The 980-passenger Crystal Serenity takes the best of big-ship cruising and the best of luxury travel and combines them to offer passengers an upscale experience with lots going on onboard.
By the standards of the other all-inclusive luxury lines, Crystal Serenity is a big ship. But its high space-to-passenger ratio means that lounges and restaurants are spacious and plentiful, and there's room to offer a wide range of activities on any given sea day. Crystal is top of the luxury list when it comes to enrichment and entertainment. Any given night could see two live performances in the ship's theaters, a movie in the onboard cinema and live music in three different lounges; any day might have multiple guest speakers (including some big names) and workshops on bridge, art, golf, ballroom dance and digital technology.
Yet Crystal does not give up its high standards to accommodate hundreds more passengers than other luxury lines. Service is attentive and often personal -- as you return again to the ship, or even to a favorite bar, the crew will quickly get to know you. Dance hosts are onboard to make sure solo travelers have someone to dine and dance with. Dining is a highlight, especially in the signature specialty restaurants, such as chef Nobu Matsuhisa's Umi Uma and Sushi Bar, and the Italian Prego.
The ship is not new, having launched in 2003, but a 2018 refurbishment did much to modernize the ship and eliminate a few pain points. Smaller cabins were combined into new suites, with a chic new look and some of the best showers at sea; this not only gave travelers additional suite accommodations but reduced the total passenger count to take pressure off dining and other public areas. Waterside, the main dining room, got a modern makeover and new dining options -- the Asian Silk Kitchen, Brazilian Churrascaria, and Stardust Supper Club -- were added to increase restaurant choice and spread guests out in the evening.
The big policy change that accompanied the refurbishment was the elimination of set-seating, set-table dining. All venues now function as restaurants, with first-come, first-served dining in Waterside and the Churrascaria and a reservations system, as before, in the other specialties.
The result is a ship still loved by Crystal loyalists, who want to be served by their favorite waiters and bartenders, and enjoy cabins with bathtubs and a classic look, but one that also can be embraced by younger travelers looking for craft cocktails and modern design, luxury cruisers who crave that high space-to-passenger ratio and even seasoned mainstream sailors looking to move up to luxury without sacrificing activities and entertainment.
Crystal has always been a formal cruise line, but the dress code has relaxed some. On most nights the dress code is "Crystal Casual," meaning dressy slacks, skirts or dresses for women and collared or button-down shirts for men, no jacket or tie required. While jeans aren't encouraged, they aren't expressly forbidden on casual nights either.
Expect only a few Black Tie Optional evenings -- some short cruises won't even have one -- where you certainly may wear your tuxedo or gown, but most ladies will dress up in cocktail dresses or fancy separates, with the men in suits or jacket and tie. Although jackets are technically required, we saw a few men dressed smartly but without a jacket, and they were not kicked out of the main dining room.
Seven-night or shorter itineraries will only have Crystal Casual nights. Expect one or two Black Tie Optional nights on cruises up to two weeks; longer cruises vary dress codes based on itinerary and any special events. Be sure to check Crystal's information center for booked passengers to find the specific dress code schedule for your sailing.
During the day, passengers dress for the weather and activity in comfortable clothing.
Crystal Serenity Inclusions
Crystal Serenity's fares include all alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages (excluding ultra-premium wines and liquors), gratuities, unlimited Wi-Fi on one device per passenger at a time, use of self-serve launderettes and fitness classes. Most dining venues are free of charge; passengers in standard cabins can eat once for free at Umi Uma and Prego, while suite passengers get unlimited visits.
An 18 percent gratuity is added to all spa and salon purchases. The onboard currency is the U.S. dollar.
For shoreside pursuits, Crystal offers a fairly noteworthy range of options. In addition to the expected selection of tours focusing on city highlights and culture, the ship has several unusual and exciting options that cater to the line's well-heeled passengers. Perhaps you'd like to fly a MiG fighter jet in Russia or get VIP seats and hospitality at the Monaco Grand Prix? Other boutique and high-end tours include spa days at luxury spas, trips on private yachts and cooking classes with Michelin chefs.
A word of caution though: Even Crystal's standard shore excursions are expensive, with full-day excursions often costing hundreds of dollars.
If group tours aren't your thing, you can hire a private car and driver through the line, or create a private adventure through its travel concierge.
Crystal is also unique in that it offers voluntourism excursions on nearly every sailing through its "You Care. We Care." program. Examples include working at the San Francisco Food Bank; assisting with meal preparation for abused, ill or abandoned children in Nafplion; aiding injured sea turtles at a sea turtle research center in Athens; and helping to maintain the gardens with the elderly inhabitants of the 660-year-old Domus Christi shelter in Dubrovnik.
Finally, the ship offers a complimentary shuttle service when the port town or city center is not in walking distance of the pier.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
Crystal stands out from the luxury cruise pack for its robust entertainment program. The line truly tries to offer something for everyone, and it's hard to remain bored for long. Even as the line is offering more port-intensive itineraries, it remains committed to a varied roster of daytime activities, even adding more scheduled events for afternoons spent in port, for those who may do a morning tour and return to the ship for or after lunch.
In addition to the enrichment activities outlined below, a sea day schedule might include team trivia, affinity group get-togethers, afternoon movies in the Hollywood Theater on Deck 6, bridge or Mahjongg play, needlepoint sessions, bingo and casino tournaments or wine tastings. These events are held all over the ship, in an array of lounge spaces, as well as the Marketplace between meals. Otherwise, there are many cozy spots for lounging with a good book.
Crystal also partners with Magic Castle, the Hollywood-based private club of the Academy of Magical Arts, to bring member magicians onboard to perform close-up magic shows for a limited number of passengers. You will be amazed at the sleight of hand performed just a few feet away from your seat without you having any idea how the magician found your card or made balls disappear and reappear. Half-hour shows take place on sea days, or in the late afternoon on sea days, and complimentary tickets must be reserved in advance at the library. Grab your tickets early as they go fast.
Crystal is investing in its evening entertainment program, and the caliber of productions is noticeably improving. The line has partnered with a known choreographer from London's West End to enhance its new "Crystal on Broadway, The Show" (featuring numbers from "Something Rotten," "West Side Story" and "Rent") and is leveraging its big-name partnerships, such as the one with producer Kevin McCollum (the man behind "Crystal on Broadway") to attract talented singers and dancers. If you've long dismissed small-ship evening entertainment, it might be time to give it a second chance. Crystal is positioning itself to outpace its luxury line competitors in this department.
Each evening, the Galaxy Lounge on Deck 6 forward hosts the main show, with two show times. Guest acts might include a musical soloist (including musical theater performers as part of the "Crystal on Broadway" program), comedian or magician, or the Crystal singer and dancers will do a Broadway revue. Sightlines are good -- unless someone tall sits in front of you as the seating is only gently sloped -- and drink service is available.
On many nights, a second cabaret show takes place in the Stardust Club on the same deck aft. Here, Crystal's own singers and dancers do swing and pop shows, among others, while passengers sit at four-top tables. Sometimes the second show is in an alternative location. We attended a packed, Irish Pub Night in the Avenue Saloon, which kept the crowds tapping their toes for three straight hours.
Another area in which Crystal Serenity excels is live music. The Crystal Cove off the Deck 5 atrium is the place for a variety of acts. On one night alone, you might get a pianist playing pre-dinner, a duo during the early evening, a violinist later on and a guitarist playing to the night owls. A pianist also sings and entertains in the Avenue Saloon just next to the Stardust after dinner; some of Crystal's pianists have quite the following.
Crystal Cruises also attract devoted ballroom dancers, who enjoy the dance band that plays in either the Palm Court or the Stardust Club. Dance hosts join most cruises to squire ladies around the dance floor, and they're happy to humor you if you're a beginner. Don't be intimidated by the experienced dancers! The ballroom dancers are indefatigable; they were going strong at midnight the night we hung out in the Palm Court.
The one overlooked venue -- at least on our sailing -- was the Pulse Nightclub. It's tucked away so doesn't get much foot traffic, so the DJ who comes on at 10 p.m. is often rather lonely. We never saw more than 10 people in the disco at night.
The Resorts World at Sea Casino, on Deck 6 just aft of the Galaxy Lounge, offers a comprehensive range of table games and slots. Look for casino tournaments on sea days.
The Hollywood Theater is the ship's cinema if you'd rather watch recent releases on a big screen rather than on-demand in your cabin. Popcorn is served. The screenings are great for cloudy afternoons at sea and as an alternative evening show. By day, the venue hosts everything from guest lectures to religious services.
The Crystal White Extravaganza is a signature event in which passengers dress in white and gather in the Crystal Cove to drink, dance and listen to music provided in turn by the various onboard musicians. If you want the full experience, make sure to pack an appropriate outfit.
If you think learning is fun, Crystal Serenity is your ship. The cruise line is big on all kinds of enrichment, from guest lectures to more hands-on activities.
Deck 7 is the heart of the line's enrichment program. There you'll find the Computer University @ Sea classroom, where classes range from digital moviemaking to the secrets of Photoshop and iPad use. Sign up for classes early, as they do fill up. A designated Bridge Lounge is the spot for both social play and beginner and intermediate-level classes. The cruise line brings on bridge instructors most sailings to teach passengers. Puzzles are set out in the back of this area for those looking for a different kind of mental challenge.
To satisfy Crystal's ballroom enthusiasts, four ballroom dancers offer both free group lessons and private, extra-fee classes ($100 for an hour, $75 for a half-hour). The latter is held in the new Dance Studio, adjacent to the Studio multipurpose meeting room.
The Odyssey Art at Sea program brings artists in residence aboard to instruct passengers in everything from watercolor to knitting. Make sure you attend on Day One to get the lay of the land; many projects are cumulative, and if you want to finish an art piece, you'll need to show up regularly throughout the cruise.
If you'd prefer to simply listen and learn, the Crystal Visions Enrichment Program attracts guest lecturers ranging from astronauts to retired actresses and politicians, as well as naturalists and general interest speakers. Don’t worry if you miss a talk; you can watch them on-demand in your cabin.
Other learning opportunities include spa seminars (beware: these are usually aimed at selling you something), golf instruction with a PGA pro, cooking classes and mixology classes.
Crystal Symphony has a range of bars and lounges that each have their own ambiance and style, and many passengers have a favorite. Most also have live music throughout the evening, and on our cruise, the duos and soloists were so talented that guests would come to the bars as much to listen to the music as to sip their favorite beverage.
The line is hip to the craft cocktail trend, and features a selection of different gin and tonics, some made with herbs or flavored gins, as well as a Manhattan menu in the Avenue Saloon. You'll find other cocktail selections, as well as light and nonalcoholic cocktails, but the included liquor list is wide enough to satisfy most drinkers.
If you're drinking late at night, generally around 11 p.m. to midnight, waiters will come by the Avenue Saloon, Crystal Cove, Pulse and Stardust Club with snacks like pizza and mini grilled cheese sandwiches.
Passengers must be 18 to be served beer and wine, and 21 for liquor. However, when docked in the U.S. or sailing 3 miles or closer to shore, passengers must be 21 to be served any alcoholic beverage.
Crystal Cove (Deck 5): The atrium bar is the closest watering hole to Waterside, and makes a great meeting place for pre or post-dinner drinks. The couches and oversized easy chairs make a great perch for listening to the rotating roster of live musicians who perform here, including on the unusual see-through piano. The performance quality is high -- you'll find you come for a drink but stay for the music.
Avenue Saloon (Deck 6): The most atmospheric bar onboard, the Avenue Saloon is dark and intimate with leather couches and easy chairs, shuttered windows and shaded table lamps dotting the bar. A pianist entertainer typically presides over the venue, but sometimes the bar is used for events like Irish Pub Night or even daytime seminars.
The Connoisseur Club (Deck 6): Next door to the Avenue Saloon is the cigar bar with its explorers' club feel. You can purchase a range of cigar brands, or enjoy manly drinks like single malt whiskeys, port wines and martinis.
Pulse Night Club (Deck 6): On the other side of the Avenue Saloon is the Pulse Night Club, where a DJ spins tune from 10 p.m. until "late." We're not sure this nightspot has a pulse; every time we peeked in, we could count only a handful of partiers. On our cruise, the venue doubled as the spot for the Magic Castle close-up magic show -- and attendance at those intimate shows was possibly double what the disco gets.
The Silk Bar (Deck 12): The Silk Bar is less of a destination than a spot to meet up with your party before dinner at Silk Kitchen, and the supplier of Silk's signature drinks.
Palm Court and Sunset Bar (Deck 12): The Sunset Bar quenches the thirst of the dancers and schmoozers who hang out in the Palm Court day and night. If you're not in the Palm Court for an activity, it's still an ideal place to take in the views from the floor-to-ceiling windows, read, nap, knit or chat. If you want to be seen, choose an armchair or couch by the dance floor; to hide out, sneak behind the bar to the lower-level seating areas by the windows.
Serenity's Seahorse Pool is found on Deck 12 midship, and the area is colorful and cheery without being flashy. Rows of padded loungers, topped with terry cloth covers surround the pool. Long wicker couches and oversized circular "pod beds" heaped with pillows are perfect for either one or two people to stretch out comfortably in the sun. Two hot tubs overlook one end of the pool; a bandstand, shaded by a circus-tent inspired awning, faces the other.
If you're looking for additional lounge chairs, you won't find them circling the pool one deck up on Deck 13. Instead, they're located forward on that deck; but it can get windy in the open area up front. For more secluded sunbathing, head aft; you'll find lounge chairs, pod beds and chairs and tables on Decks 8, 9, 10 and 11. Note that these are also smoking areas.
Golf putting and driving nets are down on Deck 6 aft, along with Ping-Pong tables enclosed by a net. PGA golf instructors are often onboard to give workshops and private lessons. Shuffleboard is located a few decks above on Deck 8. Due to popular demand for paddle tennis, Serenity has two full-size courts located at the top of the ship on Deck 13.
The heart of the ship is the Deck 5 atrium, where you'll find the front desk, shore excursions, future cruise sales and Crystal Society host or hostess. The medical facility is also on this deck.
One flight up the grand stairway, Crystal's Avenue of the Stars boutiques circle the atrium on its upper level. The shops sell a range of jewelry from designer to diamond, watches from brands like Tag Heuer and Hublot, Crystal logowear, cruisewear (such as button-down shirts and dresses), cosmetics and perfume, name-brand purses, sunglasses and other gifts. Shops are only open when the ship is at sea. On sea days, shopping enthusiasts might enjoy fashion shows, talks from the designers and seminars about watches and gemstones.
Aft on Deck 6 is the Crystal Images photography center where you can find prints of photos taken by the ship's photographer or arrange for a private portrait session. Prints are pricy, and there's a flat-fee for unlimited digital images, but you have to buy each print as well.
Deck 7 aft houses the Bridge Lounge for card play and puzzles, The Studio for meetings and events and the well-stocked library. The Computer University@Sea area comprises an Internet Cafe, with computer stations and iPads for going online and printing out boarding passes, and a classroom for digital learning. Wi-Fi is complimentary for all passengers on one device per person at a time. The 2018 refurbishment enhanced bandwidth and added signal boosters in all cabins; internet speeds were fast at sea, but the connection was spotty in several ports of call.
Complimentary self-serve laundry and ironing facilities are located off the passenger corridors on Decks 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11. The launderettes include multiple washers and dryers with complimentary detergent, ironing boards and irons, a utility sink and a TV to entertain you while waiting or folding clothes.
Smoking is allowed only in the Connoisseur Club; on Decks 8 through 11 aft; on the port side of the pool deck; and on the Promenade Deck.
The Crystal Life Spa, Salon and Fitness Center make up Deck 13 aft. Treatment rooms include a couple's room and a Crystal quartz bed.
The spa offers a complete range of spa services, such as massages (hot stone, bamboo, Thai poultice, deep tissue and Swedish), facials and scrubs. Acupuncture and medispa services (dermal filler and wrinkle treatments, neck and tummy tightening) are available; the acupuncturist will also consult with you about (and sell you) Chinese herbal supplements.
If you are planning on purchasing three treatments, the spa offers a promotion where you get 10% off the most expensive treatment, 20% off the middle one and 30% off the least expensive treatment. You can also look for deals in the Reflections newsletter on select services offered at specific times.
The salon offers haircuts, styling and treatments using Kerastase products; manicures and pedicures; waxing; teeth whitening; men's barbering services; and lash enhancing.
In addition to changing facilities, showers and lockers, the single-sex changing rooms include complimentary steam room and sauna facilities. The relaxation room in the spa is a hidden find for a relaxing read, even if you're not booked in for a treatment.
The fitness center is divided into three sections. There's a cardio room with a line of treadmills facing the side of the ship (rather than forward), with a rowing machine and recumbent bikes, and a weight room with free weights, Technogym equipment and elliptical trainers. Cardio machines have individual TVs attached.
A group class area at the other end has spin bikes, yoga mats, foam rollers, bosus and a variety of workout balls, a TRX machine and even boxing gloves. Classes are complimentary and include Pilates, yoga, core work, stretching and Tour de Cycle. (Note there's not much room for individual mat work and stretching when there's a class taking place.)
Personal training, nutrition consultations and individual Pilates training are available for an additional fee.
If you're looking for an outdoor workout, Crystal Serenity offers more than the usual options. The wraparound teak promenade deck on Deck 7 is ideal for walking or jogging; 3.35 laps makes a mile and there are no lounge chairs to block your way. If you want to spice up your morning walk, borrow Leki walking poles or a weighted WalkVest for some extra resistance. A member of the fitness staff is on hand every morning to show you how to use them, and they're available to borrow throughout the day.
There's also a shorter circuit on the Astroturf above the pool on Deck 13; here, nearly 8 laps equals a mile.
The Fitness Garden spans Decks 7, 8 and 9, where outdoor exercise equipment is scattered among lounge chairs. We're not convinced these get any use, but they're fun to contemplate.
Crystal excels in both quality and variety of dining options onboard, especially with the addition of new dinner venues during the 2018 refurbishment. Everyone, from newcomers to loyal repeaters can appreciate six different dinner venues, plus room service. The dining scene never gets stagnant, even on longer itineraries.
The line was previously known for a more formal dining scheme, with set seating and dress codes demanding tuxedoes and gowns, but Crystal is following the trends and relaxing just a bit.
Waterside, the main dining venue, is now open seating, and the look and feel of the venue is more bistro than banquet. Two new Lido Deck dinner options -- Silk Kitchen and Churrascaria -- offer more casual environments, though you should still adhere to the ship's evening dress code.
Solo travelers no longer have their own table in Waterside, but they should look for notes in the daily Reflections newsletter about group tables at the specialty restaurants, if they'd like to join others and haven't made their own plans. At Waterside, anyone looking to make new friends can request to join a group table.
Insider tip: Most passengers dine in Waterside or the new Supper Club on Black Tie Optional nights because the menu features star dishes, such as lobster and caviar. That makes those nights easier to snag a reservation in the specialty restaurants.
Crystal Serenity is inconsistent with marking menu items for dietary restrictions. Waterside and Silk Kitchen menus note vegetarian items, but Umi Uma and Prego do not. We occasionally saw a dish labeled gluten-free, but Waterside menus did not feature a healthy or spa cuisine section. Travelers with dietary restrictions should alert the cruise line in advance to make sure their needs are met.
If your sailing offers a Grand Gala Buffet, do not miss it. The ship's dining team sets out an elaborate buffet all throughout the atrium, with sculptures made from ice, bread, fruit and chocolate; towers of lobster tails; and beautifully arranged appetizers. It's so impressive that passengers are encouraged to take photos a half-hour before food service begins. You might think the food looks better than it tastes, but despite being a buffet, the cuisine was still up to Crystal's high standards.
Waterside (Deck 5): The ship's main sit-down dining venue was renamed and redecorated during the 2018 refurbishment. The goal was to morph from a formal banquet-style dining room with assigned tables and dining times into more of a restaurant, with open-seating dining and a modern but less formal look. The space is divided up to feel more intimate, and waiters dress in checked shirts and aprons, bistro-style, rather than in jackets. Passengers, however, are still expected to dress to the evening's code, and Waterside is the venue of choice on formal night.
Breakfast is served daily from 8.00 to 9:30 a.m. The menu is divided into Basics (cereal, fruit, pastries), Classics (eggs any style, pancakes, waffles) and Specials (crab omelet, steak and eggs). But it doesn't stop there. You can order smoothies, sides ranging from yogurt to bacon and hash browns, or all-in-one breakfasts for faster service.
Passengers looking for something a bit different can choose The Japanese (miso soup with tofu), The Chinese (congee, either plain or with chicken) or The Healthy (gluten- and fat-free muesli with fruit, an egg-white omelet with quinoa and spinach and vitamin bread).
Lunch is served from just noon to 1:30 p.m., often with a loose theme, such as Asian or Mexican. The abbreviated menu is divided into appetizers and salad, soup, a pasta special, mains (with a burger always available, as well as a sandwich of the day) and sides (French fries, steamed vegetables).
For your waistline's sake, you should probably avert your eyes from the dessert menu since -- if you're like us -- you'll snack all afternoon, but if you can't resist, you can choose from an array of sweets, including an ice cream sundae, sugar-free option, fruit and cheese, and ice cream and sherbet.
Dinner is the main event at Waterside, and when it draws its biggest crowds. You don't need reservations, but if you do prefer a specific waiter, you can request to be seated in his or her section. If you want to meet new people, ask to be seated with others; the dance hosts often preside over a shared table.
The Waterside menu is split into two sides -- Modern and Classics -- with appetizers, mains and desserts under each section. You can mix and match from either side. The Classics menu features traditional favorites and techniques, with dishes like calf's liver, crab cakes and sirloin steak, while the Modern menu is more cutting edge with options such as charred wagyu beef crudo or a Chilean sea bass with confit mushrooms and a leek fondue.
Across the two menus, you'll always find a pasta specialty, salad main course, a vegetarian appetizer, soup and main dish. If you're looking for lobster, escargot and other classic celebratory dishes, come to Waterside on Black Tie Optional nights because that's when the chefs pull out all the showstoppers.
Desserts always include ice cream, a sugar-free option, nightly trifle and a selection of changing dessert, such as creme brulee or flourless chocolate cake.
While there's the occasional miss, most dishes are executed well and are delicious. Portions are reasonable, and most people can order one or two starters and a main and still have room for a bit of dessert.
Service is excellent but unobtrusive; no one is pulling lids off plates simultaneously, but whatever you need can be accommodated. Waiters are friendly and handle the rare, but inevitable, mishaps with aplomb.
Supper Club (Deck 6): New as of 2018 is the Supper Club, an intimate dinner option only available on the first and last formal nights of every cruise. Shorter itineraries with no formal nights will likely not have a Supper Club option. The pop-up dining experience takes place in the Stardust Club, and features a greatest hits menu taken from Waterside paired with live entertainment.
There is no assigned seating (though reservations are required) so come early for the best seats. Every table is a four-top, so if you're not a foursome, you will have to share your table. Once everyone is seated, the ship's show band and a singer perform light jazz, meant to be talked over. Between courses, the ship's various performers, such as the violinist, do a few numbers, with the ship's singers and dancers taking the tempo up toward the end of the meal. Once coffee and dessert are finished, passengers take to the stage for dancing before the evening comes to a close.
There's only one 6:30 p.m. seating of the Supper Club, and as space is limited, early reservations are a must.
Umi Uma & Sushi Bar (Deck 7): Celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa has restaurants around the world, as well as one on each Crystal ship. He does not hold back his famed Japanese-Peruvian fusion dishes from his oceangoing venue, so Crystal passengers can enjoy his signature miso-glazed black cod and lobster with truffle-yuzu sauce.
The chef comes aboard once a year to host culinary cruises but also to check on his disciples in the galley, so menu items continue to be executed to his satisfaction. And, therefore, to yours. There was not one sour note in our dinner, and our group tried a good number of dishes.
The venue -- formerly named Silk Road, prior to the 2018 refurbishment -- is brighter and more spacious than its counterpart on Crystal Symphony and is done up in shades of gray and Crystal's signature mint green. A few larger group tables are sprinkled among two- and four-tops.
The menu, which did not change much with the name change, is divided into appetizers (try the lobster tacos or any of the tempuras), soup, salad, entrees, noodles and dessert (the chocolate souffle cake is an excellent ending). You can also order sushi and sashimi from a separate menu, either as appetizers or for your mains. If you can muster a large group, consider asking for a selection of the best the venue has to offer and dining family-style so you can try more dishes.
Watch out, though -- it's easy to get through an entire meal and realize you've eaten nothing but fish. Consider ordering the eggplant or a salad to add a vegetable component. Vegetarians should alert the venue in advance because there are no meat-free entrees on the menu, but the chefs can whip up a tofu-vegetable stir-fry or vegetarian noodles with a day's notice.
At least one dinner per passenger is included in your fare (more if you're residing in a suite); subsequent visits cost $30 per person. This is an incredible value; we checked the menu of Nobu's Los Angeles restaurant, and hot entrees alone range from $25 to $38. Umi Uma is open from 6 to 9:30 p.m., and reservations are required.
If you just want a sushi fix, or you can't get reservations, the eight-seat sushi bar is also complimentary and first come, first served. It's open when the main restaurant is, but you can only order off the sushi menu.
Prego (Deck 7): Prego is Crystal's Italian specialty restaurant, located next to Umi Uma. Its look was not updated in 2018, which is a bit unfortunate -- the scenes of Tuscany murals and fruit basket moldings belong more in an Olive Garden venue than on a luxury cruise ship. Focus your eyes on the menu instead.
The traditional Northern Italian cuisine includes antipasti (carpaccio of Black Angus beef), salad, soup (the signature mushroom soup served in a bread bowl is noteworthy) and mains that range from lasagna alla casalinga to roasted rack of lamb, osso buco and a variety of pastas.
Desserts range from the signature affogato (a take on tiramisu with espresso-flavored lady fingers layered with light mascarpone cheese) to pistachio zabaione cake and lemon semifreddo. We'd recommend the gelato or a cheese plate. The featured wines all hail from Italy; if you're not familiar, the sommelier can describe them for you.
As with Umi Uma, at least one dinner per passenger is included in your fare, with additional visits subsequent charged at $30 per person (unless you're in a suite). Prego is open from 6 to 9:30 p.m., and reservations are required.
The Vintage Room (Deck 7); price varies by event: Wine aficionados or passengers looking for an intimate dinner made with the finest ingredients should consider a meal in the Vintage Room. These wine-paired dinners can be arranged for a private group (up to 12 people for a flat $2,500 fee), or you can ask about joining an open dinner ($250 per person).
The menu is at the discretion of the chef and is unique to each event, but includes six courses, each paired with premium-list wines. A sommelier will guide you through the wines presented. Your menu might start with king crab and porcine-dusted sea bass with lobster-tomato soup and continue on to seared 72-hour prime beef and finish with "paradise" chocolate cake.
Additional Vintage Room events include the occasional lunch ($75 per person, or $125 person for Champagne or California wine-themed meals). Ultimate Vintage Dinners are the pinnacle splurge, where a seat at the table costs $1,000 per person and dinner is paired with some of the best, most expensive bottles in the cruise ship's collection.
Dinners are held in the Vintage Room, which is a private dining room with one long rectangular table. For fun, look at the logbooks, which show the menu and a group photo from every prior Vintage Room dinner. It might give you inspiration for your next meal there.
Marketplace (Deck 11): Crystal's pool deck buffet venue is open for breakfast and lunch. The semicircular grouping of serving counters offers the same spreads port and starboard. Room dividers keep diners at tables separate from passengers in line for food, but make it tricky to spot your dining companion who has sat down first.
Breakfast truly accounts for all tastes. Choose from fruit, breads and pastries, cold meats and cheeses, yogurt, cereal and hot items like scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage, French toast and pancakes. Omelets and eggs are made to order, but you need to pick up your scramble; it's not delivered to your table. More unusual, there's a congee station, Miso soup and Japanese-style rice, as well as a "healthy" section with grilled vegetables, quinoa salad, yogurt with chia seeds and an array of gluten-free toppings and granola.
Buffet lunches are just as expansive, with hot dishes (often themed), a salad bar plus premade salads, deli meats and cheeses, a hot sandwich option, carved meat and a smorgasbord of dessert options. Be sure to have a cookie sometime, somewhere, onboard, as they're very good. The buffet menu sometimes shares a theme with Waterside's lunch option. The dishes are tasty and fresh, and don't taste like they've been sitting under heat lamps for too long.
Waiters will bring drinks -- coffee, tea, juice, wine, cocktails, etc. -- to your table once you're seated, either in the Marketplace, aft on the outdoor patio or forward in the Silk Kitchen area. Don't be surprised if a waiter catches you juggling plates and offers to help carry something to your table.
Churrascaria (Deck 11): The most casual of Crystal Serenity's dining venues is its Brazilian steakhouse, which takes over the Marketplace at night. Meat lovers should prep for dinner here by having a light and early lunch; passengers who don't eat red meat will still find plenty to fill their plates, and vegetarians can put together a light dinner from the salad bars, sides and dessert if they need to.
Kick off this all-you-can-eat extravaganza with a caipirinha, a traditional Brazilian cocktail. Then hit the salad bar for ceviche, caprese salad and prosciutto with sweet melon and delicious mushroom soup (same recipe, different kitchen, from Prego's version). Ignore the long breadsticks and dive into the cheese rolls, which burst with cheesy goodness with every bite.
When you're ready for the main event, grab some sides -- asparagus or black beans -- and flip your circular sign from red to green. Waiters will come around with meats on skewers and serve you beef picanha, short ribs, linguica, bacon-wrapped pork medallions, lamb chops, Parmesan chicken drumsticks and garlic shrimp until you flip your sign back to red in surrender. If you can manage a round two, flip the sign once again. Pay attention to your favorites and request them again.
Pace yourself because dessert is worth saving room for. The churros are mediocre but the chocolate balls and passion fruit panna cotta are delicious. If nothing else, don't miss the roasted pineapple with cinnamon. Brazilians claim it helps with digestion, but even if not, it's the perfect sweet ending to your meal.
Silk Kitchen & Bar (Deck 11): Silk Kitchen might have the loveliest setting of all of Serenity's restaurants. It's got a wintergarden feel with a glass ceiling, living walls full of greenery and twinkle lights. However, the family-style Chinese menu fails to impress the way the other specialty restaurants do.
Start your dinner with Silk's signature drink, the refreshing Silk Rose (made with rose liqueur and lemon juice). The menu isn't technically divided into sections, but the first column lists starters and soups, such as a dim sum sampler, chicken won ton soup and the crisp duck salad (which can be made vegetarian and was the best appetizer we ate). As you might expect at a Chinese restaurant at home, order apps for the table rather than individually.
Main dishes, also meant for sharing, include a lobster and scallop wok, black pepper beef stir-fry and Chilean sea bass. The lobster and scallop got the best reviews; most of the mains we tried were fine but failed to impress. Vegetarian items are marked.
Dessert was perhaps the biggest win. The Chinese five spice dark chocolate slice was decadent, and the tapioca soup with fresh lychee refreshing.
Silk is also the location for a late-riser's breakfast every morning. At lunch, it serves as overflow seating for Trident Grill and Marketplace diners, but also has its own menu -- a mix of Asian small plates (dumplings, chow mein noodles, sweet and sour pork) and some western options, such as pizza, a grilled Reuben sandwich and shrimp Caesar salad.
Trident Grill (Deck 11): Not just another pool grill, the Trident has a wide selection of grilled items from the typical hamburgers and hot dogs to chicken, veggie and salmon burgers; grilled sirloin steak; grilled cheese with or without tuna or ham; and a wrap of the day. Sides include French and sweet potato fries and onion rings, and a soup of the day. Seating is under the glass roof opposite Silk at tables with wicker chairs and colorful orange or blue cushions.
Scoops Ice Cream Bar (Deck 11): Yes, your Crystal cruise comes with eight included flavors of Ben and Jerry's ice cream (plus two flavors of soft-serve and two of sugar-free ice cream); an array of toppings from hot fudge sauce to M&Ms, nuts and sprinkles; and even cookies to jazz up your frozen treat -- but let's talk about what really sets this Lido Deck ice cream counter apart. Freshly made waffle cones. As in, the attendant has a waffle maker and he'll make a waffle, roll it up and scoop in your flavors. Now that is luxury. Scoops can be found adjacent to the Trident Grill and Silk Kitchen dining areas.
The Bistro (Deck 6): Serenity's coffee bar and social spot, the Bistro is open from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Order coffee drinks at your table or at the bar; to-go cups are available. The small buffet is packed with snacks throughout the day. In the morning, you'll find fruit, yogurt, cereal, bagels and pastries. Midday, the selection morphs to offer deli meats and cheeses, bread and crackers, cookies and desserts. Packaged instant noodle cups are also a quirky addition. By evening, cheese and dessert rule, with a chocolate fountain making an appearance around 7:30.
Palm Court Tea (Deck 11): Afternoon tea is served daily in the late afternoon by white-gloved, tuxedoed waiters in the Palm Court. Choose black, green or herbal Julius Meinl teas, served in floral China. Waiters come around with trays of tea sandwiches (crusts cut off, of course), petits fours and scones with jam and whipped cream (clotted cream devotees must resign themselves to individual-sized plastic tubs rather than the fresh stuff).
The 2018 refurb added an afternoon tea prep station for the wait staff, as well as a counter for serving the pastries and other goodies that are the hallmarks of the line's themed teas, such as the Mozart and Chocolate Teas.
Room Service: Room service is available 24/7. You can order full (hot) or continental breakfast (hours vary) by marking your selections on a form and hanging it outside your door.
The lengthy 24-hour menu includes select breakfast items all day, soup, salad, hot and cold sandwiches and burgers, and entrees such as pizza, spaghetti and beef tournedos. Desserts include cheesecake, creme brulee, cookies, a cheese plate and ice cream.
Anyone can order from the Waterside lunch and dinner menus during dining hours; suite passengers can also order from Umi Uma and Prego.
During the 2018 refurbishment, the ship reduced its number of cabins from 535 to 440. This was accomplished by replacing smaller cabins with two new types of penthouse and penthouse suites -- the Seabreeze staterooms. With this addition, passengers have a range of cabin types to choose from, from 226-square-foot cabins with picture windows to massive 1,345-square foot Crystal Penthouse Suites. (Note that the Pure hypoallergenic staterooms were removed during the refurb.)
Regardless of category, all of Crystal Serenity's cabins are furnished with queen beds that can be split into twins; a love seat or couch; desk/vanity; and mini-fridge stocked with complimentary soda and bottled water, plus Schott Zwiesel stemware. Beer, wine and select spirits are available on request. You'll always find Frette bathrobes, kimonos and slippers for use onboard, as well as a throw blanket, hair dryer and safe. A fruit basket is replenished daily.
Rooms have telephones, one-touching lighting, electronic "do not disturb" signs and American and European outlets. Ultra-thin 43-inch HDTVs are programmed with select live TV channels, movies on demand and information about the ship.
Bathrooms all have double sinks and Etro brand bath products (soap, shower gel, body lotion, shampoo and conditioner) in 5 ounce, brightly colored bottles. Most have tub-shower combos; among the suites, some are shower only and some have separate shower and tub. You'll also find a jar with cotton swabs and pads, a makeup mirror and shaver outlet.
Outside: Entry-level Deluxe Staterooms with Large Picture Windows are 226 square feet. These are not suites (as you might find on other luxury lines) but a typical cruise ship standard stateroom layout. Framing the window are the love seat and coffee table on one side and the desk/vanity with shelving and a desk chair on the other. The middle of the cabin features the bed with dark leather headboard and the flat-screen TV opposite, and bedside tables and reading lamps to either side. A closet faces the window on the far side of the bed.
Bathrooms offer double sinks, tub/shower combos and glass shelves for storing toiletries.
Balcony: Deluxe Staterooms with Verandahs are identical to the outside cabins, except that the picture window is replaced with a sliding glass door leading to a 20-square-foot private veranda. The balcony is furnished with two cushioned wicker chairs and a round, dining-height table. Category A2 cabins have a limited view.
Suite: The addition of the two Seabreeze categories brings Crystal's suite categories up to five, and each has a unique layout, decor and amenities.
All come with the services of a personal butler, who can help you pack and unpack; make dining, spa and shore excursion reservations; bring you tea or canapes in the afternoon; serve dinner course by course in your suite; and take care of garment pressing and shoeshine requests.
Additional amenities for all suite types include the ability to order room service from Umi Uma and Prego and unlimited complimentary dining in those venues, daily canapes, Riedel stemware to use with in-suite beverages (including your choice of wine and spirits from a set menu) and dining with an officer on request. You'll also receive an invitation to a private cocktail party in the captain's quarters (when available), free pressing, free in-suite phone use (at least one hour, depending on category), binoculars for onboard use and personal stationery on request.
Seabreeze Penthouse with Verandah: These mini-suites measure 367 square feet, including the balcony. The decor is shades of blue and taupe with light woods and bronze accents.
The Seabreeze Penthouses are not true suites because the bed faces the full-size blue couch, low oval coffee table and easy chair with no divider. The flat-screen TV is mounted on the exterior wall next to the sliding doors out to the balcony. It's a bit tight walking between the bed and the couch, even with the coffee table pushed right up against the couch. That means you can't sit on the couch -- which is OK because it's hard as a rock. (It's a pullout, but your cabin steward will add a mattress topper to make it more palatable to sleep on.)
The room also features a small desk/vanity table with a mirror, and a cabinet that houses the mini-fridge, glassware and a coffee maker. A walk-in closet offers ample shelving and drawers with short and long hanging sections.
The bathroom is spacious with a long marble vanity with a lighted mirror, two sinks and drawers to stow your toiletry kits. The toilet is separated by a half wall and the designers smartly added a small shelf above the toilet paper holder with a USB port (there's also a phone so all your business needs are taken care of). Our only petty complaint is that the towel rack for hand towels is by the toilet not the sink.
The shower is the seventh wonder of the cruise ship world with a rain head and handheld shower wand, amazing water pressure and easy push-button on/off. You will want to take it home. It also has plenty of shelf space (the bottom can double as a footrest for shaving).
All of the Seabreeze Penthouses come in pairs with a shared doorway to the hall and vestibule area and second, separate doors into the suite. This means that families or groups can book adjacent rooms and connect them, locking the outer door but leaving the inner doors open.
Penthouse with Verandah: Serenity's original penthouses are slightly larger at 403 square feet, including veranda, with a one-room layout that's slightly different from the Seabreeze version. Decor is hues of dark browns and creams, and feels older and more cruise ship than hotel.
Here, the bed faces the pullout sofa, which is flanked by a chair and oval, dining-height table. But on the side of the bed farthest from the sliding doors to the balcony is a wall of shelving and drawers and a small desk area, facing a mirror, with a low-backed chair and coffee maker. On the flip side of that mirror, the desk tabletop continues through to become the vanity outside the walk-in closet, with another chair and makeup mirror.
The bathroom doesn't feel quite as spacious as in the Seabreeze Penthouse but that's because it fits in a double vanity, stall shower and separate Jacuzzi bathtub.
Seabreeze Penthouse Suite with Verandah: Moving into full suites, the 491-square-foot Seabreeze Penthouse Suite is basically a larger, two-room version of the Seabreeze Penthouse. You enter into the living room, which has the same blue couch and coffee table and multicolor rug as the penthouse version. The flat-screen TV and doors to the veranda are here, too, as well as the same drinks cabinet from the penthouse and a small desk. Walk through an open doorway into the bedroom (again with identical headboard, bedside lamps and night tables to the penthouse version), which also has its own doors out to the balcony and a second TV.
From the bedroom, a door leads to the dressing area, which has the walk-in closet on one side and a vanity table on the other. Continue on into the bathroom, which has a huge shower with a bench and body jets, double vanity and a toilet and tiny sink in a separate compartment that can be closed off from the sink/shower area to form a guest bath when entertaining.
The veranda is outfitted with two cushioned wicker chairs and a dining height round table, plus an extra drinks table and small chair.
Penthouse Suite with Verandah: Even larger, at 538 square feet with veranda, the Penthouse Suite has a darker look than its brighter Seabreeze counterpart. It also has separate living and sleeping areas, but its living room also has a dining table for two across from the bar area with glassware and the coffee maker. The couch pulls out to become a third berth. There's one huge TV above the couch for watching while in bed, and a second wall-mounted TV in the corner for watching from the sofa.
The bedroom has a small corner vanity with a stool and access to the veranda as well as the bathroom. Like the regular penthouse, the bathroom here has a double vanity, Jacuzzi bathtub and separate shower, and toilet and bidet. The walk-in closet is opposite the entryway to the suite from the bathroom, and, while spacious, is oddly far from the bedroom.
The veranda is furnished with two cushioned wicker chairs with foot stools, a dining-height table and an additional, non-cushioned chair.
Crystal Penthouse with Verandah: There are only four of these 1,345-square-foot top suites on Crystal Serenity. You enter into a grand foyer, with a custom stone floor, which is flanked by a guest bath with shower and a butler's pantry with a fridge and espresso machine. Straight ahead, separated by a cut-work screen, is a dining area for four with ocean views overlooking the private veranda.
To one side is the master bedroom, with its queen-sized bed and plush chair with ottoman; a custom-designed walk-in closet; and huge master bathroom with a heated floor, wide shower with a heated bench, Duravit spa flotation tub with a round window for ocean views, double bowl sinks and bidet.
To the other side of the foyer is the living room and a separate den with a full-size pullout sofa. The suite's entertainment includes a 55-inch OLED TV in the living room, 49-inch TV in the den and surround sound system.
The veranda has a round, dining-height table with two cushioned wicker chairs with footrests.
Upgraded perks for these top suites include a welcome bottle of Cristal Champagne, two hours of free phone use, choice of newspaper delivered daily, invitation to a private bridge tour with the captain, a cashmere blanket, free laundry and dry cleaning, immediate suite access on embarkation and two private car and driver transfers for embarkation and debarkation.