Sparkling Crystal
Published Nov/Dec 2004

Crystal serenity thrills its passengers with service and style.
By Cynthia Kagan Frohlichstein

Crystal Cruise’s newest ship, Crystal Serenity, made quite a splash in the luxury cruise category when Dame Julie Andrews christened her with bubbly in July 2003. Crystal’s multitude of loyal repeat passengers embraced the new arrival. The eagerly awaited Crystal Serenity joined Crystal Harmony and Crystal Symphony to provide the kind of luxurious sailings they now expect.

Is there some kind of mystery involved in Crystal Serenity’s immediate success? What is Crystal doing that’s so right to keep earning all the coveted awards including best cruise line? How does the cruise line bring back 38 percent of its guests for repeat cruises?

On a recent Pacific Sun two-week Mexican Riviera cruise from Los Angeles, I was determined to find the answers.

Clue No. 1: the ship

Checking in at San Pedro Pier outside Los Angeles moved quickly and efficiently. A white-gloved escort ushered us to our stateroom. Our luggage already arrived. What? Passengers generally wait hours for suitcases to be delivered. This was an auspicious beginning.

Rich dark wood enriched the décor of our 403-square-foot penthouse on deck 10. The entertainment center with flat-screen TV, DVD player, laptop port and complimentary stocked refrigerator contained oodles of storage space. The comfortable sitting area and spacious veranda proved ideally sized for inviting friends for cocktails.

A huge organized walk-in closet contained so many drawers I left some empty. Although I preach packing light, I love bringing dressy clothes aboard elegant Crystal Cruises.

There was lots of storage space in the bathroom that featured a granite-topped double sink. Luxuriating in soothing herbal salts in the Jacuzzi became my daily ritual.

British butler Neil prevailed as the best amenity of all. He immediately scouted the ship for caffeine-free cola, made restaurant reservations, lifted heavy suitcases onto the bed and offered to unpack them. Neil uncorked wine bottles, brought hors d’oeuvres before dinner and kept us supplied with nibbles. He told us he’d even gone shopping for passengers in ports.

Clue No. 2: activities

Passengers get more than glowing suntans aboard Crystal Serenity. Minds as well as bodies are challenged. Crystal’s Creative Learning Institute educates and rejuvenates.

Instructor Suzanne Hosea taught piano on Yamaha’s newest portable keyboards. The Computer University@Sea’s Brian Botello combined lectures with hands-on classes to lead students to higher levels of computer competency.

I took Berlitz conversational Spanish taught by bubbly Blanca Detrinidad. Only Spanish was spoken. Although we often found ourselves speechless when Detrinidad asked questions, we loved using newly learned phrases in port.

“It gives me a lot of satisfaction when students realize they can communicate just a little bit,” Detrinidad said.

They stressed wellness in fitness classes, and Crystal Spa and Fitness Center offered exotic treatments like a Balinese coconut rub and milk ritual with well-being massage.

PGA pro Bill Stutzer led the Crystal Callaway Golf Program clinics. Golfers heard legend Billy Casper lecture. Some golfed with him on shore. I haven’t seen such adulation since Frank Sinatra’s swooning teenagers.

Clue No. 3: stimulating lecturers

There was a topic for almost any interest and taste. Art history buffs heard Dr. Fred Levine’s informative lectures. Mostly women flocked to columnist Ruth Jacobowitz’s dynamic talks about midlife happenings. Readers of Sunday supplement, “Parade,” discovered former “New York Magazine” editor and biographer Edward Klein also pens “Walter Scott’s Personality Parade.” Klein gave us erudite gossip.

Clue No. 4: entertainment

Crystal keeps adding spectacular production shows, including “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” (George Gershwin melodies) and “Curtain Call.” Costumes, choreography, professionalism and talent merited the standing ovations.

Other shows featured magicians and concert musicians. The four gifted “Forever Plaid” cast members received kudos whatever they performed.

My favorite informal show was the “Liars Clubs.” Cruise Director Gary Hunter and others gave bizarre definitions for rarely used words. Only one definition was correct. Their droll, outrageous definitions fooled uproarious passengers.

There was lots of action at Caesars Palace at Sea® Casino. I didn’t hit jackpots but everyone next to me did. First-run movies ran in the comfortable Hollywood Theater. Competition was intense in the bridge room where a huge tour group of players battled it out.

Clue No. 5: dining options

In the elegant Crystal Dining Room, menus were never repeated and special requests were always honored.

There were no extra charges for dining in the optional gourmet restaurants. The ship’s Prego restaurant delivered Italian culinary delights by Piero Selvaggio, owner of the Valentino restaurants in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Signature dishes included incredible cream of mushroom soup, grilled eggplant salad with artichokes and veal scallopine. We passionately devoured the dessert sampler that offered panna cotta, tiramisu and flourless chocolate cake.

It may be hard to get reservations at trendy Nobu restaurants in New York City or Los Angeles but we experienced the acclaimed Japanese-American fusion dishes of Chef Nobu Matsuhisa at Silk Road onboard the ship.

Passengers raved about the yellowtail/jalapeno sashimi. Nobu-style stir-fried lobster with asparagus, shitake mushrooms and snap peas shook up my taste buds, as did the wok-fried beef ribeye steak. We ended with a trio of ginger, truffle and green tea crème brulées.

Prego and Silk Road accommodate more diners than restaurants onboard their sister ships, but they’re so popular I suggest making reservations when you board.

At lunch we lined up for hamburgers at the Trident Bar and Grill.

Visit The Bistro for pâté or fruit tarts. My favorite noon stop was the new Tastes. Couldn’t get enough of the crunchy Chinese chicken salad. Everyone seemed to make daily visits to the ice cream bar.

Whodunit?

Admittedly all the specified clues plus interesting ports contribute to the answer. But I decided the butler did it. Well, not just the butler, but the entire staff and crew. Unparalleled, personalized, consistent service is the ultimate perk responsible for Crystal’s countless awards and popularity.

Hotel Director Herbert Jäger said Crystal not only sets the standard for repeat passengers but also maintains a low crew turnover. “There’s a commitment from owners to treat them so they want to stay,” he said.
Whodunit? Not such a mystery after all. Crystal Cruises promises “The Crystal Difference.” They deliver. Case closed.

Cynthia Kagan Frohlichstein is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.



Above: Julie Andrews christened Crystal Serenity last year.

Crystal Dining Room
Crystal Cruises photos

Before You Go

In 2005, Crystal Serenity will offer several Mexican Riviera and trans-Panama Canal cruises. The Pacific Sun sailing will be on the Crystal Harmony Nov. 18–25.

For more information on a Crystal Cruise vacation, see your AAA Travel agent. View a list of offices.

^ to top | previous page

Contents may not be reproduced in whole or in part unless expressly authorized in writing by AAA Traveler Magazines.