Playing passenger for a few hours on a glamorous world cruise
The author basking ever-so-briefly in the Crystal Serenity World Cruise glow.
“It’s a tease!” cried my husband, when I asked him to accompany me to San Pedro, California on departure day of Crystal Cruise’s annual world cruise. “Why would I want to board a ship only to be kicked off hours later?” he asked.
Hmm. Good question. Because he will get lunch? That worked for me.
Since he’s a kind guy and it wasn’t football playoff day, he agreed. So on Sunday, this January 18th, we took the hour drive to the World Cruise Center south of Los Angeles, sailing (pardon the pun) the 405 Freeway through little traffic.
As we pulled into the parking lot, we could see Crystal Serenity sparkling in unseasonably warm sunlight. I felt a flutter in my stomach. Silly girl, I thought. You’re not going anywhere.
We went through a boarding process similar to passengers. We, however, had to don passes noting our visitor status. Really, was there a need? Spotting true passengers was easy. They looked so relaxed. Like they had an IV drip of Xanax, or listened to Perry Como while working out. Many knew each other. Most looked like Crystal Cruises regulars, strolling with confidence, as if Serenity was their second home. (For some, it probably was.)
All wore looks that said sunny skies ahead. “I love the smell of money,” whispered a fellow journalist, as he eyed the boarding crowd.
Visitors (passenger family members; travel agents, press) looked like, well, working people. Checking their watches. Like they may have to do laundry later, go grocery shopping or get gas.
Passengers looked like they had all the time in the world. And they did. When their 89-day voyage left Los Angeles January 18th, they were embarking on an exotic meander through China, Southeast Asia and Africa before ending in London on April 18th.
What a way to see the world, swathed in luxury. Crystal Cruises is a six-star company, with two ships that win most every award possible, every year. For like 20 years.
Checking online, world cruise fares began at $39,480.00 for a deluxe stateroom (without a verandah), to the coveted top-category of Crystal Penthouses, at a whopping $197,810.00. Per person.
That sounds like an insane amount of money. But if you break down the published rate of $39,480.00 for the least-expensive accommodations (still very cushy on Serenity) to a per-person per-day rate, it average about $443.00.
Extremely reasonable for luxurious accommodations, lavish meals, brand-name alcohol, gratuities, lectures, hands-on classes and impressive entertainment on a leading all-inclusive line. And this was the internet price; full world cruise participants are privy to many money-saving perks, including discounts for early booking and amenities.
Have you priced equivalent accommodations in a top hotel in London or Paris lately? You could easily spend $800.00 a night for a room. Without comparable meals, alcohol, gratuities and entertainment. (No wonder the 2015 world cruise is already sold out, with a waitlist.)
We peeked into one of the gutted and redesigned Crystal Penthouses, part of a recent $17 million ship redo. I had to drag my husband out by the arm.
I told him a media companion (which probably makes him the lowest on the totem pole, just beneath me) can not openly behave like he wants to move in. “Don’t drool in someone else’s suite,” I hissed. “Not appropriate. Do it in the car on the way home.”
Don’t get me wrong. I get dazzled. 1,345-square-feet (including verandah) puts the house into penthouse. Frette linens and robes. On-call butler around the clock.
And we’re not talking room stewards called butlers for marketing purposes, like on many ships. These men and women are trained to professional butler standards. (I once sailed on a Crystal penthouse floor and met a butler who had worked at Buckingham Palace. It was reverse “Downton Abbey;” he taught me the proper way to make requests.)
Such amenities are but the icing on the penthouse cake. The new Crystal Penthouses include everything you need in life (or think you need), in one big suite. Private workout area. Guest bathroom with shower; library (sleeper sofa for lucky family members); and pantry with private entrance (the butler has to hang out somewhere).
A Crystal Penthouse reminded me of a swank Upper East Side apartment in Manhattan. The sort you see on HGTV that sells for seven figures and fills you with awe - and not a little envy. Custom handmade Italian mosaic tile. Swarovski crystal lighting. A heated master bathroom floor and heated marble bench in the shower. (I thought these ships sail in balmy climes.) Even the carpet is custom-designed, in Ireland.
Actually, every area of Serenity - public rooms, restaurants, cabins - looked new and fresh. Like the ship was just painted and reupholstered. Or even, doing an inaugural sail. I could swear it had that divine new car smell, like buttery leather on a 7-series BMW.
Throughout lunch, my attention wandered. Not that the food wasn’t good. It was. But my eyes kept drifting to the passengers. I fantasized about how I would feel embarking on a world cruise. No counting cruise days (Only six left! Oh no, our vacation is half-over!). Imagine 89 days seeing the world sleeping in the same bed - and someone else washing and changing your linens.
In the atrium, Crayola-colored balloons hugged the ceiling, waiting to drop when the ship set sail. “Remember when we took a holiday cruise onboard Crystal Serenity?” I asked my husband. “Remember the balloon drop on New Year’s Eve?”
I flashed back to our joyful crowd on the packed dance floor a few years back. Elderly ladies with misty eyes sat in a row close to us. Perhaps they were remembering exciting New Year’s Eve celebrations long ago. They smiled approvingly, clapping their hands, happy in our happiness, happy they were alive spending another holiday on a cruise ship.
I’ve sailed a few times on Crystal Cruises over two decades (the line celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2015), and I, too, have memories. Of being newlyweds, sailing into Venice for the first time. Of dancing an impromptu waltz on the Promenade Deck departing Mykonos, dizzy from twirls, drunk on happiness. Feeling overwhelming love and gratitude when my husband surprised me with pearls from Grand Cayman on a cruise after major surgery. I remember thinking, this is the best day of my life.
Looking back, I felt that way on many Crystal cruises. So we debarked Serenity that same day, when the passenger lifeboat drill commenced. And we were okay. Maybe we weren’t going on a world cruise. Maybe we never will. But as we walked to our car, hand-in-hand, we realized we were back on land with a sea of Crystal memories. And on such Sundays, sometimes that is enough.