Come with me on a journey into space. No, not an inter-planetary adventure on one of Richard Branson’s rockets. I’m talking about my cruise on Crystal Serenity.
For the most striking thing about this ship has been the amount of space available for its 1,070 passengers. In the cabins – in my case, a penthouse – in the restaurants and bars, on the open decks. Just everywhere.
Not once since we left Athens 10 days ago have I felt that I was hemmed in or crowded by my fellow passengers.
By way of comparison, P&O’s Oriana is almost identical in size but carries 1,870 passengers. Fred Olsen’s Balmoral, on which I will be travelling next week, carries 1,350 passengers in a smaller space – the ship is 45,500 GRT as opposed to Serenity’s 68,900.
The spaciousness was the very first thing that struck me as I stepped into the Deck 5 Crystal Plaza on embarkation. The lower level of a two-deck-high atrium, it houses a long, curving reception desk, the Crystal Cove bar with its transparent baby grand piano, and the desks of the Crystal Society hostess and the future cruise sales consultant.
There’s a gilded statue and a fountain at one end, a couple of sofas in the middle, and a sweeping staircase leading upwards. Further aft is the Crystal Dining Room, which serves breakfast and lunch most days, and dinner at two sittings, 6.00pm and 8.30pm.
Deck 6 contains most of Serenity’s public rooms; moving aft from the bow there’s the Galaxy Lounge theatre, the casino, four classy shops selling boutique clothing and expensive jewellery, and the popular Bistro where drinks and snacks are available throughout the day.
Then comes the Hollywood cinema, Connoisseur Club cigar room, Avenue Saloon bar, Stardust Club, and Pulse disco – the only room on the ship where the furniture looked a little dated.
The aft half of Deck 7 is also devoted to public spaces, starting with the Computer University @Sea, which combines internet facilities and learning centre with a substantial collection of big-screen Apples. Across the way is a well-equipped library, filled with books and DVDs in more languages than I could count. Both facilities are staffed for most of the day. There’s a learning studio, packed full with Yamaha keyboards.
Also on this level are the ship’s two speciality restaurants, Silk Road and its associated sushi bar, with a menu overseen by Michelin-starred Nobu (Blackened Cod) Matsuhisa, and the Italian-inspired Prego.
Up on Deck 12 is the Lido Cafe buffet restaurant and the Neptune pool, covered with a sliding glass roof and around which are the Trident grill and Tastes food servery, as well as Scoops ice-cream bar.
Further forward is the main Seahorse pool and lounging deck space – never overcrowded, even on sea days – and at the forward end the Palm Court and Sunset Bar, a comfortable observation lounge by day and the venue for ballroom dancing in the evening, with Crystal’s Ambassador Hosts on hand to partner the single ladies among the passenger list.
The uppermost deck contains more sunlounger space, the popular Wimbledon Court for paddle tennis, and further back, the Crystal Spa and fitness centre.
Passenger accommodation fills four-and-a-half decks, from the penthouse suites on 11, through three more decks with balconies, to the window cabins filling the forward half of Promenade Deck 7. There are no inside passenger cabins in the ship; for comparison once more, Oriana has 317 insides and Balmoral has 182.
Between the decks run three stairwells with a total of eight lifts (elevators for my American readers). There are golf nets, a putting green and table tennis on the open space aft on Deck 6, and a shuffleboard court above them on Deck 8.
And before I forget, let me mention another of the most appealing features of Serenity – that Promenade is a broad, sweeping, teak deck with nothing in the way of encumbrances around it. No lifeboats – they are carried inboard on Deck 6 – no sunloungers, no barbecues, nothing apart from a couple of park benches and a limited amount of safety equipment. It’s more than a third of a mile of peaceful haven. Sheer bliss.
It will be a wrench to leave this all behind tomorrow, when I have to fly home from Venice. More later on the destinations we have visited during the cruise, and I hope to have time to put together an album of pictures from around the ship.