SS UNITED STATES; CRYSTAL SALVATION?

Yesterday’s hydrogen bomb of an announcement concerning Crystal’s acquisition of the SS. United States left me with my jaw scraping the tops of my shoes. Stunned, incredulous disbelief does not even begin to cover it.

And the idea that she will be returned to service, subject to a full maritime evaluation, topped even that. Shock and amazement gave way to a tidal wave of euphoria.

Of course, it’s not one that is shared by everyone.

Sure enough, within minutes of the formal press announcement at New York’s historic Pier 88 on Thursday, a whole tidal wave of dissent, derision and- in some cases- sheer, surly denial- began breaking over the whole project.

But first and foremost, let’s look at the bare bones of what is proposed.

The former transatlantic speed queen, built to carry 2.000 passengers in three classes on a 53,000 ton hull, will be completely re-engined, with a new service speed of roughly twenty five knots.

All accommodation will be rebuilt to feature just four hundred suites, averaging some three hundred and fifty square feet, on a hull that will have the superstructure extended aft, with extra upper decks built fore and aft to accommodate balcony cabins. Capacity will fall to just eight hundred passengers, served by a crew of six hundred, on a hull whose GRT will increase to an estimated 60,000 tons.

This would give the restructured SS. United States a passenger/space ratio roughly comparable to most current six star ships. Add in Crystal’s unique level of style, hospitality and cuisine, and the potential for such a project is incalculable.

On the aesthetic front, the original colour scheme will be retained, and the two great, red, white and blue funnels- surely among the most iconic in maritime history- will remain. That gracefully tapered prow will stay as well.

This is only right. Messing with any of these would be the artistic equivalent of painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa; an abject capitulation to hype over style. Thankfully, we now know that such will not be the case.

Inside, such perennial locations as the famous Navajo Lounge and the long, interior promenades will be restored to their original lustre.

Restored and enhanced beyond anyone’s most optimistic dreams, the SS. United States will be uniquely able to offer her passengers two voyages for the price of one.

The first, of course, is on a modern, state of the art luxury vessel that can take her guests all over the world cocooned in sybaritic standards of flair and finesse. And one whose dimensions also allow her to transit the Panama Canal as well.

The second is a trip back into the past, aboard an ocean liner so legendary in history that even the mention of her name makes the adrenaline flow faster. Imagine sailing up the Hudson River, inbound for New York, on the United States. The idea is spine tingling and delicious. For many, that seems too good to be true.

And that’s where the naysayers come in.

After all these years of stop-start, false promises, and coming within weeks of the executioner’s axe, many simply cannot absorb that this long suffering, much adored legend has been not only reprieved, but actually looks like returning to sea. Their incredulity is not to be underestimated. Or, indeed, disrespected. Actions, as they say, speak louder than words.

The ship needs a complete, stem to stern survey to determine exactly what will be required to return her to a seagoing state. But anyone who thinks that either Crystal, or indeed, parent company Genting Hong Kong, have not already done their homework is deluding themselves on this front.

This complete survey will, apparently, be undertaken very soon. But in the meantime, there are more cosmetic aspects that could surely be embarked upon without either moving the ship or, indeed, breaking the bank.

An obvious sign of intent would be to remove the acres of superficial rust that currently shroud the ship, giving her a kind of forlorn, Miss Havisham sort of appearance. The hull and funnels could surely be repainted in situ.

And illuminating those huge funnels at night would be a far bigger statement of intent; a potent message to every naysayer out there that revival is not only imminent, but actually already incubating within the dark recesses of that fabulous hull. It would represent a kind of spiritual unshackling of the ship from the ties that have bound her for these long, lonely years. The psychological effect- and, of course, the press it would generate- are quite incalculable, but totally positive.

Genting, of course, now also owns the great Lloyd Werft shipyard in Germany. And, while no formal announcement has been made as to where the projected restoration of the ship would be carried out, few would bet against Lloyd Werft. With it’s reputation for delivering timely, consistently excellent quality work, Crystal’s own in-house shipyard has to be the clear front runner by a country mile.

Will it be easy? Of course not. A very conservative preliminary survey estimates the conversion price at around $700 million.

But the job is not impossible, and the return is truly priceless.

This is Field of Dreams stuff, with a maritime twist. And, once rebuilt, I for one have no doubt that the people will, indeed, come.

They will come to sample an authentic American legend, restored and enhanced, and put back on the one stage that she once so dominated.

They will come to experience a ship that has survived against incredible odds, thanks to the unimaginable tenacity of Susan Gibbs and her ‘Band of Brothers’ at the SS. United States Conservancy. The story of their ‘never say die’ fight to keep the ship afloat, when all others had given up, is surely worthy of a film script in itself.

They will come to experience a unique vessel, one suffused with the courteous, effortlessly elegant sense of warmth, beauty and style that the Crystal brand personifies.

The SS. United States, the fabled ‘Yankee Flyer’, looks set to find a whole new audience. Once again, the truly savvy among the travelling public will get the chance to fall in love with a ship that has heart, style and soul in spades. A ship where space meets grace; one where the benign shades of Duke Ellington and his band can almost be heard once more in the ballroom, just as on her historic maiden voyage in July. 1952.

I have the feeling that the United States may very well be leaving Philadelphia under tow before too much longer has passed, thence to begin her dramatic renaissance; a rebirth that is without parallel in maritime history.

And when she comes back, it will be under her own power. That famous bow will once more furl the steel grey Atlantic rollers back along her glistening black flanks, to where her wake surges back to Europe. Row upon row of her deck lights will dance like hundreds of skittish fireflies on the Atlantic. Naturally, the soundtrack will be sassy, ebullient swing and jazz.

Many will refuse to believe it until they see it, of course. But the idea of this maritime Sleeping Beauty emerging from her slumber is one so powerful, so utterly compelling, as to be the real stuff of dreams.

This great, long neglected, nearly forgotten cathedral of the sea is coming back, sailing straight at you at twenty five knots. I, for one, cannot wait to meet her.

 

 

 

CRYSTAL SERENITY TO OFFER SECOND ALASKA SEASON IN 2017

CNV00177

It’s ‘adios’ to the Mediterranean for Crystal Serenity in 2017

In what amounts to a complete about face, Crystal Cruises has cancelled the entire 2017 European deployment for Crystal Serenity. Instead, the 2003 built, 68,000 ton ship will offer a whole new raft of itineraries, centered on the continental USA.

Summer will see the ship offering a second, consecutive season of Alaska cruises, ranging in length between seven and ten days, and the year is filled out by a string of Eastern Seaboard sailings, before the ship heads down into the Caribbean for a fall and winter season.

There will also be a series of New England itineraries in the fall, also typically in the seven to ten nights’ range.

A fourteen night repositioning cruise from Miami to Los Angeles will be the prelude to a series of seven night West Coast USA cruises, and at least one long, exotic, sixteen night swing out cruise to Hawaii and back. There will also be a longer, more in depth, fourteen night itinerary to Mexico as well the more conventional seven night options.

Bookings for these new itineraries open on December 31st.

This is the first time since her launch in 2003 that the Crystal Serenity has spent two consecutive seasons away from her usual run of peak season cruises in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe.

So far, there is no news of alternative itineraries for sibling vessel, Crystal Symphony. Her full season of Baltic and Northern Europe cruises, scheduled to operate from May to October, is thus far unchanged.

As always, stay tuned for updates.

 

NEWCASTLE’S PORT OF TYNE TO HOST THIRTY-NINE CRUISE VISITS IN 2016

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Always a welcome sight at Port of Tyne, the Marco Polo will be back to the port in 2016

2016 will see Newcastle’s Port of Tyne hosting some thirty nine cruise ship calls between April and September, including some of the most illustrious names in the cruising firmament.

Cruise and Maritime’s flagship, Magellan inaugurates the 2016 cruise season on April 2nd, with the first of five round trip sailings to Norway and the Baltic capitals, before she returns to Tilbury on an overnight sailing on May 20th.

Later in the year, her fleet mate- the veteran Marco Polo- returns to operate two cruises- a Baltic itinerary, and a round trip to Iceland and Greenland.

Long established in northern waters, Fred. Olsen introduces it’s flagship, the gorgeous Balmoral, to the Tyne for the first time in 2016. The ship will operate the largest single round trip deployment from Port of Tyne in 2016. Beginning in May, she will offer some eleven sailings to Norway, round Britain, and even down to the Mediterranean, ranging from five to fifteen nights in length.

2016 will also see the return of some platinum chip prestige vessels on cruise visits, with the sublime Crystal Symphony returning to Port of Tyne on July 7th in the course of a North Sea voyage.

Also back is Regent Seven Seas’ ultra luxury Seven Seas Voyager on both June 8th and August 16th, while Oceania’s highly styled Nautica and Marina also make guest appearances.

Most likely to draw multi generation attention will be the first ever visits by Disney Cruise Line. The Disney Magic will visit the port twice in June; once during the course of a round Britain circuit, and again during a follow on Baltic cruise.

Meanwhile, the arrival of the Kongingsdam on August 16th is a real coup for the port. The new Holland America Line flagship will be in ‘town’ on the same day as Seven Seas Voyager. And her slightly smaller sister ship- the Zuiderdam- will also be on the Tyne on July 2nd.

All in all, a busy and prestigious roster of cruise ship tonnage will be showcased at Newcastle/Port of Tyne in 2016. Stay tuned for any updates, or see the complete list (with arrival times and departures) at; http://www.portoftyne.co.uk

 

Thanks to Lisa Donohoe at Port of Tyne for supplying the arrivals list for the Tyneside 2016 season

 

CRYSTAL RIVER CRUISES ANNOUNCES 2016-17 ITINERARIES

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

National Gallery, Budapest. A forthcoming highlight for the opulent new Crystal River Cruises. from 2017.

Nascent Crystal River Cruises will be hitting a quintet of high notes between 2016 and 2017, with the introduction of a new, musically styled fleet that intended to raise the bar on luxury European river cruises.

First out of the band box is the recently purchased MS Mozart, long regarded as one of the finest deluxe river boats anywhere. She will be restyled as the Crystal Mozart.

Described as a ‘river yacht’, the 160 guest vessel will benefit from a very comprehensive refurbishment before she enters service in July, 2016. The vessel will sail on a pair of alternating, ten and eleven night itineraries along the Danube, showcasing landmark river highlights such as Durnstein, Melk, and the World Heritage listed Wachau Valley, together with Belgrade, Budapest, and the Iron Gates.

Crystal Mozart will also make a special Christmas Markets cruise that will carry guests through the amazing winter hinterland of Austria, Germany and Slovakia.

Second note will be struck by the first of four new, purpose built near sister vessels. The 84 guest Crystal Debussy will showcase a series of five, seven and ten night sailings on the River Seine from Paris. Her first sailing is slated for June 4th, 2017. There will be an emphasis on Parisian art and culture during these voyages, and visits to such legendary, show stopping Normandy favourites as Honfleur and Rouen, with it’s historic links to Joan of Arc.

Just two weeks later another vessel, the Crystal Bach, will inaugurate a series of sailings along the Rhine, from Amsterdam to Basel. Central to these voyages will be a number of overnight stays in banner ports along the route. These voyages can be taken as a fourteen night adventure. The 110 guest yacht will also offer what promises to be a magically indulgent Christmas Markets cruise along the Rhine in December.

Fourth out of the orchestra pit, the Crystal Ravel will carry just eighty four guests on a series of adventures along the Rhone and Garonne rivers, beginning with an inaugural sailing on August 9th, 2017. These voyages will showcase the lush, stunning vineyards, wineries and chateaux of the Gironde and Loire Valleys, and also offer several overnight stays in the fabled city of Bordeaux.

The last note for now will be struck by the Crystal Mahler, with a capacity for 110 guests. Beginning with a maiden cruise on August 29th, 2017, the vessel will sail a series of deep, stunning and extensive sixteen night progressions. These ‘Grand Europe’ itineraries will sail the length of the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, with a series of overnight calls en route including Amsterdam, Budapest, Passau and Vienna.

The stated aim of the company is to bring the same, legendary standards of cuisine, service and inclusiveness to river cruising as it showcases on its brace of hugely lauded ocean cruise ships. To that end, they will be truly all inclusive products that include free Wi-Fi, flights and overseas transfers, use of on board bikes, most alcoholic and soft drinks; a range of complimentary excursions in each port of call, together with all port taxes and on board gratuities.

These cruises are available to book now, with a lead in fare for a ten night, round trip Vienna cruise on Crystal Mozart coming in from £2,670 for a river suite, fully inclusive as outlined above.

As always, stay tuned for updates.

VOYAGE REPORT- CRYSTAL SERENITY

Crystal has become the contemporary bench mark for modern maritime elegance

Crystal has become the contemporary bench mark for modern maritime elegance

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.

GENTING HK BUYS GERMANY’S LLOYD WERFT SHIPYARD

It’s now official; Genting HK, parent company of Crystal Cruises, has bought Germany’s hugely prolific Lloyd Werft shipyard in a 17.5 million Euro deal that gives the company something like fifty percent of the land area, and a full seventy per cent of any new  build business.

The deal is the precursor to the construction by Lloyd Werft of a trio of new, 100,000 ton ice strengthened cruise ships for Crystal itself.

In recent years, the yard has been instrumental in either building, refitting or lengthening some six cruise ships for Norwegian Cruise Line. Set up as far back as 1857, the yard has a whole slew of building and refitting work to its credit.

Among other things, Lloyd Werft carried out regular refits and periodic overhauls of both the QE2 and the SS. Canberra. And, over the winter of 1979-80, the yard also carried through the ground breaking conversion of the SS. France into the SS. Norway- the first true mega cruise ship.

The acquisition of Lloyd Werft allows obvious synergies in respect of constructing vessels for both Crystal and Norwegian Cruise Line, it’s part partner under the Genting banner.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.

The classic SS. Norway was one of Lloyd Werft's greatest achievements

The classic SS. Norway was one of Lloyd Werft’s greatest achievements

SILVER CLOUD TO BECOME POLAR ICE CRUISE SHIP IN 2017

In a move that will surprise many company loyalists, Silversea has just announced that it’s original start up ship, Silver Cloud, will become an almost exclusively polar expedition vessel, beginning in November 2017.

The company claims that she will have the highest staff to guest ration of any ship in the luxury expedition market. The move comes hot on the heels of rival Crystal Cruises’ announcement of three new, 100,000 ton cruise ships with ice strengthened hulls, intended for similar optional deployment, beginning in 2018.

A touched up company picture shows Silver Cloud sporting a new, black hull. This would bring her in line with the rest of the Silversea expedition fleet of three boutique ships.

Originally built in 1994, the 16,000 ton, 295 guest, all suite Silver Cloud took the cruise industry by storm (pun intentional) on her debut, raising the bar on ultra luxury sea travel. Over several extensive refits, she has remained one of the enduring scions of the deluxe cruise scene- a ship still highly prized and appreciated by savvy travellers across several generations.

This redeployment comes at the same time as the entry into service of the first of a trio of new builds for Silversea. New fleet flagship, Silver Muse, is slated to debut at roughly the same time.

It seems reasonable to assume that Silver Wind will follow her pioneering sister ship once the second of the new class enters service, though this is as yet unconfirmed by the line

As ever, stay tuned for further updates.

It's all change at Silversea...

It’s all change at Silversea…

CRYSTAL SERENITY-FIVE YEARS ON

As it was almost exactly five years between my last two cruises on the Crystal Serenity, I thought it might be worth sharing a few personal impressions of this captivating, continually evolving vessel, one of the absolute true scions of the luxury market.

THE OUTER DECKS

Now sprinkled with a good helping of super comfy, circular pod beds, the outer decks are more a hazard to activity than at any time before. Ease and casually spectacular use of space remain the watchwords here.

The newly revamped area under the sliding glass roof is the crown jewel of the latest upgrades. The lush, verdant ‘living wall’ and trees, festooned at night with little, twinkling lights, make this area more alluring than ever. Keeping the original teak decking underfoot makes this space feel expansive, lush and clean, all at once. And with both a wonderful ice cream bar, grill area, plus drinks service, this particular venue was my ‘go to’ choice for large parts of our cruise through the Adriatic, any time of the day or night.

INTERIORS

Mercifully, these remain instantly familiar and welcoming. The Bistro is a secluded little joy, tucked away on the upper deck of the Crystal Atrium, that serves up matchless Cappuccino, cakes and pastries from dawn until late into the evening.

Crystal Cove remains elegant, expansive, and just simply unbeatable. We embarked to a soundtrack of The Blue Danube, beautifully executed by a quartet of even more beautiful Asian ladies. That very much set the tone for what followed.

At night, and especially before dinner, it remains the venue for cold, perfectly crafted Martinis and cool, sultry jazz. With the discreetly tumbling waterfall coming down just behind it, Crystal Atrium has no peer as a crossroads, or people watching venue. A timeless classic.

The Avenue Saloon remains a cool, clubby little enclave for the after dark crowd. A piano bar by name, but one with a quirky, delightful twist in the normal repertoire. Ever heard Riders On The Storm done on a piano? Nope, me either. Brilliant.

CUISINE

This remains simply flawless, right across variety, concept, preparation and delivery. Whether picking at cold lobster on my balcony or savouring gorgeous, saffron accented lamb skewers in Tastes, the Crystal Serenity continues her own sublime culinary traditions.

Prego remains the absolute epitome of fine, feisty Italian food and service, with sumptuous steaks and mouth watering desserts, that is an absolute must-do on board. I never ventured into Silk Road on this trip, but others on board assured me that it remains as well served as ever.

PERSONAL NOTE

So, just a few thoughts there. Like many, I guess, I was a little concerned about how the takeover by Genting Corporation might have impacted life on board such a fondly remembered ship.

Having just spent a week renewing my love affair with Crystal Serenity, any latent anxieties that I might have had have now gone. The crew- from top to bottom- remain as superlative and courteous as ever; the absolute epitome of gracious seagoing hospitality (along with those aboard Crystal Symphony). Quality and standards throughout the ship remain as high as ever. I honestly see no signs of slippage anywhere. In fact, a renewed sense of purpose and forward momentum is more in the air on board.

One or two personal niggles; the paper cups in which Crystal so lavishly serves up it’s free ice cream do not do justice to the taste, and neither do the plastic spoons offered up with them. On a ship of this calibre, they should be glass bowls with silver spoons.

Other than that, all remains as reassuringly well as ever aboard the good ship Crystal Serenity. Like the Martinis, I was stirred, rather than shaken. This ship remains one that really does set the bench mark for all of the opposition. Long may she continue to do so.

Crystal is taking its legendary standards of luxury to a whole new height

Crystal is taking its legendary standards of luxury to a whole new height

SERENITY AT SEA- ON BOARD CRYSTAL IN THE MEDITERRANEAN

I’m back aboard Crystal Serenity, slowly gathering my thoughts as our Mediterranean cruise unfolds gradually with a sea day between Dubrovnik and Mykonos. A sense of surreal, gentle calm suffuses the entire ship from bow to stern today as she surges purposefully across the still, slightly overcast briny. As the guests take their ease and linger over another indulgent breakfast, the ship herself is quietly and efficiently taking care of their needs, moods and whims.

Thus it has always been here, and this is how it remains. It is exactly that air of calm, unruffled competence and courtesy that draws people back to Crystal time and time again. People on board sag gratefully into what I can only describe as a kind of pampered stupor; one that will burst like a pretty balloon when we have to disembark in Istanbul a few days down the line.

But, right now, all that seems like a very long way away.

Two days ago, the Crystal Serenity swung loose from her moorings in Venice, gliding down the great expanse of Guidecca as perfectly poised and primped as a swan. As La Serenity bid ‘ciao’ to La Serenissima, stewards circulated on deck, distributing Bellinis to passengers taking in the magnificent vista of Piazza San Marco as we sailed downstream.

There was no real fuss or fanfare, and none was required. Just the act of this legendary vessel making her procession out to sea was ceremony enough of its own accord. Beautiful, dramatic and wonderfully understated, it was an occasion to savour rather than scream about.

On board, everything ticks as finely as a Swiss watch. The hotel and catering departments are in the hands of vastly competent professionals with many years expertise, and everything functions with cosmetic perfection. In fact, one of the finest shows on board remains the almost perfect ballet of the crew, serving guests, taking orders and offering refills before those guests often realize that they need one. The level of subtle co-ordination seems almost effortless.

Last night, the ship’s orchestra blew up a terrific storm- pun wholly intentional- in the shimmering, beautiful surroundings of the two story Crystal Cove. Guests at the circular bar were wowed by a stunning double act composed of glacial Martinis and blistering big band favourites as a delicious pre dinner appetizer.

Hearing band leader Raphael Derkson’s soaring, strident trumpet solos brought back memories of just why I love this ship so much. The quality of live music on board Crystal Serenity is- and always has been- a huge part of her success to my mind. It gives this ship a true edge that no other line quite matches.

Mister Derkson’s sassy, classy trumpet routine packs a punch that Marvin Hagler could only dream of; it is a powerhouse, virtuoso sound that is as much a Crystal trademark as the sheer, jaw dropping elegance of the ship herself, or the exquisite cuisine served up in Prego and Silk Road. With the passage of time and tide, it has become just as important an ingredient in the amazing smorgasbord that is daily life aboard this floating fantasy world.

Like Alice through the looking glass, I find myself falling, sagging with pathetic gratitude back into the good life served up on board this ship. And you see it in the other guests, too. People that you exchanged a quick ‘hello’ with the other day now stop and talk to ask how your day was in Dubrovnik yesterday – it was incredible, by the way. You see these kind of blooming, casual interactions everywhere on board.

So that’s it now from on board the good ship Crystal Serenity, as we head for an early morning rendezvous with that Goddess of hedonism sometimes also known as Mykonos. The Ice Teas are cold; the Jacuzzis are simmering gently.

Wish me luck, folks; I’m going in.

Sunset on the summertime Adriatic, seen from the Crystal Serenity

Sunset on the summertime Adriatic, seen from the Crystal Serenity

DUBROVNIK SET FOR PLATINUM CHIP CRUISE DATE IN SEPTEMBER

With it’s amazingly intact medieval old town and imposing city walls, Dubrovnik is one of the absolute must see ports on the eastern Mediterranean cruise circuit throughout the summer months.

And, while the port is always busy from May through to October, this coming September 8th will witness a platinum chip convocation of cruise ships at the stellar Croatian port- not so much in terms of numbers, but more in standards of sheer, jaw dropping top end luxury vessels that will arrive over the course of the day.

In no particular order, Crystal Cruises’ sublime Crystal Serenity (with yours truly aboard), the sumptuous Silver Spirit of Silversea, Hapag Lloyd Cruises’ peerless Europa 2, Azamara Club Cruises’ immaculate Azamara Journey and the amazing, five mast Royal Clipper of Star Clippers, will all arrive at the port. Between them, these five superb ships are expected to deposit a total of around 2700 guests into the venerable old sea city on the Adriatic.

Of the five, Crystal Serenity will dock in the harbour at Gruz, just a short, two kilometre ride from the old town. The other four ships will lay offshore and tender passengers in to the dock at the bottom of the old town, literally at the foot of the main street of Stradun.

This is a quick and easy process- I arrived in Dubrovnik this way aboard Silver Spirit a few years ago- and, bearing in mind the relatively small numbers involved, it should be pretty much of a hassle free process.

Ease of access to the city itself is generally good, a fortunate fact when you consider that Dubrovnik is now attracting close to a million cruise visitors each year.

While five ships in Dubrovnik is nothing new, the arrival of this particular quintet will be quite something. Of the five, only the Azamara Journey remains on my ‘to do’ list, so this will be like a unique reunion of old friends.

Not to mention, of course, fantastic photo opportunities for all the ship spotters out there.

Stay tuned for a full report, with photos, after the event.

Silver Spirit is part of an extraordinary, five ship luxury flotilla due to call at Dubrovnik on September 8th, 2015.

Silver Spirit is part of an extraordinary, five ship luxury flotilla due to call at Dubrovnik on September 8th, 2015.