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

SILVERSEA TO BUILD THREE NEW SHIPS-OFFICIAL

The first keel section of the new Silver Muse was laid today, at an official ceremonat Fincantieri’s Sestri Ponente yard near Genoa, Italy.

The 40,700 ton, 590 guest ship is due to enter service in April of 2017.

Present at the ceremony, Silversea chairman. Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, stunned his audience by announcing that the Silver Muse will, in fact, be the first of three nearly identical new builds, all built on the same platform.

The second and third ships have been given no official names as of yet.

Between them, these three new ships will give the luxury, six star operator an additional 1,770 berths to fill- roughly the same figure again as the total currently offered across the current, five ships in the mainstream fleet.

After a few years in which the line has concentrated mainly on developing its expedition ships branch, this massive expansion of the Silversea fleet- the biggest in its history- cones just days after the rival Crystal Cruises announced plans for its own, new trio of vessels.

Truly a huge development in the luxury cruise ship sector. As ever, stay tuned for further details.

Silver Spirit off Lipari, Italy

Silver Spirit off Lipari, Italy

LUXURY REDEFINED- THE NEXT WAVE OF SIX STAR SHIPS IS COMING….

The announcement this week of a long awaited new build from luxury cruise operator, Silversea, has gone a huge way to confirm the resurgence of the luxury cruise market which is now evident to even the most cautious of commentators. Due for delivery in 2017, the 40,000 ton, 586 guest Silver Muse will be the largest ship yet for the fleet.

We know that she will be a ‘slightly improved’ version of the very popular Silver Spirit of 2009. Rumours say that the main difference will be the relocation of the popular main bar back to its traditional aft location on the main deck. On Silver Spirit, this same room was given a midships location, just behind the reception area, which was not well received by some

In any event, this new ship- one tenth larger than Silver Spirit- represents a logical evolution of the line’s highly styled philosophy. And her genesis is the final shot (for now at least) in a very salubrious volley of new builds announced and set in motion by the main players.

New tonnage became something of a priority with the debut of Hapag Lloyd Cruise Lines’ stunning Europa 2 back in 2013. With all suite accommodation, including the largest standard balconies of any line, and no less than eight restaurants, the 42,000 ton, 516 guest ship threw down the gauntlet in truly spectacular style. This stunning ship (see previous blogs) upped the ante by light years for every rival line. She is, quite simply, without peer.

So, when Regent Seven Seas came out of the blocks and announced the construction of the brand new, all-suite Seven Seas Explorer, people really sat up and took notice. At 54,000 tons, this 700 guest vessel is due to emerge from the Fincantieri shipyard next year. She will give the Regent fleet it’s third all balcony new build- quite a stunning coup in its own right.

The Seven Seas Explorer will represent evolution rather than revolution; all the tried and trusted trademarks that have made the line so popular- wildly so over the last few years- will be present, with some subtle fine tuning, to provide what will be a truly remarkable ship. The claim that she will be ‘the most luxurious ship in the world’ can be taken with a pinch of salt, though as a statement of aspiration, it’s entirely understandable.

And the opposition might have something to say about that, too. No doubt Crystal Cruises, who have finally announced a long awaited, third vessel, will do so in it’s usual, subtly elegant style. This is possibly the most eagerly awaited new ship of them all.

Little has been said about her but, like the Seven Seas Explorer, I expect that she will represent evolution rather than a seismic shift from the beautiful, highly personalised style of voyaging that Crystal does so well. For sure, we may well see larger cabins and suites, perhaps an extra deck, and one or more new eateries. But essentially, I think the as yet un-named vessel will represent gracious, genteel expansion and emphasis of the current Crystal philosophy. I certainly hope so.

Thus it is against the backdrop of these splendid new competitors that Silversea, after a long period of deliberation, has finally gone for a new ship, too. And anyone who thinks that the line will sit quietly back and play second fiddle to any competitor in the luxury market does not understand the basic ethos of Silversea, which is always about being, quite simply, the very best.

This exciting trio of vessels will take six star cruising into the next realm. Each will be a spectacular, floating fantasy island, swathed in sybaritic levels of luxury that few land based hotels can get near.

So, who will be the real winner in this glorious, gilded maritime equivalent of an arms race?

Quite simply, the customer.

Midships Bar on the Silver Spirit

Midships Bar on the Silver Spirit

AND FINALLY, SILVERSEA ORDERS A NEW SHIP

After two years of ‘will they, won’t they’ musings and mutterings, Silversea yesterday finally announced an order for a new ship, the sixth dedicated newbuild in its twenty-one year history.

The evocatively named Silver Muse will be built by Fincantieri in Italy, and is slated to enter commercial service in 2017. At around 40,000 tons, the new ship is roughly ten per cent greater in size than the last newbuild, the Silver Spirit of 2009. The new vessel will have a capacity for 596 guests.

The relationship between Silversea and Fincantieri is quite long and historic, and dates back to the building of ships for the then Sitmar Cruises back in 1987. Silversea CEO, Enzo Visione, hinted to me back in 2013 that a newbuild would be on the cards in the near future. Now his words have come true.

The new ship will take the Silversea brand up to a nine strong fleet, inclusive of the trio of currently operated expedition ships. And, while actual details on the new ship are not yet in the public domain, Visione envisages a vessel built on roughly the same platform as the popular Silver Spirit.

Now that the Silversea fedora has been formally thrown into the ring, we can look forward to a string of interesting luxury ships over the next few years. With the new Seven Seas Explorer coming on stream for Regent Seven Seas next year and a new Crystal ship also in the mix, the options for the deluxe market are once again beginning to look up.

Good news all around. As ever, stay tuned.

Silver Spirit off Lipari, Italy

Silver Spirit off Lipari, Italy

REGENT SEVEN SEAS TO OFFER WORLD CRUISE IN 2017

For the first time in several years, Regent Seven Seas is offering guests the option of booking a full world cruise in 2017.

In a somewhat surprising move, this will be offered aboard the 1999 built, 490 guest Seven Seas Navigator. Normally consigned to a season of luxurious Caribbean cruises throughout the winter, this will actually be the first time that the six star ship has made a full circumnavigation of the globe.

However, the smaller size of the 28,000 ton ship  will allow her access to more intinate, off the beaten track ports of call, as well as the ‘greatest hits’ ports of call that fill out most potential world cruisers’ bucket list. And her entry level balcony suites are also slightly larger than those aboard her slightly larger sister ship, Seven Seas Mariner.

Though the itinerary has yet to be announced, there is no doubt that the Seven Seas Navigator is an inspired choice for a world cruise. In particular, she offers a handful of window suites, sans balcony, that might appeal more to some potential voyagers.

The entire voyage goes on sale as of July 15th, so I anticipate that the actual route will be unveiled just prior to that. Normally based in Florida over the winter season, it does seem a safe bet that the entire adventure will both start and finish in either Fort Lauderdale or, more likely, Miami.

Almost certainly, the entire affair will be offered over a number of sectors as well. And, as Regent is an all inclusive product which includes free shore excursions at every port of call, the sheer inclusiveness of this itinerary is going to be pretty hard to beat.

Interesting and intriguing by turns, this one. I expect this one to sell pretty quickly once it does actually go on sale.

As ever, stay tuned.

See the world, Regent style, in 2017

See the world, Regent style, in 2017

SHINING ON THE TYNE- CRYSTAL AND REGENT TO VISIT NEWCASTLE IN AUGUST

In what amounts ot a double shot of elegant, exclusive luxury, the port of Newcastle will for the first time play host to two ultra luxury cruise ships in August within the space of a week. This is a huge coup for the port that could set a possible trend for future, upscale arrivals in the region.

First, we have Regent Seven Seas’ classy Seven Seas Voyager. The 50,000 ton, 700 guest all suite ship will dock at North Shields for the day on Wednesday, August 19th.

One week later, it will be the turn of the sublime Crystal Symphony, slated for an 1100 arrival at North Shields on Wednesday 26th, and departing at 1900 that same evening.

The Tyne is no stranger to great luxury ships; as well as being a seasonal home base for the ships of Cruise And Maritime and Fred. Olsen, the port has been graced by such star attractions as the QE2, Silver Cloud, Westerdam and MSC Magnifica among others in recent times.

While this should hardly be surprising when considering the sheer glut of scenic overkill that the region is famed for, not to mention it’s world renowned hospitality, the arrival of these two highly styled, very exclusive vessels one after another cannot help but raise the region’s profile on the international cruise circuit.

For the locals, it will be a matter of great pride to welcome these two superb vessels and their guests to the Tyne. Stay tuned for further details.

Magnificnet Durham Cathedral; one of many regional masterpieces on offer to cruise passengers visiting the Tyne

Magnificnet Durham Cathedral; one of many regional masterpieces on offer to cruise passengers visiting the Tyne

CRYSTAL; CRUISING INTO THE FAST LANE?

I have to admit being as surprised as almost everyone else by Genting’s acquisition of Crystal Cruises the other week. It certainly threw the entire industry a curve ball; quite a fait accompli that still leaves a lot of unanswered questions and, in some- mainly traditional quarters- a sense of vague unease as palpable as Atlantic fog.

That said, what we do know is that the line is finally getting a new build- the first since Crystal Serenity back in 2003. To even contemplate competing with the likes of Regent and Seabourn in terms of itinerary reach, Crystal needs to be a minimum three ship fleet. I have always felt- and still do- that the loss of Crystal Harmony hurt the brand in terms of the global deployments it could offer. It was, in my mind, a big mistake.

So, in that framework, three really could be a magic number again. But should we expect something radical and new, full of flash rather than substance?

God, I hope not.

Part of the reason why Crystal has been so uniquely successful is what I would describe as it’s proven policy of gently rolling, smooth evolution. The hardware and construction of the two current stalwarts- Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity- has allowed them to gradually ingest and absorb a series of thorough, yet superbly done updates and enhancements over two decades now. While continuing to offer the deft, attentive levels of service and outstanding cuisine that has made the product a modern day legend almost on a par with the old French Line, the ships continue to be the cool, welcome retreats so beloved of a whole generation of loyal guests. In short; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

This is not a rallying cry against innovation; far from it. And, like as not, the new ship will have bigger cabins and suites across all grades. Perhaps the line will go for an all balcony design, which would be nice. But Genting should remember and treasure the core Crystal values and unique selling points, rather than trying to create a kind of maritime floating exclamation mark that would ultimiately fail under the weight of it’s own hype and expectation.

I, for one, am thrilled at the news of the new Crystal sibling (Crystal Symmetry, anyone?) and long to see the end result of the decision making process

Crystal Cove lobby on the Crystal Symphony

Crystal Cove lobby on the Crystal Symphony

.  While she will no doubt sail- like her sisters- to a whole raft of exotic, thrilling destinations world wide, it is to be hoped that this new Crystal swan is not too much of a departure.

As ever, stay tuned.

EXPECTATIONS RISE FOR SEVEN SEAS EXPLORER

Regent has a new ship coming in 2016

Regent has a new ship coming in 2016

Regent Seven Seas has announced that the inaugural programme for it’s latest, ultra luxury new build, Seven Seas Explorer, will be announced on January 15th, going on sale to the general public in February.

The $450 million ship, currently under construction at the Fincantieri yard in Italy, will enter service in 2016, and will be the first dedicated new build for the line since 2003. She will join her siblings, Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Mariner, in a fleet that will give Regent three of the only four all suite, all balcony luxury ships in the world.

Like her siblings, the 54,000 ton Explorer will accommodate around 750 guests, representing an approximate forty per cent increase in the line’s current passenger capacity.

And, while actual specifics and hardware are sketchy at the moment, the company is claiming that the ship will feature a ‘museum quality’ range of art works, as well as the highest passenger space ratio of any ship afloat, and also the highest ratio of staff to guests of any ship at sea.

There will be six gourmet restaurants, and some 369 suites, varying between 300 and 1500 square feet in size.

In building, outfitting and running the Seven Seas Explorer, Regent Seven Seas is setting it’s sights quite firmly on building what it claims will be ‘the world’s most luxurious ship’- quite a statement of intent.

More details will appear here as and when they become available.

As always, stay tuned.

WHAT’S NEXT? MUSINGS ON THE LUXURY CRUISE SHIP MARKET

Silver Spirit off Lipari, Italy

Silver Spirit off Lipari, Italy

With the arrival in Europe of Oasis Of The Seas for the first time and the imminent launch of her much anticipated sibling, Quantum Of The Seas, plus the looming debut of the new Costa flagship, Costa Diadema, the emphasis of media attention has been firmly focused on the mega ship sector of the market over the last several months.

Hence now might be a good time to recap some of the ongoing developments in the small, luxury sector of the cruise market. For, while it has not been making waves on the same scale as the big ships cited above, there is an interesting series of developments. across several lines, that are worthy of recounting.

Seabourn has a fourth, slightly larger vessel in its Odyssey class coming into service in the second half of 2016. Said to be coming in at around 40,000 tons, this new vessel is currently under construction at the Fincanitieri shipyard in Italy. Every room on this as yet nameless vessel will feature a private balcony.

For the recently re- monickered Ponant, a fourth in their highly successful Boreal class vessels will debut in 2015. Le Lyrial will give the French company a handsome, highly styled quartet of luxury vessels, each around the 10,000 ton mark.

Meanwhile, also at Fincantieri, the new Seven Seas Explorer continues to take shape for Regent Seven Seas Cruises. The spectacular new ship, scheduled to debut in 2016, will also be all suite, all balcony, and is currently expected to come in at around 54,000 tons.

And, of course, the first of the Viking Ocean cruise ships- Viking Star– promises to deliver a kind of sublime, ‘back to the future’ traditional luxury cruising when she debuts next April. Two sisters are already firm orders, and a fourth seems likely. With the emphasis placed firmly on a far more traditional, gimmick light type of cruise experience, these ships will certainly add momentum and choice to the upper echelon.

Regent has a new ship coming in 2016

Regent has a new ship coming in 2016

Those are the vessels actually under construction as I write this. Of course, the rumour book also has a healthy amount of tonnage on its pages, too. Among the most prominent of these:

Silversea are reportedly close to ordering another new build, similar is scale to the 2009 built Silver Spirit (look out for a voyage report from that ship in the next few weeks). The new ship is expected in two or three years’ time, so placement of an order can be considered to be imminent.

Even before its acquisition by Norwegian, Oceania Cruises was said to be on the verge of ordering another pair of sister ships in the same class as their hugely successful, 66,000 tons sisters, Marina and Riviera. With the financial clout afforded it by the new ownership, it seems likely that at least one of these ships- and more likely both- will translate into firm orders in the not too distant future.

Lastly, but by now means least, those seriously luxurious scions at Crystal Cruises are hoping to announce an order for a new build before the end of the year. New CEO, Edie Rodriguez, has stated publicly that she will be lobbying the parent company, NYK, for funds for a new build. A third Crystal ship would take the line back up to a three ship fleet-something it definitely needs to be in order to offer year round deployments across the world.

In terms of revamps, Windstar will be massively bolstered by the addition of the two remaining smaller Seabourn yachts to the fleet. This means that the line has effectively doubled in size in just three short years; a quite remarkable achievement.

As ever, stay tuned,

CRYSTAL CRUISES FOOD PICTORIAL FEST

If you knew sushi like Crystal does

If you knew sushi like Crystal does

Ever since it fist set sail with the much missed Crystal Harmony back in 1990, Crystal Cruises has established an elegant, pre- eminent reputation for the fine, unhurried finesse that it exudes at every turn. The two current vessels, Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, continue to garner truck loads of awards for the superlative standards of food and fine service that both maintain on board, year in and out. To be sure, they are quite a pair.

And while attention to detail, unobtrusive elegance and ample space to indulge, relax and experience the best of everything are all vital ingredients in the subtle brew of what makes any Crystal Cruises adventure so utterly compelling, perhaps nothing so marks the Crystal experience as a thing apart as much as the dining.

Whether you are feasting on genuine Kobe Beef or sumptuous Wagyu in the on board Nobu, or lingering over sumptuous, exotic fresh fruit and piping hot coffee alfresco for breakfast, both the Crystal ships offer a magnificent series of feasts, from early morning till past midnight. The sheer scale and quality can be overwhelming to the novice.

Picking at cold crab and succulent shrimp on your balcony as you enjoy a late afternoon Cape Cod, or a delicious custard tart and cappuccino in the bistro as you peruse the morning paper? Crystal has you covered, and then some. From the simple to the sublime, it’s all good.

But the highlight for many is, undoubtedly, the stunning display of gluttony inducing goodness that washes across the Crystal Atrium once on each trip. With chilled champagne on tap and cool jazz to tap your foot to, a conga line of classic, beautifully presented appetisers, soups, meats, seafood, breads and beguiling desserts virtually surrounds you.

The only rule here is to indulge in as much- or as little- as you wish. This is more than just a buffet; this is a feast for the eyes and the senses at the same time. True soul food, and then some.

So, without further ado, here’s a selection of platinum chip Crystal dining treats to feast your eyes on. Feel free to enjoy,,,,,

Cold crab and Cape Cods....

Cold crab and Cape Cods….

Terrace of the Lido Buffet

Terrace of the Lido Buffet

Trident Grill on Crystal Serenity

Trident Grill on Crystal Serenity

Crystal Cove food extravaganza

Crystal Cove food extravaganza

Sheer aesthetic perfection

Sheer aesthetic perfection

Too good to resist

Too good to resist

Simply, sublimely gorgeous..

Simply, sublimely gorgeous..

Fresh and fantastic presentation

Fresh and fantastic presentation

The crowd speaks for itself

The crowd speaks for itself