The passenger lobby, a gleaming two-story atrium, is dominated by glass and chrome stairs, a hand-cut sculpture and a waterfall, with a stained-glass dropped ceiling. A striking translucent grand piano is the focus of the Crystal Cove, with its intimate clusters of Italian leather sofas, complemented by the earth-tone hues of plush carpeting and shimmering drapes framing wide window views of the sparkling ocean beyond. This was a popular gathering area before and after dinner, where professional pianists and ensembles played, and passengers enjoyed old-fashioned sing-alongs with their cocktails.
Greeted by white-gloved attendants, I was escorted to my stateroom, a 403 sq. ft. Penthouse. The sitting area was spacious with a sofa, armchair, and large coffee table. The dark wood entertainment center offered a remote control flat-screen color TV, featuring 24-hour news and sports via CNN and ESPN, data port for laptop computer hookup, and refrigerator with mini-bar. The queen-sized bed had been converted into twins, with plush down comforters and pillows. The bedside telephone system was equipped for private voice mail and automated wake-up calls.
The cabin also came with binoculars, Riedel glassware, personalized stationary, welcome champagne, a fully stocked in-room bar with complimentary in-room soft drinks and bottled water, plus fresh flowers and English mohair blankets.
The bathroom would become my own personal spa with its Jacuzzi tub, huge separate shower, granite accents, two hairdryers, plush bathrobe and slippers, telephone, and a nice selection of toiletries that were replenished daily. (It was wonderful languishing in a before-dinner bubble bath while sipping champagne and listening to soothing music from the CD player.)
An added bonus comes with a Penthouse: a personal butler. Introduced to Klauss, with his delightful Danish accent, resplendent in black tuxedo, I wondered why I would need him when I already had a stewardess. But it didn't take long to discover his services were invaluable. He unpacked my luggage, took wrinkled clothing for complimentary pressing, made reservations for alternate dining venues, brought customized fruit bowls and canapé trays daily, opened champagne bottles and poured, fixed stuck zippers, and found film and batteries for my camera when the photo shop was not open. When my traveling companion became ill and wanted only chicken soup and grilled cheese, Klauss personally went to a chef and had a tray specially prepared. And never was room service merely a delivered tray. A linen cloth was spread over the table, then set with china, crystal, and silver. Waffles, fresh cream and blueberries for breakfast became my favorite treat of the day!
With such luxurious accommodations it was tempting to spend the entire cruise in my stateroom. After all, everything in the ship's dining rooms was available through room service, and I had my own private sundeck. However, there were far too many activities onboard to keep me from becoming a hedonistic hermit.
So many choices for dining, and no menu is ever repeated, not even on a three-month world cruise, although guests have the option of ordering past favorites. There are two alternative specialty restaurants—the Italian Prego (my favorite), reminiscent of northern Italy and offering a seasonally-changing menu from the revered Los Angeles Valentino restaurant; and Silk Road, an elegant pan-Asian restaurant and The Sushi Bar, both exclusively featuring selections by the internationally-acclaimed Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa.
I especially enjoyed lunch at the country-club style Lido Cafe at poolside, afterwards treating myself to hand-dipped ice cream from Scoops and an assortment of freshly-baked cookies. And the elegant afternoon teas in the lovely Palm Court, with its floor-to-ceiling windows and sweeping 270 degree views, were a special treat. I also enjoyed sunset cocktails and romantic dancing with the cordial Ambassador gentlemen dance hosts.
If I experienced guilt from all the delicious food, I could experience pleasant atonement in the Crystal Spa, operated by Steiners, with its natural colors, textiles and surfaces of a peaceful Feng Shui environment. I especially delighted in the Cleopatra Soaking bath, as well as soothing massages and herbal treatments. And everyone, it seemed, especially enjoyed the quarter-mile teak Promenade deck circling the ship. Sheltered lifeboats are never in the way of walkers or joggers and do not obstruct views from any stateroom.
But despite so many shipboard activities, the ship has a nice mix of quiet areas conveniently located so passengers can find their preferred ambience any time of day or night in an understated décor that is warm and inviting. I could tuck myself away, undisturbed, to read or write postcards or just watch the mesmerizing waves.
Crystal Serenity, with a guest capacity of 1,080, has one of the highest space ratios of any luxury ship: 63.0, offering 93,500 square feet of public space and 14 decks. However, according to Hotel Director Herbert Jaeger of Salzburg, Austria, the ship will never be full even when fully booked, because there are always at least 100 singles onboard. On this particular cruise there were 166 singles, 50 of them under the age of 21.
Shopping is upscale along the 3,000 square foot "Avenue of the Stars" arcade, but if you are invited to take part in the fashion show, by all means do so, as you will receive a 15 percent discount on purchases in the clothing shops, jewelry store and gift boutique.
If Serenity is busy by day, it bustles by night: the cozy Avenue Saloon, a sophisticated cocktail and piano bar; the Connoisseur Club, a mahogany-paneled lounge for fine cigars and cognac; the rocking Pulse Disco and karaoke venue; and the glittering 3,000 sq. ft. Caesars Palace at Sea casino, offering blackjack, mini-baccarat, roulette, dice tables, and more than 85 gaming machines. The Hollywood Theatre presents first-run movies, and the library features more than 2,000 books, videos, DVDs and books-on-tape. In addition, the Bridge lounge provides all kinds of card and board games, and the Art Gallery showcases artwork for sale and at auction on each cruise.
Crystal Cruises spares no expense to present the finest musical theater at sea. The plush Galaxy Lounge is a showplace of brilliant lights, movement and sounds, Broadway-style costumes, intricate choreography and stunning performances that mesmerize. I found the shows onboard the Serenity to be the finest I have ever enjoyed at sea. And the night when the Australian Phantom of the Opera, Donald Cant, performed, I felt as though I were actually on Broadway, enjoying the version I had seen there too many times to count.
We had many exciting ports to visit, and some of the shore excursions—Cannes, France; Dubrovnik, Croatia; and Florence, Sorrento, Taormina, and Venice were a bit pricey, but the ones I took were well worth it. Experienced English-speaking guides, along with friendly and helpful cruise staff made for pleasant adventures. In the throes of the infamous European heat wave, we were furnished with ice water, fans, and umbrellas so the weather was endurable. Motor coaches were air-conditioned and comfortable.
According to Hotel Director Jaeger, there is usually a two-year wait for booking one of the four Crystal Penthouses (Category CP), which are the most expensive. For instance, the 106-day world cruise sailing January 19 from L.A. would be approximately $186,617 per person after all discounts. Least expensive, after discounts, would be category C at approximately $39,845 each.
Crystal has several savings programs. The Crystal Society for past cruisers has varied perks and discounts, including complimentary upgrades, shipboard spending, air upgrade credits and even free cruises, all depending on the number of cruises on Crystal ships. Selected Value Collection sailings offer 2-for-1 savings. Single travelers pay just 125% of the applicable double occupancy fare for categories C through G, 135% for categories A and B, and 150% for categories PH and P.
As always after a cruise, there has to be a return to the real world, but, for me, this time it was even more traumatic. My first morning home I kept punching the numbers on my bedside phone, but Klauss never showed up with my blueberries and waffles!