What’s it like on Crystal Cruises?
We’ve sailed on (and written about) 60+ cruises now – including our fair share of luxury cruise lines.
Downed way too much champagne and caviar on Seabourn. Whizzed around Normandy on e-bikes with Scenic on a Seine River cruise (love their clever balconies-cum-sun-rooms). Swooned over the Baltic with Viking Ocean Cruises.
This time, we sailed the Med on a 7-night cruise on the newly refurbished Crystal Serenity.
We’d heard a lot of good things about Crystal’s take on luxury cruising!
So we were excited to try out the cruise line and write this Crystal Cruises review.
Are you also excited about the prospect of taking a Crystal cruise?
Well then, hop aboard for all the hot updates on the Crystal Serenity ship – and to discover what the Crystal cruising experience is really like.
Crystal Cruises review
Crystal Cruises is known for luxury cruising on big ships.
You get the best of both worlds on Crystal – luxury cruise features like artisanal cocktails, fine wines and spirits (anywhere on the ship) included in the rates, plus big ship amenities like pumped-up entertainment and oodles of dining options.
(Because Crystal’s two main ships, Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony, are virtually identical, most of our Crystal Serenity review applies to the Symphony too.)
Crystal Cruises’ ships
Crystal’s ocean ships:
We’ve already mentioned Crystal’s two main ships…
Crystal Symphony debuted in 1995 while the Serenity was launched in 2003.
Both ships were designed to carry some 1,000+ passengers each.
But with major recent revamps, they’ve cut their passenger numbers down to 848 passengers (Symphony) and 980 passengers (Serenity) – bumping up the per-passenger space and crew-to-passenger ratio, important when judging how good the service is on a ship.
Crystal yacht cruises:
As well, Crystal has the Crystal Esprit, an uber-luxe yacht, where 90 staff pamper just 62 guests. It even carries its own mini-submarine.
Crystal River Cruises:
In 2016, Crystal branched out into river cruising and now has several gorgeous river ships plying the rivers of Europe.
Go bicycling on Crystal and other river cruises: Two-Wheeling on the Best River and Ocean Cycling Cruises!
Crystal Cruises’ new ships:
The big news is the Crystal Endeavour, which debuts in 2020. An expedition ship, Endeavour will visit everywhere from Antarctica to the Aleutian Islands and far east Russia on voyages ranging from 10 to 28 nights.
Who owns Crystal Cruises?
Dating back to 1988, the American cruise line is owned by the Asian hospitality company, Genting Hong Kong (which also owns Star Cruises in Asia and a big chunk of Norwegian Cruise Line).
Crystal Cruises Serenity ship – facts
The reimagined Crystal Serenity
The Crystal Serenity was totally gussied up in November, 2018, during a four-week dry dock in Germany.
More than 1,200 people worked around the clock on the makeover.
- 36 new Seabreeze Penthouse suites were installed.
- 4 new dining venues were added or redesigned.
- 6 entertainment spaces were enhanced.
- Almost 25,000 square feet of new carpet was laid and some 17,000 square feet of tiles were placed.
- 2,000 chairs were swapped out for new chairs or were re-upholstered.
- Six huge containers of goods were donated to Portuguese charities.
If you didn’t know the age of the ship, you’d think the Crystal Serenity was new – it looks that fresh and shiny.
Crystal Symphony got its own big facelift in late 2017.
Crystal Serenity cabins
Crystal Cruises’ suites:
You can choose from several different levels of accommodation on both Serenity and Symphony.
There are no inside cabins. The “lowest” level is the Deluxe Stateroom with a large picture window.
Most staterooms and suites on Serenity (85%), however, have verandas, while more than half of Symphony’s cabins have verandas.
And all Serenity cabins that we peeked into are spiffy and comfortable looking; the higher-end suites are quite fabulous!
Unlimited WiFi is complimentary and you can get it in your stateroom. We found it fast enough for emails, but there’d be a few seconds’ delay for anything to do with the Internet, such as posting to your Facebook account.
All cabins and suites also come with:
- Complimentary mini-fridge stocked with wine and premium spirits (refreshed as you wish)
- Frette bathrobe, lightweight cotton Kimono and slippers for each guest
- Umbrella and beach tote
Oh, and let’s not forget the lovely Etro bath toiletries.
Each large bottle is a different color – orange for body lotion, hot pink for bath gel, etc. How nice not to have to squint in the shower to try and read the small print to figure out which is shampoo and which is conditioner!
Seabreeze penthouse with veranda:
We splashed out in one of the 36 new Seabreeze Penthouses.
In the late 2018 refit, Crystal essentially took a number of Deluxe Staterooms with veranda and converted them, almost two for one, into these new 339 sq. ft. Seabreeze Penthouses.
Large queen-size bed? Check. Nespresso machine? Yes! Butler service? You bet. The décor is fresh and contemporary, with gemstone-colored velvets and brushed brass touches.
These Seabreeze Penthouses also have unique entries, recessed from the hallway, which are shared between two suites (meaning you can’t see into the room from the hallway when the door is open).
A sliding glass door opened out onto our spacious deck, where we’d read, nap and sip from all the good drinks stored in our fridge.
We especially liked the spa-like bathroom with double sinks, lots of drawers for toiletry kits and a large glass rain-shower (bigger than ours at home) with easy push-knobs and great water pressure. It’s probably the best bathroom of all the ships we’ve cruised on.
As we’re shower people, we didn’t miss the lack of a tub. But if you’re a bath person, you might miss having one.
Minor niggle: There’s little room between the end of the bed and the long coffee table in front of the aqua velvet couch opposite (so we squished the coffee table into the corner).
Crystal Serenity penthouse:
The finest of the Crystal Serenity staterooms is the Crystal Penthouse category.
These four suites (1,368 sq. ft.) are like lavish apartments with separate living rooms, dining areas, built-in bars and Swarovski chandeliers. Bedrooms have his-and-her walk-in closets.
From your Jacuzzi tub in the marble bathroom, you can gaze out at the sea through a large round window while bathing. There’s a separate guest bathroom too, with its own shower.
Of course, you’re spoiled with 24-hour butler service.
Because, like, you’re paying so much for the penthouse you won’t want to lift a finger! So you need a butler to pack and unpack your luggage and do your laundry (free, naturally).
Crystal Cruises dining
You’ll be tickled with the food on Crystal Cruises – there are so many different restaurants!
Guests can dine once in each specialty restaurant (complimentary). Umi Uma and Prego are very popular, so you absolutely need to make advance reservations (you can do that before you cruise).
Once on your cruise, you can return to your favorite resto at a cost of $30 USD p.p. (if you can snag a second reservation).
Penthouse guests don’t have to pay the additional $30 USD fee for additional reservations. You can scarf up sushi every night at Umi Uma if you wish, at no extra cost, so long as you can get a reservation. We managed to slide into the sushi bar section of the specialty restaurant a second night for another crack at its unbelievably delicious Japanese food.
Waterside, which replaces the former main dining room, was spiffed up in the 2018 refurbishment.
It now offers more intimate seating with tables for two and four. Seating is open and you don’t need to make a reservation here. The menu is international.
Umi Uma was perhaps our favorite restaurant.
Serving Japanese-Peruvian specialties from Master Chef Nobu Matsuhisa – prepared by his personally-trained chefs – the exclusive Umi Uma eateries on both Crystal Serenity and Symphony are the only Nobu restaurants at sea.
How to choose from the large selection of menu items?
Our Japanese waiter suggested a selection of appetizers – starting with cold sushi and sashimi, followed by hot appetizers (lobster tempura and rock shrimp tempura). The sautéed mushroom salad is another must-try.
For an entrée, the steamed black cod infused with ginger and lemon is famous – very moist and tender! You can’t go wrong with the lobster in a truffle-yuzu sauce either.
The celebrated chef’s privately branded Chardonnay goes down very smoothly too.
And just think. If you ate at a Nobu restaurant on land, your bill for two people could be a whopping $500 USD.
Prego, Crystal’s Italian restaurant, was also a hit with us.
Indeed, after boarding in Civitavecchia (Rome’s cruise port), we joked with our waiter that the ship’s kitchen could teach the Romans something about Italian food.
Prego’s signature mushroom soup is no ordinary soup, but a divinely creamy concoction served in a scooped-out sourdough bread bowl.
And the beef carpaccio is masterfully presented. At the table, fresh lemon juice is squeezed onto the thinnest slices of beef, then Spanish olive oil and aged Balsamic are drizzled on top. A sprinkling of finely grated Parmesan caps off the dish.
And don’t get us started on the home-made pastas! Okay, we’ll just say this. Do order the lasagna, artfully presented with fresh tomato sauce on one side and fresh Bechamel sauce on the other – divine, even if you’re not a lasagna lover.
Tip: Ask for half orders. Then you’ll have room to try more dishes.
Start with a traditional Caipirinha cocktail. Then chow down on grilled meats, which gauchos carve tableside from sword-like skewers. No, you’re not in Brazil. You’re in the Brazilian-style Churrascaria, set up at night in the pool deck Marketplace venue.
You don’t need reservations to eat here.
Silk, a Chinese-inspired venue featuring Chinois soup, a noodle bar and dim-sum, occupies what used to be Tastes.
The Vintage Room:
Up for an exclusive wine-and-food evening?
Crystal’s innovative Vintage Room hosts a special wine tasting dinner at least once per cruise for $250 USD p.p. This price includes six exceptionally fine wines paired with a six-course meal. Space is limited to 14 guests.
We started with a beautiful “Charles Heidsieck” rose champagne as we greeted fellow guests.
Then we moved on to a meal that, really, can only be described as exquisite.
The big treat was the luscious “Opus One” 2014 poured with the beef. An Old World Bordeaux created by Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Opus One is one of the world’s most coveted wines. (If you love wine, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a bottle at least once in your lifetime!)
If you want to organize your own intimate dinner, you can do so for a private group of up to 12 ($2,500 USD flat fee).
Also keep an eye out for the occasional wine-themed lunches that are offered ($75 p.p. or $125 p.p. for champagne or California-themed wine lunches).
We also loved the Bistro.
An elegant space on Deck 6, it evokes a French bistro feeling with café-style tables (several by windows), purple chairs and colorful plates.
When we missed breakfast or lunch (or wanted a different dessert after dinner), we could always find something tempting here.
The help-yourself-selection changes throughout the day. In the afternoon, for example, you might see fresh-rolled lox, cream cheese, Stilton cheese, liver pate and a large offering of desserts including gluten-free coconut tart (delicious!), chocolate cake, fresh whole strawberries, fresh sliced mangoes and whipped cream.
Waiters serve tea, cappuccino and champagne.
Stardust Supper Club:
Hankering for a Rat Pack era dining experience? This new dining option is available on black-tie-optional evenings in the Stardust Club.
Nosh on a four-course menu from Waterside, served with wine pairings, as you listen to live music from Crystal’s string quartet and other music groups.
Indoors, the Palm Court at the bow has also been dolled up and is now very pretty in purple.
Craving a civilized afternoon tea or quiet spot to look out floor-to-ceiling windows? This is the place – settle yourself in a wingback chair, rest your feet on a footstool and let the world pass you by.
Crystal Cruises’ menus
To see a PDF of the Crystal Cruises’ menus for the specialty restaurants on our Serenity cruise, click on the following links:
Time to relax?
Plop down on a poofy, pumpkin orange, beanbag-style chair by the pool – phew, that’s a lot of “p’s”! Or settle onto a comfy cushioned recliner under an umbrella.
Around the Seahorse Pool, in fact, is a popular place to hang out on the Crystal Serenity. The pool is sizeable enough that you can even swim short laps.
On our autumn Mediterranean cruise, guests made the most of their warm-weather holiday. The pool was a happening spot, and the champagne flowed freely there.
If you’re like us and gravitate to quiet places to relax, you might prefer the comfy couches and arm chairs at the stern, shaded by overhanging decks, which are never very busy.
Thank goodness the large gym on Crystal Serenity is one of the best cruise ship gyms we’ve ever sweated in! We badly needed to use it to help counter the effects from all the lovely food that tempted us.
On an upper deck, it’s light and bright with picture windows for looking out at the scenery.
All the equipment (including a large cable-and-pulley machine) is new and top-of-the-line, with TVs and headphones for the cardio treadmills, ellipticals and bikes. The treadmills have built-in fans to cool you down. Bosus and balls mean you can do some cool core exercises.
Crystal Cruises’ entertainment
We were also impressed with the quality of the entertainment and performers on our cruise.
You can enjoy everything from lavish Broadway-style productions, magic shows and comedy acts to nightly dancing and karaoke in Pulse to the latest-release Hollywood movies in the theater.
The enrichment programs and lectures also looked very good.
On our cruise, we could have attended topical talks on subjects like “The Shiites and the Sunnis.” But we confess, we were too busy ashore (or resting up after going ashore) to take in any of them.
As for activities, there’s plenty to keep you occupied onboard.
The library is stocked with a great selection of books. And you can check out videos for your in-room DVD player.
Want to hit a few balls? Try your hand at the tennis court on the top deck.
There are needlepoint get-togethers, golf clinics, shuffleboard, Mah Jong groups, cooking demonstrations, noon trivia, bridge games and more.
Interested in a European river cruise with bicycling? Read: Two-Wheeling on the Best River and Ocean Cycling Cruises!
Guests and onboard vibe
Generally, guests on Crystal Cruises are between 55 and 65. They’re well-traveled and enjoy the amenities of a luxury cruise but on a bigger scale than, say, luxury cruise competitors Seabourn and Silversea.
Our cruise felt like a large ship experience, but with everything done at a very high level – lovely suites, excellent service, many specialty restaurants, different entertainment venues, a casino, lavish Broadway-style productions, etc.
Because our cruise was a shorter one-week cruise, guests tended to be younger than the average age on longer cruises – part of the “working wealthy” class, many in their 40s and 50s.
Crystal is actually going after younger guests, aiming to tempt them with a larger variety of shorter cruises that have been added to its cruise calendar.
You might also like: Star Clippers Cruise: Sailing the Caribbean on the Star Flyer
Crystal Cruises’ itineraries
Crystal’s ships sail across the globe, with itineraries covering Asia, Europe, the Caribbean and more. Voyages last anywhere from four to 139 nights.
Brand new shorter voyages include 8-night cruises from Singapore to Sri Lanka and from Mumbai to Jordan.
And if you want a mini-cruise in Europe (maybe to try Crystal Cruises?), check out the new 4-night cruises from Monte Carlo to Sorrento and 5-night cruises from Sorrento to Venice.
Recommended reading: Snake Charmers? Harems? Visiting Morocco on a Cruise
Other Crystal Cruises’ reviews
We’re not the only ones impressed with Crystal Cruises.
The line has scooped up boatloads of awards over the years, including:
Have you sailed with Crystal Cruises? Would you like to?
Let us know! (You can reply in the Comments section below.)
Our magazine article: Crystal Serenity review
Read about the Crystal Serenity and our Mediterranean cruise in our travel article published in Canadian World Traveller magazine.
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Photo credits: 2, 6, 7, 9, 19 to 22, 24 and 25 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 1, 4, 5, 8, 10 to 18, 23 and 26 Crystal Cruises
We were invited to sail with Crystal Cruises as media guests. We haven’t been paid to to write this Crystal Serenity cruise review, and all opinions here reflect our own cruise experience and observations.