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AH . . . SWEET SURRENDER - ON BOARD CRYSTAL CRUISES’ SERENITY
 
(2010 - Winter Issue)

Writer: BY DANA AND TODD RAPHAEL



“Well la-di-da, you’re travelling to the Mediterranean on Crystal Cruises! Pack a lot of fancy dresses,” my friend Melanie teases.

My husband and I are eager to try Crystal Cruises. We expect a first-class experience but will it be “too stuffy”? Melanie is joking but it gets me wondering what the ship’s tone will be.

LUXURY AND GRACIOUS EASE

Now departing our water taxi in Venice to board Crystal’s Serenity, I’m ready to discover first-hand. Seamless, without any lineups, we simply step up to one of many check-in positions in the terminal and presto we are greeted by managerial staff and escorted to our suite. How civilized!

Upon entering our cabin, we appreciate the thoughtful touches; chocolates, a fresh fruit plate, champagne on ice and a vibrant flower in a bud vase. Sasa, our butler, ensures our comfort, and whisks away clothes to be pressed, soon returning with the first of our daily afternoon canapés. 

Ours is a lovely, spacious suite; the glass doors to the veranda take centre stage, while the gold, mauve and beige tones provide an elegant, soft backdrop. A large bed with luxurious linens and duvet beckons but the great walk-in closet and bathroom with two sinks, a separate shower and Jacuzzi inspire our jaw-dropping stares. Sinking down in the sofa of our cosy sitting area, we sigh contentedly.

As we begin to explore the ship, the Palm Court on the 12th floor attracts us with its grand, floor-to-ceiling windows and refined décor. In the centre of the ship we admire the lobby area’s soft blue-lit staircase, warm beige tones and soothing waterfall.

SUPERB SERVICE

Venturing into the large outdoor and indoor pool areas we meet two friendly attendants, Leibert and Ben. They (like all the staff) quickly learn and address us by our names. Not only do they take superb care of us, smiling, always placing a lounge chair for us but they soon even recognize and tell us where our friends are and vice versa. Though alcoholic drinks cost extra, the attendants don’t push those drinks but work tirelessly bringing water, soft drinks and cool, wet towels.

With one of the highest ratios of crew to guests, extraordinary attentive service seems to be second nature here. Within no time the crew knows us and our specific tastes. Ron the buffet’s omelette chef greets us, fully recalling our previous orders, while Ravi, our dining room waiter has all our special salads ready before we enter the dining room. He goes above and beyond, ensuring our friend has a specified cheese sandwich waiting at the lunch buffet, when he’s not even on duty.

WARM,EMBRACING TONE

We delight in the many generations of families vacationing together. The children bring an informal, youthful vibe that permeates.

Our ship has the capacity for 1,070 passengers, a size that fosters meeting and making new acquaintances. While it’s not so large that we never see the same people again, it is big enough to give us choices. We never feel crowded. There’s never a lineup at the buffets, or when we embark and disembark. With the many nooks and crannies, lovely lounges and decks, we easily find our own tranquil places in which to unwind.

The youthful mix, manageable numbers but most importantly the superb, attentive, genuinely caring staff create a warm and friendly atmosphere that envelops us all. The staff tends to remain with the company for years, recognizing the many repeat passengers who also recall them. And Crystal Cruises takes care of their workers; a party for the staff is planned one night with one of the ship’s bands providing entertainment. In fact, this ship really is more like a floating home with family, than a strange vessel. I certainly need not have worried about the tone; this is elegance and luxury suffused with caring and warmth.

What a well-designed ship! The Promenade Deck is a wide, wonderful area for walking or running that goes all around the ship, without any overhead obstructions. This is the first ship we’ve encountered that provides such an expansive, completely unimpeded view. We eagerly drink in the gorgeous shifting panoramas, breathe in the fresh sea breezes as we talk, walk and energize. We notice too that we don’t smell cooking aromas as we amble through the public areas inside or outside. Even details, like the subtle indirect lighting on our cabin’s floor at night, reflect the careful and thoughtful ship’s planning. The sheer spaciousness and number of lounges and decks allow us to find new gems in which to relax, up until the day we actually leave the ship.

BOUNTIFUL GOURMET DINING

And when we feel hungry the ship provides oodles of tantalizing options. We choose the Lido Café’s deck area for outstanding breakfast and lunch buffets, savouring the delicious food heightened by the ever-changing vistas. Dinners in the elegant, wood-panelled Crystal Dining Room consistently delight us with the excellence of food quality, presentation, variety of choices and gracious service. Tastes, a casual restaurant in the glass-enclosed indoor pool area, offers salads and light lunches and a set dinner menu that draws many families, as does the Trident Grill with its grilled hamburgers, wraps and snacks. All food is included in the price, but alcoholic beverages and wines are extra.

And, at three further specialty restaurants, a $7.00 per person gratuity charge is suggested and reservations are required for the first two: Prego, the Italian restaurant serves up scrumptious Italian fare in a classy atmosphere; Silk Road, with its soft subtle décor, delivers exquisite Asian food, beautifully served; and the Sushi Bar offers delectable sushi. One more possibility on certain nights is The Vintage Room, which offers a special menu and wine pairings at varying costs depending on the wines.

In the afternoons the tempting fresh fruit, gourmet cookies and featured ice creams at Scoop’s Ice Cream Bar are all we really want. But one time when we visit the Palm Court’s Afternoon Tea, we are astounded by an incredible Austrian feast of desserts, enhanced by the strains of Mozart’s music filling the room, skillfully played by the string quartet.

NEVER A DULL MOMENT

A glorious fitness centre, spa and shops add to the mix but what catches our attention is the amazing array of educational experiences available from learning languages to computer courses, golf, dance lessons, piano instruction, art and bridge classes and all kinds of fitness programs. Interspersed are sensational guest speakers, such as historian, Dr. Jay Wolff; intelligence historian, Nigel West; and former FBI agent and current crime analyst and author, Clint Van Zandt. The challenge is how to fit all this in.

The entertainment is fabulous and varied from full Broadway shows to individual singers, all kinds of bands, pianists, classical guitarists and string quartets. The Stardust Club rocks nightly; we dance, pulsing to the music of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s performed by the very talented and engaging Elite Showband.

While we could happily remain onboard, the ports are alluring. And for easy access the ship provides complimentary shuttle service into the towns.

IRRESISTIBLE PORTS

Our starting point, enchanting Venice, seems to float about its canals, highlighted by a magical skyline of domes and towers. Meandering about the alleys, each turn unveils another incredible sight, a sculpture and architectural detail on exquisite old buildings that take our breath away.

Our next stop, Ravenna, houses magnificent mosaics in the Basilica of San Vitale and Mausoleo di Galla Placidia, which truly defy description. Brilliant in colour, expression and intricate detail and design, it’s unfathomable how such art could have been so skillfully applied to ceilings and walls. 

The island of Corfu, our entry to Greece, has a Mediterranean-Italian feel, with its pastel-coloured buildings and shutters and its two imposing Venetian forts. Most of Corfu is lush and green with trees, gardens and splashes of bougainvillea. The lovely beaches and pretty harbour framed by towering, distant, blue-tinged mountains make us want to relax and linger. 

Rhodes is an intriguing walled city with different entry gates that remind us of Jerusalem’s walls. Inside, the medieval old town winds along cobblestone streets, bustling with people, shops and cafés. A drive away past mountainous, hilly and arid areas, we reach Lindos. Gorgeous rock formations of different hues of pinks, browns and black tower over a powdery beach where the warm waters lap; just beyond, the looming acropolis beckons.

Built on a peninsula, Bodrum is a picturesque resort town in Turkey. Its narrow streets flanked by dazzling white homes wind down to the sea and extensive beach areas.

Mykonos, Greece, is picture-perfect with its gleaming whitewashed homes, vivid blue skies and sandy beaches. The hilly town’s iconic white windmills stand in a row like sentries. Hugging the shore are very inviting restaurants; winding, narrow streets weave inward brimming with shops, especially the ubiquitous jewellery stores.

On board, we approach Istanbul marvelling as the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace appear on the shore also dotted with graceful minarets and mosques. 

Athens sadly brings our cruise to a close. Reluctantly we say our goodbyes holding fast to our indelible, glorious memories while already yearning to travel the waters once more on board the sparkling, sublime Crystal Cruises.

TRAVEL PLANNER

For more information on Crystal Cruises’ itineraries, visit crystalcruises.com.

To book your Crystal cruise, contact The Cruise Professionals at 1-800-265-3838 or 905-275-3030. The Cruise Professionals are celebrating their eighth consecutive year as Crystal Cruises’ No. 1 worldwide travel agency.

 
 
 
 
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