Last Updated on October 15, 2023
By John and Sandra Nowlan
In Quebec City, we had just boarded Crystal Serenity, one of two Crystal cruise ships that had endured bankruptcy and significant legal problems.
They were then bought at auction and put into the capable hands of the Abercrombie and Kent Group. A&K spent about $150 million earlier this year for a top-to-bottom refurbishment of Crystal Serenity and its older sister ship, Crystal Symphony.
An Impressive Suite Aboard the Crystal Serenity
Our room on Serenity was one of 116 Sapphire Veranda Suites on Decks 8 and 9. Each is now an impressive 537 square feet, including a double-wide balcony. Every room on those decks was stripped to bare steel, then replaced by fewer, larger, and more elegant suites. In fact, with the refit, passenger capacity dropped from 970 to 740. With a crew of 655, 80% of whom returned to the ship after layoffs, service levels were also remarkably good.
Our living room in the suite had a large sofa, a marble-top work desk, a table for meals and snacks, and four comfortable chairs. It also included a large walk-in closet, Nespresso coffee maker, and a fridge stocked with complimentary champagne, wine, and beer.
Every room on Crystal Serenity includes the services of a well-trained butler. They can also provide spirits (vodka, rum, gin, or whisky from the complimentary list) or non-alcoholic wine or beer.
The butler also brings hors d’oeuvres every afternoon and fresh fruit daily. He can look after all needs, including laundry and pressing or specialty dining reservations.
Instead of paper, every room has a tablet with daily programs, restaurant menus, and complete copies of daily newspapers worldwide. But if requested, a printed daily schedule is available.
Our Most Luxurious Experience at Sea
There’s a curtain between the living room and bedroom where guests enjoy a comfortable, king-size bed with high-end Italian sheets. It was the most luxurious experience we’ve ever experienced at sea.
There’s also a marble table, reading lights, USB ports, and electric plugs for North American and European devices are on each side of the bed. Both rooms include a 50-inch, high-res TV with a wide selection of movies and channels from the US and abroad. The entire ship, including each suite, is has complimentary Wi-Fi with a signal equal to the best at sea.
The bathroom in our suite included two well-spaced sinks along a marble counter. There were both liquid and bar soap, toiletries from upscale Ortigia Sicilia, and a huge shower. The latter had four separate nozzles and was big enough for three people.
One significant difference in the refurbished Crystal Serenity is the lack of a casino. “Crystal is not in the casino business as the previous owners were,” Hotel Director Scott Peterson told us. “But a casino is especially important in the Asian market, so we’re looking at the possibility of a smaller venue for gambling.”
Outstanding Cuisine. Aboard the “New” Crystal Serenity
Outstanding cuisine has always been a hallmark of the Crystal experience, and the new owners intend to build on and enhance that reputation.
Many restaurants, including the Marketplace Buffet, Trident Grill, and Tastes Kitchen, all on Deck 12, and the main Waterside restaurant on Deck 5, have also been refreshed and upgraded. The fresh squeezed orange juice and real maple syrup at breakfast was a treat. We asked a pastry chef about getting almond croissants, our favorite, a style not ordinarily available. Sure enough, they were there at breakfast the next day.
Significant dining changes are evident in the two specialty restaurants on Deck 7. Each guest is allowed one complimentary visit for each seven-day cruise. Umi Uma (Sea Horse), known as Silk Road prior to 2018, is Master Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s only restaurant at sea.
It was gutted and refurbished earlier this year and is now much brighter and more modern with changed color schemes, tables, and fixtures. The popular sushi bar remains, and guests can enjoy Nobu’s award-winning Japanese-Peruvian specialties like Lobster with Truffle Yuzu, Sashimi Salad, and Miso Glazed Black Cod.
A New Italian Restaurant
Prego, the Italian specialty restaurant on Deck 7, has been renamed and enhanced. It is now the Osteria d’Ovidio to honour Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, former owner of Silversea Cruises and now Executive Chairman of the Abercrombie & Kent Travel Group. His Italian influence on the menu shows. Our favorite dishes included Lobster in Aqua Sale, salt-baked sea Bass, Tortello Pasta with braised beef, and Risotto with Scampi.
With its wrap-around ocean views, the elegant Palm Court on Deck 12 has always been the relaxation and reception center on Crystal Serenity. It has stayed much the same, with daily trivia and formal afternoon tea as regular events. The popular Mozart Tea, presented once each cruise with waiters in late 18th-century attire, has been dropped by the new owners. In its place, a Chocolate Tea will be featured.
Quality Entertainment and a Large Library
Unlike many cruise lines, Crystal has not cut back on the quality of its entertainment or the number of performers hired. The seven-piece Galaxy Show Band, that moves about the ship, and the ten singers and dancers in the ensemble are deligfhtful.
Enrichment lectures with top international speakers plus golf, bridge, art, and Computer University at Sea instruction are available daily. Serenity has a large library, an extensive spa, and numerous bars with skillful mixologists.
Our eight-day cruise from Quebec City to New York made stops in Gaspé, Quebec, Sydney, Nova Scotia, and Halifax. They were all interesting, particularly “The Spirit of the Fiddle” excursion in Sydney. Cape Breton Island respects and honors its Celtic heritage. Fiddle music, often accompanied by piano and guitar, is integral to that culture.
The tours were fun, but, like us, the prime motivation for many guests was to see if this ultra-luxury, all-inclusive cruise ship was as good as it used to be.
Hotel Director Peterson, a 20-year Crystal veteran, was delighted that Abercrombie and Kent acquired the ship. “They had their eye on Serenity for many years,” he noted. ”Until the bankruptcy, Crystal was the number one cruise line in the world. Our goal is to return to that status and to be exceptional.”