Courtesy of Crystal
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Crystal Serenity

Our Ship Review
Deal Expert / Travel Blogger

Crystal is back! Crystal Serenity is one of two ocean ships the cruise line relaunched in summer 2023 — under new ownership following the February 2022 bankruptcy of its former parent company. The good news is that Crystal Serenity maintains all of the personalized service and luxe amenities that made Crystal loyalists return time and again. Now under the aegis of bespoke tour company A&K Travel Group and luxury cruise pioneer Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, the ship made its eagerly anticipated return in late July with its accommodations reconfigured to offer more spacious suites. The ship’s capacity is now just 740 guests, down from 980 pre-refurbishment. Serenity also now features several refreshed dining venues (yes, Nobu Matsuhisa’s Umi Uma is back) and a completely reimagined spa and fitness space. 

Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony (set for a September 2023 relaunch) quickly became cruise industry darlings after their debut in 2003. The ships garnered “best of” awards and set the standard for a sophisticated cruise experience centered on global itineraries with in-depth shore excursions and experiences, an engaging onboard enrichment program by renowned guest lecturers, and a superb culinary program. None of that has changed.

Like a supermodel with great bones, Crystal Serenity has aged gracefully. Her blend of modern elegance and culture-centric itineraries continues to appeal to a mostly 60-plus traveler with epicurean tastes. Returning guests, especially those who sailed after the ship’s 2018 refurbishment, will immediately feel at home, although they’ll also notice a few updates, such as new carpet and wall treatments in the hallways. Some staterooms and suites have also been refurbished, while others have retained their classic (and well-maintained) designs. The inviting Seahorse Pool & Jacuzzis area remains unchanged and is the site of a lovely sail-away gathering, while the deck 13 Wimbledon Court has added pickleball for enthusiasts. 

Crystal Serenity’s spaciousness (it has an industry-leading space-to-guest ratio), along with enhancements to its restaurants and spa, make it once again a go-to ship for luxury travelers who appreciate refined ambience and exemplary service.

What We Love

The All-Inclusive Ease: There’s something inherently relaxing about the all-inclusive pricing of most luxury cruises. There’s no need to sign anytime you order a cocktail, and you won’t see a charge for wifi or gratuities on your stateroom balance. Crystal Serenity cruise fares include all three amenities (beverages, gratuities, and wifi), but spa services and shore excursions are extra.

The Stateroom & Suite Options: There are now seven categories of accommodation (plus two ADA-compliant categories), all featuring décor in soft neutrals with accents of aquamarine and sapphire. They are all serviced by butlers who have been promoted and trained from within the Crystal crew ranks. While all Ocean View and Veranda guest room categories were refurbished in 2023, some suite categories are available in 2023 design, 2018 design, and Classic design. 

Most of Crystal Serenity’s accommodations feature a veranda, but two categories, each offering 215 square feet of space, are ocean-view. There are 42 Double Guest Rooms with Ocean View and 14 new Single Guest Rooms with Ocean View (designed for solo travelers and very popular). The Double Guest Room with Veranda (46 are available) adds 54 square feet of balcony space. There are also eight accessible accommodations called Crystal Penthouses, half with a window and half with a veranda. 

Guests seeking more space and added amenities (such as welcome champagne, afternoon canapés, and free pressing) can book into four suite categories. The first is the 323-square-foot Aquamarine Veranda Suite with an 86-square-foot balcony (106 are available, in both a 2018 and Classic design). The 430-square-foot Sapphire Veranda Suite offers a separate living and sleeping space with a 107-square-foot balcony (151 are available in 2023, 2018, and Classic designs). Just added during the refresh, six new 645-square-foot Junior Crystal Penthouse Suites feature a 161-square-foot balcony. The top accommodations, one of the four 1,265-square-foot Crystal Penthouse Suites, features a spectacular bathroom with a tub positioned for ocean views and a 107-square-foot balcony. All accommodations feature Sicily-sourced Ortigia toiletries and all suite guests (Aquamarine category and above) slumber atop dreamy-soft Jesurum 1870 bed linens.

The Refined Dining: Crystal has always been lauded for having one of the best culinary programs at sea, and Crystal Serenity continues to excel, offering 11 food outlets ranging from a casual grill to Italian and Japanese fine dining. 

Four venues serve dinner. The airy and elegant Waterside Restaurant, also offering breakfast and lunch, features open seating (no reservations required) and a modern American menu with a mix of Contemporary Cuisine and Crystal Classics. Appetizers and entrees include Citrus-Cured Hamachi, Wild Mushroom Tart, Creamed Orzo with Sautéed Tiger Prawns, and Pan-Seared Duck Magret. 

Italian fine dining is available at Osteria d’Ovidio, formerly known as Prego and now renamed for owner Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio and redesigned with chic, minimalist décor. Menu standouts include Melanzana (an eggplant confit with smoked tomato sauce), Tortello di Stracotto di Manzo (tortello pasta filled with braised beef, fig vincotto, and gorgonzola) and Agnello (lamb with sweet onion, balsamic vinegar, and sea asparagus). 

Guests craving impeccable seafood can head to Umi Uma, Michelin-starred Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s only restaurant at sea. The beautifully redesigned space is the setting for fresh sashimi and sushi, Nobu-style Black Cod (marinated in miso, peach, and ginger), and an array of Japanese-Peruvian fusion dishes. 

All guests enjoy one complimentary reservation at both Umi Uma and Osteria d’Ovidio on sailings up to 11 days (two reservations on sailings of 12-to-22 days and three on sailings of 23 days or more) and can book additional reservations at both venues for $50 per person.

For a personalized dining experience, The Vintage Room can be booked by families or groups of friends for gourmet private wine-pairing menus at an additional cost.

One option that shouldn’t be overlooked for a more casual dinner is Tastes Kitchen & Bar, an airy, atrium-style eatery where an eclectic global menu features shareable dishes such as Ricotta Gnocchi, Chimichurri Steak, and Greek Octopus Salad. At lunch, don’t miss Tastes’ delicious Chinois Chicken Salad. 

Rounding out the dining on Crystal Serenity are Marketplace, a breakfast and lunch option that’s more chic and relaxed than most buffet-style venues on similarly sized ships; Trident Grill, located opposite Tastes and serving burgers, wraps, and seriously addictive sweet potato fries; Scoops, an ice-cream stand adjacent to Trident Grill; and The Bistro for coffees, teas, pastries, and light bites such as cheeses and prosciutto. Guests can also enjoy Crystal Afternoon Tea in Palm Court, a spacious forward-facing lounge, and order from a 24-hour in-room dining menu to enjoy a private meal on their veranda.

The Aurora Spa & Fitness Center: Crystal Serenity’s newly designed Aurora Spa & Beauty Salon and adjacent Fitness Center pack a one-two punch of rejuvenation. Named for the Goddess of the Dawn, the spa features sunrise-inspired face and body treatments and 12 treatment rooms. The extensive menu uses Elemis products and ranges from classic massages (Swedish, deep tissue, hot stone, poultice, bamboo) to innovative, tech-assisted facials (such as the Aurora LED and Cryo Facial Experience, said to increase collagen and reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and Thermage Skin-Tightening Treatments using radiofrequency to lift and tighten skin). Aurora also features a lineup of eight IV therapies designed to revive, fortify, and even accelerate metabolism. Acupuncture, LED light therapy, and other healing sessions are also offered. 

Both the women’s and men’s changing areas have a sauna and steam room. The adjacent Fitness Center is spacious for a ship of Serenity’s size and features new TechnoGym equipment as well as spaces for classes and personal training sessions.

Best Known For

Extraordinary Service: Crystal guests are known to be extremely loyal — primarily because of the welcoming service. Many crew members are longtime employees (80 percent of those working aboard Serenity for the relaunch were returning Crystal crew members), and the warmth with which they greet returning guests is genuine. First-timers get equal attention. The butlers who service all staterooms and suites and the attendants who tidy them will be greeting you by name within moments of your arrival.

Onboard Enrichment & Entertainment: In addition to enjoying engaging talks by guest lecturers on topics ranging from culture to politics, Crystal guests can expect classic nighttime entertainment of exceptional quality. Live musical performances take place in Serenity’s panoramic Palm Court and cozy Crystal Cove. The Galaxy Lounge hosts production shows while the Stardust Club is the setting for more intimate cabaret-style performances. Each evening it’s possible to enjoy two different shows, one by the singers and dancers of the Crystal Ensemble, who master rock classics in “Icons in Concert” and award-winning show tunes in “Crystal on Broadway,” and an excellent roster of guest performers offering homages to musical legends such as Frank Sinatra and Billy Joel. Love old-school comedians? One may just be onboard to crack you up. Plus, Pulse Nightclub opens at 11:00 p.m. for guests who have energy left to hit the dance floor. 

The Atmospheric Avenue Saloon: This guest favorite gathering spot is a nostalgic throwback featuring upholstered leather sofas, louvered wooden shutters, brass sconces, and live piano music nightly. Bartenders are skilled at creating an array of craft cocktails, many using gins and Irish whiskeys from the Quintessential Brands portfolio. Love a Manhattan or Negroni? There are separate menus for both, each offering more than a dozen variations: the Porto Negroni is smooth and rich while the Fig Manhattan incorporates fig-infused Jim Beam bourbon. 

Who It's Best For

Mature, Well-Traveled Couples: The Crystal formula has always appealed to well-traveled, affluent couples, generally Americans age 60 and older. Guests appreciate the gracious butler service (which includes making dining and spa reservations, stocking the in-suite bar with preferred beverages, and delivering afternoon canapés) and the quality of the onboard food, wine, and cocktail programs. 

During summer months and the winter holiday period, Crystal is popular with multi-generational families, which adds guests in their 40s as well as teens and children. On select sailings, these younger guests can join organized activities in the small Fantasia children’s playroom and Waves teen center. 

Crystal’s onboard dress code has been relaxed a bit, with Evening Resort (no ties required) the standard most nights. The brand’s clientele does enjoy dressing up, however, and the Crystal White party is an excuse for guests to break out their festive white attire.

Don't Say We Didn't Warn You

This is an Older Mid-Size Ship: While extensive refurbishments in 2018 and leading up to the 2023 relaunch mean Crystal Serenity’s public spaces and staterooms and suites look ultra-polished, this 20-year-old ship is, at 68,870 gross tons, not the equivalent of newer, larger vessels when it comes to ocean motion. Expect a gentle rocking sensation at times when cruising on open seas, which many passengers actually love. But packing preventative medication or wristbands is a good idea for those prone to seasickness.

There’s No Casino: The area that formerly housed the Crystal Casino has been converted into The Lounge, an airy space with comfy armchairs and a number of tables ideal for card games, meetings, and a range of onboard functions. There’s currently no bar and for the moment it’s a space whose use has yet to be fully defined.

Donna Heiderstadt
Deal Expert / Travel Blogger
Cruise Expert