Although I’ve been familiar with Crystal Cruise Line for years, I never had the chance for a “Crystal Experience.” Here’s my Crystal Serenity review on a 21-day Panama Canal cruise.
Curious about Crystal Serenity? Read my unbiased Crystal Serenity review.
I didn’t know what to expect. For so many years all I heard was that Crystal Cruises was the top dog. Nothing better. Really?
This wasn’t my first rodeo on a luxury cruise line, but it was my very first time on a Crystal Cruise. And my first full-transit Panama Canal cruise, from Atlantic to Pacific.
It was an 18-day voyage from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles. A bit heavy on sea days, nine in total, and with eight scheduled ports, it would be a trip to remember.
Our port visits included: Key West, Florida; Cartagena, Columbia; Panama City, Panama; Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; and San Diego, California. Due to high winds, we missed a day at Caldera, Costa Rica. Finally, we reached Los Angeles. Eighteen days, even on Crystal Serenity, would be a long cruise. Or so I thought.
Year built: 2003
Year refurbished: 2018
Weight: 68,970 tons
Passengers at double occupancy: 980
Total staterooms: 548
Welcome aboard Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Serenity.
About the Ship
Launched in 2003 and with 14 decks, Crystal Serenity can accommodate up to 1,070 guests. Most of what you’d expect to be included on a luxury cruise ship, was included. Complimentary wine, beer and premium spirits, specialty coffees and teas, gelato, and a self-service launderette are all included.
You’ll pay extra to buy your photos in the photo gallery, Chef’s special wine dinners and shore excursions. I never felt nickel and dime’d for a second. Best part? Gratuities were included in the price of the cruise. Of course, a little cash to a crew member who really went out of his or her way to be helpful, would be appreciated.
Crystal offered a wide range of shore excursions that ranged from nominally priced to a bit over-priced. But don’t be penny-wise and pound foolish like I was. Crystal offered an evening ashore in Cartagena, Colombia complete with a stroll through town, a drink at a rooftop bar and then a special dinner. I thought that $209 was too expensive. Only 12 people signed up for it and I knew 6 of them. They returned to the ship at about 9pm and raved about the most fantastic shore excursion experience they’d ever done. Lesson learned.
I think the crew must be given a cheat sheet with photos of all the guests! How they remembered everyone’s name was amazing. Personalized service truly exceeded my expectations. The crew did have a slight advantage, though. While the ship accommodates over a thousand passengers, on this cruise we had less than 550. So imagine 550 guests and 655 crew. For all of the 18 days, it was fabulous.
Crystal Serenity Review: standard balcony stateroom
Almost all staterooms on Crystal Serenity have a balcony. There are a handful of oceanview staterooms on Deck 7, the Promenade Deck, and those are the most economical. Get a suite and you’ll have a butler to anticipate your every whim.
My standard balcony stateroom was very comfortable, with a king bed that could convert to twins, a refrigerator/complimentary mini-bar, flat screen TV, reading spotlights on both sides of the bed and plenty of drawer and storage space.
The bathroom was super-big and even as a solo, I enjoyed the variety of using two sinks! The shower in the tub had the best water pressure I’ve found on any ship. Lots of handles to grip to step in and out of the tub. That’s a good thing since the majority of guests are 60+ and balance can be an issue. The bath products supplied are by Etro…nice soaps, too.
For those with severe allergies, Crystal Serenity has what they call a “Pure” stateroom. Yes, you’ll pay a little more but hopefully you’ll not to be allergic to anything in the room.
I loved the cushioned chairs on the balcony. Much nicer and more comfortable than plastic straps or mesh panels.
Tip: There’s no need to pack a magnifying mirror; your bathroom has one.
Crystal Serenity Review: Dining
For a ship this size, Crystal Cruises has figured out how to successfully incorporate several dining venues into a smaller space. And if that wasn’t enough, the cruise line’s two ships both have a proper kosher area within the galley. No more pre-ordered frozen meals if you keep kosher.
In total, there are six dining venues plus The Vintage Room for a private wine dinner ($$$$). With two seatings, the Main Dining Room saw most of the action at dinner time. There’s no escaping to a Lido buffet for dinner, only breakfast and lunch and daytime snacks.
Alternatively, occupying a retractable glass-domed area, there’s the Trident Grill (L & D), Taste (L) and a gelato station. Two specialty restaurants, Prego & Chef Nobu’s Silk Road & Sushi Bar, are complimentary for two visits per person on cruises up to 14 days. On 15-day or longer, each person can chow down at either place for four visits total.
Some of the best onion rings ever were at the Trident Grill.
Prego was a one-time visit for me. It was okay but I was not impressed. Silk Road and the Sushi Bar were by far my favorites for the remaining three specialty options.
Rounding out the sixth restaurant is the Lido buffet. There’s always a crew member waiting to help carry your plate to a table. One of the nicest buffets at sea. Spotlessly clean, wonderful and varied selection at different food stations and great outdoor seating. If only they were open at dinner time. Rumor has it that after the November 2018 refurbishment, it will be open in the evenings.
Room service is available 24/7 and I never missed a room service breakfast, complete with cappuccino. Dinner is ordered off the main dining room menu and includes a table cloth over the lift-up coffee table.
Tip: You can order onion rings in the main dining, too. Ask your waiter. Your table-mates will love you for it.
Crystal Serenity Review: On Board Entertainment
Once again, I was impressed by the quality of entertainment and entertainers. From Kenny James of Star Search fame and folkloric Panamanian dancers to a rousing multi-costume change production number by the house performers and a finale with the cruise director and his dummies. There was almost always something for everyone.
Comics, violinists and pianists rounded out the performances. They boarded and left at various ports along the way.
The house orchestra was fabulous and energetic, covering a variety of styles; classical, jazz, Dixieland and more. If you enjoy live music, this is for you.
Tip: When a second evening performance is offered, there’s no problem finding a great seat. By 10PM, most passengers have gone to bed.
Crystal Cruises is used to itineraries with more sea days than ports so there’s plenty to do at sea. The library (check for open hours) has a terrific selection of books. Plus, you can check out videos for your in-room DVD. There was a daily knitting group, noon trivia and golf lessons. Afternoon tea was a daily event. Not like Cunard with a parade of scone-bearing waiters. Roaming waiters served tea sandwiches, the proverbial scones and of course, a fresh pot of tea.
In the food department on sea days, there were cooking demonstrations in the main theater. Twice we were treated to the most stupendous gala buffet I’ve ever seen, on land or on sea. There’s a tennis court at the top of the ship, exercise classes, karaoke in the evenings at Pulse Disco and a dedicated Yamaha piano (a Clavinova, really) for passenger use. The next cruise, 24-days from Los Angeles to Sydney, there would be Yamaha keyboard lessons in The Studio.
Tip: For me as a solo cruiser, daily trivia was a great way to meet other passengers.
My preconceived notion of the passenger demographic wasn’t too far off base; older, retired and wealthy. Surprisingly, there were exceptions. One couple was onboard as a gift from a family member, another couple saved for years to do this particular cruise. While a handful of passengers were maybe late forties and on their 4th World Cruise, the majority of guests cruised Crystal two to three times a year.
Though the dress code is considered “resort casual” I saw a fair share of fellow passengers that didn’t quite meet that standard. No jeans after 6pm anywhere on the ship, though not policed, was understood.
As a Crystal Cruises newbie, I was definitely not in the “Club”. On mass market cruises, you always overhear passengers asking each other, “So how many cruises have you been on”. On Crystal Serenity, the measuring contest was, “So how many Crystal cruises have you been on”.
Crystal Cruises certainly has a dedicated following of Crystal-Only passengers. These folks started their cruising life with Crystal and won’t go anywhere else. I kind of understand…if something fits the bill and always delivers what makes you happy with your investment, why change? Personally, I like to experience different cruise lines; from mega-ships to yacht-size vessels. But I totally get their thinking.
Despite an obvious country-club behavior, nearly every passenger was cheerful; happy to be able to experience yet another Crystal Cruise. I really didn’t encounter any snobbishness or rudeness. I met some wonderful people on this cruise and even one couple with whom I hope to always remain friends ( “Hi” Cherie and Michael!).
Final Thoughts about Crystal Cruises and my Crystal Serenity cruise.
Looking back as I write this Crystal Serenity review, I now understand the cruise line’s loyal following. As I said to my new friends Cherie and Michael, going on a Crystal Cruise is like returning year after year to a beloved summer camp.
The crew (camp counselors) know your name, you know where the venues are located (like finding the mess hall and arts and crafts building) and you are reunited with past cruise friends (camp buddies) every time you step aboard (find your camp cabin). The same…only much more expensive. And if you’re lucky, you’re there for two glorious months.
Cruise Review In a nutshell
Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Serenity
Category: Luxury ($$$$)
Internet/Wifi: Complimentary and unlimited.
Itinerary: Full Panama Canal transit – Ft. Lauderdale to Los Angeles
Date: January 5 – January 23, 2018
Disclosure: I was a guest of Crystal Cruises aboard the Crystal Serenity. I did not receive any compensation nor was I required to write this review. All opinions are my own and reflect my cruise experience and observations.