Crystal Cruises relaunched this summer, bringing back the beloved Crystal Serenity. Here's what it's like on board.
Spending a week on Crystal Serenity feels like staying at a resort that families have been visiting for 20 years. On a July cruise in the Mediterranean Sea, most of the passengers I met had sailed on Serenity many times before. Veteran Crystal cruiser Keith Steiner regaled me with stories of the paddle tennis tournament he plays in every year, alongside the crew, on the line’s world cruises. Linda Blend, who has been on 130 Crystal cruises, promised to show me the beautiful ring her husband, Stanley, commissioned from the jeweler who supplies Serenity’s boutique. And the Blends' grandson, Tate, has been sailing on Crystal Serenity since he was two. He’s 19 now.
What’s strange about all this is I met these folks on Crystal Serenity’s inaugural journey.
Crystal Cruises has the only Nobu restaurants at sea. On Serenity, Umi Uma, a Japanese-Peruvian spot by chef Nobu Matsuhisa is one of the best restaurants on board.
The 740-passenger ship has all ocean-view rooms — and most have balconies — plus 24/7 butler service.
Crystal Cruises is known for its exceptional world cruises, and Serenity embarks on its first around-the-world tour in 2024.
Here’s what happened: Crystal Serenity first launched in 2003. To put a time stamp on that, Julie Andrews was named the godmother of Serenity, and “The Princess Diaries” had come out two years before. Fast forward 19 years and Crystal went bankrupt in fairly spectacular fashion in early 2022. Seventeen months later, the line has returned under luxury tour operator A&K Travel Group. The 740-passenger Crystal Serenity got a hefty refurbishment and relaunched in July 2023, and its sibling ship, Crystal Symphony, followed suit in August.
“It’s Crystal enhanced,” Steiner told me, as we sailed from Corsica to Barcelona on a particularly rocky day on the Mediterranean. He’s been on 118 Crystal cruises with his wife, Anne Marie. “Every person we've spoken to would say, from the moment they came on, it feels, it looks, it smells like Crystal. It is Crystal.”
That’s largely because 80 percent of the Crystal Serenity’s crew is back on board. My butler, Jijo, who had been with Crystal for 17 years before the bankruptcy, knew every one of his guests on that first sailing — I was his only newcomer. Jijo unpacked my suitcase, handled my laundry and my airport transfer, routinely surprised me with an afternoon iced tea, and accompanied me to the IT office when my Wi-Fi went out. When I wasn’t feeling well, he brought me several rounds of chicken consumé, toast, and mint tea as I watched “Top Gun: Maverick” under the covers. It was, due respect to my husband, even better care than I would’ve gotten back home.
Here, everything you need to know about the new and improved Crystal Serenity — and what it was like to be one of the first on board.
My 430-square-foot Sapphire Veranda Suite — where I enjoyed my daily iced teas on the balcony, slept phenomenally well on the custom Jesurum 1870 bedding, and reveled in the spaciousness of the shower — was gutted in 2023 and completely redone by cruise ship designer GEM. But A&K, committed to keeping the returning guests happy, left some Sapphire Veranda Suites as they were — including the room Linda Blend has booked since 2009.
There are no inside accommodations on the 545-room Crystal Serenity — even the entry-level offering has an ocean view. The smallest rooms, at 215 square feet, are the doubles with an ocean view, singles with an ocean view, and doubles with a veranda. Every accommodation comes with 24/7 butler service.
The most luxurious suite on Serenity is the 1,275-square-foot Crystal Penthouse. The bathroom — with a full peachflower marble tub — is exquisite, as is the plentiful balcony space. And while most guests get only one reservation at each of the specialty restaurants, Umi Uma and Osteria d’Ovidio, reservations for the penthouse guests are unlimited, and they can order from both directly to their room.
Bars and Restaurants
Linda, like most Crystal die-hards, still accidentally calls the Italian restaurant, Osteria D’Ovidio, by its old name, but says the space, overhauled by Tillberg of Sweden, feels completely different. "I think the food's even better," Stanley adds. Umi Uma — one of two Nobus at sea, the other on Crystal Symphony — has brand-new interiors, too. The Umi Uma menu hasn’t changed, which is a relief, because it turns out nothing bonds two people on a ship quite like a shared affinity for Nobu’s black-miso cod and decadent sashimi.
With one coveted culinary name already, Cristina Levis, A&K and Crystal Cruises CEO, told me she’s working to “bring home another celebrity chef” for Osteria. (Though, even without a Michelin-touted chef at the helm of Osteria, I loved the lobster acquasale and gnocchi blanketed in porcini mushroom ragout.) The best Italian export on board, however, is served six decks above Osteria at the gelato bar, Scoops. Levis is from a family of gelato makers, and it shows; the stracciatella and coffee gelato I savored on a poolside couch as we sailed from Portofino, Italy, was better than the cone I had in port.
I also grew very attached to the buffet at Marketplace — it is truly next-level, with a carving station, a great salad bar, some excellent Indian food (who knew you could find phenomenal butter chicken on an Italian-owned ship?), and fresh seafood. I had terrific moules-frites one afternoon, with Rotterdam-sourced mussels in a delicate, garlicky cream sauce, seated outside in the sun, with a beautiful view of Cannes. This is not your average buffet. There’s also the main dining room, Waterside, open for three meals a day; Tastes Kitchen & Bar, with a lovely indoor-outdoor terrace that makes you feel like you’re on the corner of a charming European street; and a grill that does burgers and sandwiches for lunch — and excellent pancakes in the morning.
As for bars, I was partial to the Avenue Saloon — where Joel Spire plays piano every night and there’s a great Manhattan menu. Worth noting, there’s also an extensive non-alcoholic and low-ABV cocktail menu at Avenue Saloon, for those looking for booze-free nightlife.
Where Serenity Sails
In 2023, Serenity will sail in North America, along the New England coast in the fall and into Canada, exploring Quebec’s Saint Lawrence River. In the winter, the ship will cruise the Caribbean, stopping in ports like St. Thomas, Grand Cayman, and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Looking ahead to 2024, the ship will begin a five-continent world cruise — the first since A&K bought Crystal — cruising French Polynesia, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Africa, South America, and in Europe, winding up in the Mediterranean Sea again next summer. The 2025 lineup was just announced, too; learn more about the sailings here.
As Crystal becomes more ingrained in the A&K family, “we will bring to Crystal what A&K does best, which is the excursions,” Levis said. Starting in 2025, the cruise line intends to roll out packages that let travelers leave the ship for a few days, knock out a once-in-a-lifetime tour, and then hop back on board.
While I had slight FOMO just hearing about travelers slipping off to Machu Picchu for an A&K adventure before rejoining the cruise in Lima, my travel envy dissipated as soon as I went on my first excursion. When we docked in Livorno, Italy, I joined a small group on a truffle-hunting excursion, following a sweet pup, Bianca, through a cluster of oak trees at Vialto Farms, a 1,000-year-old farmhouse in Tuscany. After glasses of cold vermentino, we dug into pasta in a light cream sauce topped with freshly grated truffles, followed by a truffle-covered fried egg. A few days later, on Corsica, a bus whisked a group of us to Domaine Orsini, for a wine tasting and a relaxing stint on the covered patio overlooking the island. And before I disembarked the ship in Barcelona, I spontaneously crashed an evening excursion to the trendy El Born neighborhood, where our 10-person group shared a barrage of Spanish tortilla, patatas bravas, and croquetas at Tapeo.
Amenities and Entertainment
The pool deck — in close proximity to the gelato bar – on deck 12 feels like a relaxed, exclusive Mediterranean beach club. One deck up, there’s a fitness center with Technogym equipment and workout classes, plus pickle ball and paddle tennis courts close by. The spa has a gorgeous, light-wood sauna with a picture window — perhaps my favorite place to watch the world go by — and an extensive treatment menu. I was extremely impressed with my dynamic biotech resurfacing facial and noticed the effects of the healing LED blue-light mask, which dissolves dead skin, for a full week after the treatment.
As for the entertainment, while I didn’t stray much from Pete’s piano in the Avenue Saloon, there are standup comedy and musical theater shows at the Stardust Club, Galaxy Lounge, and the Hollywood Theater. Crystal Cove bar is a great spot to catch live music (classical, jazz, piano, and even the occasional rock moment).
Also of note are the educational seminars, held daily, with guest speakers who lecture on upcoming destinations and give in-depth talks into their industries — whether that’s sports, media, or “even the occasional astronaut,” per Crystal’s website.
There is certainly a kids’ club on Serenity and children are welcome. In fact, children grow up on this ship, coming on the holiday cruise every year, and making lifelong friends — as I learned from my friend Tate. Waves and Fantasia are the kids’- and teens’-only spaces on board. Personally, though, I would come on Crystal with a spouse, longterm travel partner, grown-up family members, close friends, or even solo.
There are eight ADA rooms on Crystal Serenity — some aquamarine veranda suites and some aquamarine ocean-view suites. According to a Crystal spokesperson, the ADA suites "are designed to accommodate guests with additional needs or who are wheelchair bound. The furniture can accommodate a wheelchair or scooter, there is extra space between beds, more room in the living area for easy movement, and the bathroom is larger with a roll-in shower, fold-down shower bench, and easy-to-reach shower head and sink faucet. Additional equipment is available upon request, such as rubber shower mats, shower stools, and a shower bench."
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