Crystal Keeping up the Standards
I have cruised on Crystal Serenity a few times before, when boarding as a repeat guest thoughts flash through the mind, will it be as good as before, have there been any cutbacks and will I recognise any of the staff who have previously looked after me so professionally and attentively on previous cruises. The cruise line has undergone a change in ownership about two years ago and we all know that change is not always for the best in the Cruise Industry. Did I need to worry? I will answer that question at the end of this review. Fort Lauderdale was the embarkation port; Crystal have recently used Port of Miami almost exclusively when sailing from Florida some future sailings are also scheduled to go out of Fort Lauderdale. It was good to have the opportunity to stay in Fort Lauderdale for a couple of nights pre-cruise. It was a change from being in Miami despite being busy in early November due to the Boat Show, hotel prices hiked for that event, I spent a very enjoyable time exploring the area both on foot and by the inexpensive tourist tram. The usual tourist water taxi route was cancelled in order to ferry people to the Boat Show venues. Embarkation from the Port Everglades went very smoothly and boarding started shortly before the usual 12:00pm. Crystal always put on a very enjoyable relaxing embarkation day lunch in The Main Dining Room, Champagne flowed freely and the wait staff performed their usual professional and friendly service, at this stage a contented feeling overtook me, Wow, I'm home on a Crystal Ship and I'm here for the next fourteen days, how perfect can that be? In this review, I am not going to mention any of the ports we visited in The Caribbean, tendering was needed for a number of the smaller islands, the tendering operation was always smooth, no need to collect tender tickets, it was open tendering from the start and the boats were not packed with people. When docked, Crystal provided shuttle buses without charge if the dock was a small distance from the main town. I requested a table for eight late sitting at 8:30pm which was confirmed by a notification in my stateroom. Crystal is perhaps the only luxury line to operate two sitting dining, I prefer this arrangement as it gives the opportunity to bond with other guests on the table as well as the wait staff, Crystal also operate a dining by reservation system for those who wish to vary their dining time, reservations are made pre-cruise or on board with the matre di, an area of the dining room is set aside for these guests. Crystal have recently announced plans to go to full Open Dining in the near future which fits in with the industry standard on other luxury cruise lines, however my personal opinion is the present system helps to promote a friendly atmosphere, often Crystal guests who meet at a table become lifelong friends and often take future cruises together. It will be interesting to learn how Crystal will set about making the changes necessary to accommodate full open dining and whether it will change the general comradery around the ships. One also has to bear in mind that the timing of the evening entertainment may make certain specific times popular to enter the dining room. Speciality dining in Prego for Italian and Silk Road for Nobu inspired Asian were both superb, Tastes on the Lido deck offers an evening menu of interesting Tapas style dishes, reservations are needed for each of these dining venues. Crystal excels in providing enrichment talks and classes, sea days provide a host of things to do ranging from Berlitz language classes, current affair talks and instruction in various aspects of up to date computing. It is truly amazing on a smallish ship for around 1040 guests how many experts are brought on-board to impart their respective knowledge and experiences, I am sure every person will be able to find something to interest them and allow them to leave the ship with an added skill or a topic gleaned from a speaker which promoted further personal research. Crystal have always been happy to accommodate Cruise Critic meet and mingle get togethers, on this particular cruise on embarkation day we were very fortunate and surprised to be given invitations to meet Andy Geller the new Crystal Media Ambassador and CEO Edie Rodriguez as well as a number of other Crystal executives. Edie outlined future company plans and then held an informal Q&A session. The meeting was a most interesting and an unexpected way to start a cruise for CC members who signed up for the meet & mingle. As well as the enrichment program evening entertainment was plentiful and varied, on some evenings there were two different entertainment shows, one at 7:45 for both sittings and a different show or guest artist repeated twice one for early sitting and one for those eating late. The two main bars had pianists and often they were replaced with a jazz band or classical quartet or pop duo. There was certainly plenty of variation, it was very often difficult to fit everything in. I think this great variety is possible to the ship being larger than other luxury cruise ships with more guests on board, Crystal entertainment department seem to work hard to cater for all tastes in entertainment, there is a lot of activity around the ship in the evening especially in the bars, I have been on other upscale ships where most of the guests are tucked up in bed by 11:00pm! Coming back to my original question, have there been changes or cutbacks? The answer in my mind is a distinct no, food and service was well up to expectation included wines and drinks were generously dispensed and of high quality, the ship was in immaculate condition, and as previously stated enrichment and entertainment could not have been any better. Were there any staff I knew and who recognised me? Definitely yes, from the great lido staff who seem to have been on the ship forever, one of the marvellous bartenders who even remembered my drink preference from a previous cruise and several officers, continuity is one of the great things on their ships. Crystal are a class outfit but slip ups do happen, before boarding I booked a tour in New Orleans using their planning website, without sending me an email or other notification the tour was cancelled due to a timing issue, I only found out about this change by checking the tour page of the pre-booking website. Cruising with Crystal is still a special treat; I look forward to sailing with them again in the not too distant future.
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