatre offered a daily selection of new and classic flicks, from “March of the Penguins” to “War of the Worlds.” Gentlemen sipped cognac and smoked cigars in the Connoisseur Club, while couples fox-trotted, two-stepped and practiced salsa and swing dancing in the Stardust Club. (Thanks to the ship’s “ambassador hosts,” unaccompanied ladies were never without a dance partner.) The DJ played livelier, newer music (that is, from the ’70s and ’80s) in a smallish disco called Pulse. Even the ship’s Caesars Palace at Sea was serene.

As our cruise came to an end, I thought of how the Crystal experience stood apart. If the point of cruising is to relax and de-stress, there’s no place like a Crystal cruise for finding Serenity.

The Details

Crystal Serenity will offer nearly two dozen Mediterranean itineraries from Sept. 10-Nov. 15. Itineraries and specific ports vary, from the French Riviera to Rome to the classic cities of ancient Greece. Prices start at $3,550. Commission for agents ranges from 10-17 percent.

Selling Tips for Agents

Crystal is likely a good fit for upscale, mature passengers who are interested in pure relaxation and/or educational or cultural offerings, such as language lessons, lectures about world affairs or wine tastings. Nighttime entertainment is especially low-key. Hip, young jet-setters or dedicated partiers may be bored.
People seeking to be pampered will likely appreciate the service. The top-notch staff is trained to make every passenger feel like a VIP, but only those on the penthouse floors have a butler.
If your client is traveling solo especially a single woman Crystal may be a good choice. With a full lineup of onboard classes and activities, this ship didn’t seem as “couply” as many. Even dance classes and nightly ballroom dancing are suitable for singles.