Norwegians say that any milestone in life divisible by five or 10 is worthy of a special celebration. This year being one of those steps in our lives we opted, for the first time, to take a cruise with Crystal, on the Serenity. The timing and the amazing itinerary it covered was a perfect fit and aptly called Black Sea Brilliance.
So what makes Crystal so special we asked compared with other upscale cruise products out there? We were ready and eager to find out. Why have the readers of Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure consistently voted Crystal as the World’s Best Large-Ship Cruise Line for 16 and 15 consecutive years, respectively? Such a distinction year after year is no easy task to achieve let alone maintain.
We’ve all heard it time and time again that is all about service, details and a happy crew. This is easier said than done and so often repeated that it becomes all too ho-hum. Crystal sums up its approach in a Six-Star Crystal Basics: Attitude, Communications, Competence, Style, Safety/Environment and Execution.
Perhaps all cruise lines strive to perfect these areas of service. Crystal’s secret lies in the intangible, but very apparent warmth of its staff. Technical expertise can be learned by most, but execution with graciousness and sincerity, which we found prevalent on this cruise, is a real feat on Crystal’s part. Sure, there are always slip-ups, bad days for some crew members, but there is a genuine family feeling – without too much familiarity – with Crystal – no stiff, robotic servants, but human beings doing a darn good job.
Ports of Call
Who can deny that the Black Sea ports of call evoke mystery, excitement and adventure in and of themselves? Starting out from Venice (overnight), the journey took us to Katakolon, Navplion, cruising the Bosporus, Nesebur, Yalta, Sevastopol, Odessa, and finally Istanbul (overnight there as well).
Tours, too numerous to list here, gave wide choices to guests given the history of the region. With more than 1,100 guests aboard on this particular cruise, providing upscale service and attention certainly has its challenges when organizing tours that were expedient and comfortable in the summer heat. There were few complaints, and options for individual tours were available.
Food & Beverage
Crystal cuisine did not disappoint either in the dining room or the alternative restaurants: Prego and Silk Road. The Bistro was a charming alternative for a light lunch or snack. The Trident Bar & Grill, Lido Café and Tastes were available for more casual settings. Room service in our spacious and beautiful cabin was always available 24-hours a day.
What stood out and impressed us was the breakfast dining room experience. This is one area that often falls short in other cruises. Tired staff, lack-luster service or perhaps an overwhelmed galley is often apparent. Not so on the Serenity. It was flawless delivery and we ate there almost every day. The best blueberry pancakes in the world we have to say!
Also notable: we were always offered a table for two upon entry - into the dining room. On many other ships staff is all too eager to have you join a larger group – as for us breakfast conversation is tough! We appreciated having our privacy respected with no guilt attached.
Bar service stood out as well, as bartenders were not only well trained in the techniques of mixing any drink and serving it properly, but they all had astounding knowledge of the background and history of liquors, beers and wines. This we learned was part of the Crystal training experience.
No expense has been spared on providing top quality entertainment on this ship. Standing out and worthy of mention from the array of shows were the Odessa Music School Chamber Orchestra accompanied by a soloist from its National Opera Theatre; a dance couple with a unique and comic routine; the cruise director’s ventriloquist act, and Turkish concert pianist Naki Ataman who also served as a lecturer as we passed through the Bosporus. The talent exhibited at the Broadway reviews was top-notch.
Crystal provided a cruise with a perfect balance of activity and easy days at sea. On all counts as a luxury product Crystal delivered!