By Gerry Barker
Photos by Gerry Barker
MIAMI_ It was almost surreal, but docked at the Port of Miami’s Terminal E, there she was — Crystal Serenity.
The scene brought back a flood of memories. In 2019, Pam and I celebrated Christmas onboard Serenity cruising the Caribbean, and ushered in 2020 watching fireworks off the coast of Barbados (read about it here). A few months later, COVID arrived, and not long after, Crystal, one of the most respected and awarded luxury cruise brands, went out of business.
But thankfully, the story didn’t end there. Crystal was rescued by A&K Travel Group, who invested $150 million to renovate Serenity, and her sister ship, Symphony. The new and improved Serenity, which made her maiden voyage July 31 from Marseille, was on full display as Miami welcomed her back for the start of her winter season.
At a private event for media and invited guests, Serenity’s captain, Birger J. Vorland, was joined by Port of Miami officials and senior officers in the ship’s Palm Court, where we learned 80 percent of the line’s former personnel had rejoined the ships. That should come as great news for Crystal’s passengers, who maintained a fierce loyalty to the brand, largely because of staff’s top service marks.
While the new Serenity’s guest capacity has been downsized to 740, returning guests will find a lot of the “old” Serenity has been left intact, with most of renovations centered around the staterooms and spa. With that in mind, let’s take a quick tour:
Yes, the ship is just as beautiful as we remembered it — and more so. During our tour, there was a talented electric violinist performing for passengers just coming onboard.
On Deck 6, we were delighted to see one of our favorite haunts from our previous cruise, Avenue Saloon, is just as we remembered it. Don’t let “saloon” mislead you: It’s the most plush saloon you’ve ever seen, serving the best martinis, by the way, shaken or stirred. Just next door is the Connoisseurs Club, where cigar smokers will find their nirvana, and nearby is Pulse nightclub, featuring music and dancing.
Also on Deck 6 is the highly popular Stardust Club, where you can get an authentic New York nightclub experience that includes a floor show and a multi-course dinner. Tip if you go: Make reservations here as soon as you get onboard and plan to wear something glamorous.
We are happy to report Umi Uma — the only at-sea Nobu from legendary chef Nobuyuki (Nobu) Matsuhisa — is ready for your dining pleasure. It’s one of two specialty restaurants located on Deck 7. The other is Osteria d’ Ovidio (named for one of the company’s owners), which specializes in Italian cuisine.
You’ll find no shortage of dining options. The main restaurant is Waterside, where guests dine on white tablecloths while enjoying ocean views. For more casual dining, there’s the Marketplace on Deck 12, along with Scoops ice cream and gelato, and the Trident Grill poolside, among others.
Want to know where a lot of those millions were spent? Look no further than the staterooms, which have been totally reimagined. Across all categories they are now some of the roomiest at sea, not to mention some of the most lavish, with upscale touches everywhere you look. From solo travelers to families, there’s something for everyone on Serenity.
Along with the pool on Deck 12, there are plenty of ways to get your fitness and recreation groove on. Go up to Deck 14 and you’ll find the redesigned spa, Aurora — “inspired by the Goddess of Dawn.” It’s a collaboration between Crystal and Tillberg Design of Sweden, Also on this deck is a paddle tennis and pickleball court, fitness center and salon.
While we only had a few hours to explore, longtime and new guests will find this beloved ship more beautiful than ever. In less than a month, Pam and I will be sailing on Serenity on a seven-night cruise to Puerto Rico. Check back for a detailed account of life at sea on Crystal.