I boarded the Crystal Serenity in Venice at the beginning of last month for a week long swing down through the Adriatic, stopping in at Mykonos before transiting the Dardanelles, and finally leaving the ship in Istanbul. It was a frantic, fun fuelled week that neatly balanced magnificent history with a dollop of indolent hedonism, with a couple of welcome sea days in between to allow me to catch my breath,
The cool. marble suffused expanse of the Crystal Atrium was filled with the strains of a violin quartet, swinging lushly through The Blue Danube as I walked back on board. Instead of going straight to the suite, I lingered long enough to grab a maiden glass of glacially chilled champagne. I needed to linger for a minute or so and let it all come back to me.
Since Crystal had come under the auspices of Genting Hong Kong, a series of seismic announcements have unfolded like a string of muffled drum rolls. Crystal is not so much gathering headway, as going to warp drive.New ships, a stunning yacht, a brace of deluxe river ships, and even a pair of opulent air cruises. The mind boggles at the sheer scale of it all.
But a nagging feeling of unease had still gnawed away at me. What would the new regime mean for the actual, current on board experience? How would the Genting hegemony impact on board a pair of ships that I have come to cherish over a decade and a half. Surely change and retrenchment on board were inevitable?
Over the next week, those doubts vanished like sea fret. The on board experience remains as compelling, inclusive and all pervading as ever. Crystal Serenity remains suffused in a patina of care and concern from bow to stern, truck to keel.
Service throughout the ship remains as flawless and timely as ever. The staff are adept at appearing when you need something, yet without falling over the line into being overly intrusive. Of course, the high staff to guest ratio makes this easier, but that very ratio itself is indicative of the mindset originally instilled by Joe Watters from day one. It is heartening indeed to see that Genting understands this. Quite simply, it creates a bond, a contract of sorts between crew and guests that elevates the entire experience into something far more than a ‘mere’ voyage.
Crystal’s cuisine remains peerless; a series of beautifully executed snacks and feasts, running from the simple to the sublime. Whether we are talking about the simply gorgeous chocolate ice cream at Tastes, the dainty little custard tarts at the Bistro, or the succulent, full blown Italian fare at Prego, the Crystal Serenity delivered in spades.
Particularly enjoyable were some amazing, saffron accented lamb skewers served up one night in the Trident Grill. And being able to pick at prawns and lobster while lounging on my balcony as we skirted the coast of summertime Turkey is a level of indolence that is almost stratospheric.
God knows, I looked for signs of slippage in a product- and on a ship- that I know really well. I looked in vain.
The overall vibe on this spacious, supremely comfortable ship remains as upbeat and accommodating as ever. Wonderful live music filled the shimmering Crystal Atrium before and after dinner each night as we surged through some of the most fabled, historic waters on the planet. Banner destinations such as Dubrovnik, Mykonos and Izmir unfolded around us like stunning portals to the turbulent past of one of the most mesmerising regions in the world. And, having been sated and fascinated by these incredible places, we would return to the reassuring welcome of our floating home from home. And, make no mistake, that is exactly what sailing on the Crystal Serenity still feels like.
Over the years, the ship- along with the equally sybaritic Crystal Symphony- has been constantly refined and re-imagined, especially in the public areas. Particularly beautiful is the lounging space under the sliding glass roof of the Trident Grill. Teak decking, liberally sprinkled with plush lounging chairs and sofa groups, is now framed by vibrant climbing walls draped in lush greenery. There is even a small tree draped with twinkling fairy lights that makes for a stunning focal point while enjoying more casual evening fare over dinner.
The classic, on board alchemy achieved by this marriage of space and grace creates a clean, harmonious whole that is, quite simply, without peer. Details delight the eye and lift the spirit. The Crystal experience remains as vibrant and uplifting as ever.
Crystal CEO, Edie Rodriguez, was on board for this voyage. Affable, accessible and hugely capable, she is well aware that the line’s key asset remains the superb Crystal staff that give both ships their heart, soul and personality. From the start, Crystal was a line that hired it’s staff based on their attitude first and foremost. The theory always was that such staff could be trained up to offer the best possible levels of service for the guests then. It was a proven formula, and it remains one that has paid huge dividends for the line itself.
This level of intimately styled excellence, married to superb, quality hardware and a series of carefully thought out, round the world itineraries, is what really marked out the Crystal product of old as a thing apart. Happily, it still does to this day.
In my opinion, Crystal Cruises is the obvious heir to the cherished seagoing traditions of such stellar travel icons as the Royal Viking Line, and even the French Line. And, while it operates in a very different market to those long gone legends, Crystal’s ongoing adherence to those self same, timeless values of care and courtesy garnished with a ‘can do’ attitude, mark it out as a singular, worthy counterpart to both.
As I noted at the start of this piece, one of my concerns was whether or not that vital, all pervasive attitude might have changed under the new regime. After my recent trip on the Crystal Serenity, I can say emphatically say that it has not.
And in a world where hype too often attempts to masquerade as style, that is something that I for one find truly heartening.