10 Things to Love About Crystal Serenity

Crystal Serenity in the British Virgin Islands
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By Gerry Barker

Photos by Gerry Barker

In the history of cruising, few cruise lines have commanded guest loyalty like Crystal. It’s not uncommon to find guests who have cruised over 100 times, and some, 200 times (the record, by the way, is 403). There’s even the well-known story of “Mama Lee” who actually lived on Crystal Serenity for over a decade.

Crystal Serenity docked in Nassau

You can imagine what a shock it must have been when Crystal’s parent company, Gentling, declared bankruptcy in 2022, placing the future of its beloved fleet in limbo.

Enter A&K Travel Group — the parent company of Abercrombie & Kent — which acquired the Crystal brand and quickly set into motion a $150 million refurbishment for Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. And like the phoenix, both started sailing again in what has to be the comeback story of the year.

Still, the big question waiting to be answered was what would returning guests think about the “new and improved” Crystal? To find out, and see the changes for ourselves, we set sail on Serenity on a cruise from Miami to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

This was our second sailing on Serenity. In 2019, we were onboard for a 15-day, Caribbean holiday cruise, and had a chance to take a brief tour the “new” Serenity a month ago. We now had eight days to get reacquainted.

Here are 10 things that we loved our cruise on Crystal Serenity:

The Service

Forward on deck 11 is the captain’s stateroom, and the hallway leading to it is lined with hundreds of plaques, industry awards and accolades that Crystal has won over the years. That kind of recognition doesn’t come by accident, and nothing exemplifies this more than the line’s reputation for personal service. From the moment you step onboard until you disembark, from the managers to the cleaning crew, you’ll feel pampered and special.

On the new Crystal, every stateroom has a butler, at the ready to take care of your dry cleaning, deliver champagne, serve breakfast in your room or perform whatever task you might require. Every afternoon, our butler — Pavel — brought us a tray of canapes. With Serenity’s guest capacity reduced from 1,040 to 740, passengers get even more attention from the 500-plus crew.

One special perk for guests staying in the penthouse suites: When you disembark, Crystal will arrange for a private car that will take you to your hotel or airport. It’s also noteworthy that when it was announced Serenity would be back on the sea, over 80 percent of its former crew returned to service, no doubt welcomed by its returning guests who treat them like family.

Our Sapphire Veranda stateroom

The Staterooms

If you want to know where the new owners spent a lot of that $150 million refurbishment money, look no farther than the staterooms. Serenity offers a mix of accommodations, from solo rooms with a large picture window to the ultra luxurious penthouse suite. There are classic, some that updated in 2018 and others that were part of the 2023 upgrade. Our Sapphire Veranda Suite, located on deck 9, was in the latter category. At up to 430 square feet, it featured a bedroom, an adjoining living space, a walk-in closet, two flat-screen TVs, a large bathroom with two sinks and spa shower, plus a spacious, 102-square-foot balcony.

Stylishly decorated in contemporary colors, the queen-size bed, with its fluffy pillows and linen sheets, was really like sleeping on a cloud. We had two sets of robes, binoculars, a mini-fridge, an espresso machine and plenty of space to store our belongings. Pam loved the Ortigia toiletries. Another nice touch was the privacy curtain you could utilize between the rooms. And while there were a lot of outlets and connections for electronics, we did find it challenging to operate the myriad of wall switches that controlled the lighting.

Whether you go classic, that features a bathtub and bidet, a single guest room at a respectable 215 square feet, or opt for the 1,265-square-foot penthouse, get ready to be pampered.

The Aurora Spa

Wellness and well-being are front and center these days, and what better way to reward yourself than a spa treatment? The Aurora Spa on Crystal Serenity was also the beneficiary of the recent upgrade. Located on deck 13 and inspired by the “Goddess of Dawn,” it offers a wide array of treatments and therapies for both women and men.

My visit started in the waiting room, where you feel your shoulders relax just admiring the view afforded by the floor-to-ceiling windows. I got the coconut-infusion massage, which left me both totally relaxed and refreshed, with the added benefit of slight aroma of pina colada as well. The ship also boasts a complete fitness center as well as an outdoor court for paddle tennis and the sport that is currently all the rage — pickle ball.

Umi Uma by Nobu

Longtime Crystal guests probably wondered if Umi Uma — the only Nobu restaurant at sea from famed chef Nobu Matsuhisa — would return on the re-launched Serenity. The good news is yes, and it’s everything you loved about it. Still in its familiar location on deck 7, we had one complimentary seating during our cruise, and could book additional visits for a $50 per-person charge.

The menu features a full range of options — there’s a sushi bar as well — and I started my meal with the Vegetable Tempura appetizer, while Pam had the Lobster Tacos, followed by an elegant presentation of Miso soup. For the entrée, it was really no decision. We both had their signature dish — Nobu Style Black Cod, “marinated in saykio miso with baby peach and young ginger.” It was just as good as the last time, if not better.

Osteria D’Ovidio

This is Serenity’s Italian specialty restaurant, formerly known as Prego, now named for one of the ship’s new owners. While we heard some guests missed the Prego name, that had to be all they would miss. We had one of our most spectacular meals onboard here. While everything we ordered was amazing (don’t miss the Salt Baked Sea Bass), the service was impeccable (and not because we were at Table 1 — usually reserved for the captain). Our sommelier also paired the perfect wines with our meal. Like Uma Uni, guests have one complimentary meal here on their cruise. By the way, it’s a good idea to make specialty restaurant reservations either before your cruise or soon after you board.

University at Sea and Enrichment Programs

Another hallmark of a Crystal cruise is their onboard lectures and Vision Enrichment Programs. For days at sea, or anytime you want to learn from experts, these are a great option. On our cruise, topics ranged from “Pirates, Treasure Hunters and Spanish Gold” to “Laughing Your Way to a Happier and Healthier You.” Our cruise included University at Sea classes on how to take and edit photos with your smartphone. During the session of how to take photos at night, we learned how to use some of our iPhone 15 editing tools as well as where to go on the ship to get the darkest views of the sky. For you artists or aspiring artists, they also offer “Odyssey Art at Sea,” where you can create a watercolor and capture your favorite Caribbean memory in paint. Now that’s a souvenir you can’t buy at one of the port stops.

Afternoon Tea

If you want to get Pam’s attention, just mention there’s Afternoon Tea on the ship’s daily schedule. An Anglophile at heart, she relishes a chance to enjoy scones and Earl Grey, and on our cruise, it was a frequent occurrence. The setting was the Palm Court, the beautiful lounge area on deck 12 with panoramic ocean views. With music provided by Leandro on piano and talented violinist Nadia Matiunina, servers in white gloves and morning coats brought us our choice of tea, finger sandwiches and desserts. Of course, tradition demands scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Jolly well done, Crystal — the king would be proud.

Shore Excursions

While every cruise features shore excursions, where Crystal stands out is their attention to detail. From gathering at the appointed time, leaving the ship and returning, a Crystal rep is leading the way, making sure you get on the right bus and attending to any issues that might crop up. In the British Virgin Islands, we had a relaxing day on gorgeous White Bay Beach on the island of Jost Van Dyke, while in St. Kitts we took in amazing views of the surrounding islands from Brimstone Hill Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage site. And when the tour is over, a Crystal crew member is waiting for you with a cold towel. That’s what we call service.

Dining Options

While we talked about the specialty restaurants, there are plenty of other places to dine onboard, including the main dining room, Waterside. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner on sea days, and serving breakfast and dinner on port days, both the food and its presentation were first rate, as was the service. One of Pam’s favorite places when I was off doing my journalist thing was The Bistro, located on deck 6 above the ship’s atrium. It’s a homage to the Parisian café, offering light sandwiches and desserts as well as coffee and tea.

The Marketplace on deck 12 is a great choice for buffet breakfast or lunch, with a wonderful outdoor seating area to enjoy the ocean breeze. Also on deck 12 you’ll find the Trident Grill and Tastes Kitchen and Bar, with a setting that is both casual and elegant at the same time. Pam loved to chill in one of the swing chairs here with her headphones and music. In the evenings, Tastes becomes a reservation restaurant, and takes on a whole new vibe. One of my guilty pleasures is also here — Scoops Ice Cream, where I became a regular.

Even though it’s grouped with entertainment, The Stardust Night Club and Supper Club is not to be missed if available. It’s the whole package — dining, dancing and cabaret entertainment. It’s an option if you’re taking a longer cruise. Again, make those reservations as soon as you board.


When you book a cruise on Crystal, just about everything is included in your fare: Gratuities, Wi-fi, all beverages except premium wines and spirits, a butler, 24-hour room service and a self-serve laundry, as well as one complimentary meal at the specialty restaurants. Depending on your stateroom choice, you also have dry cleaning services. So enjoy that cocktail at the Avenue Saloon or Crystal Cove — it’s already paid for.

There’s a lot more to like about the new Crystal Serenity, but the bottom line is return guests will find what they most loved about the ship hasn’t changed, with the possible exception that the casino was taken out to accommodate a new lounge area on deck 6. But we hear rumors about potentially bringing that back as well.

And whether you are a return or new guest, when you step aboard, Raphael, the cruise director, and Hubert, the hotel manager, as well as the rest of the crew, is waiting to greet you with big smiles. And why not — Serenity is back at sea.

Caribbean sunset from our balcony


1 Comment

  1. The casino is part of my cruise entertainment. The lounge area in its place is unused and “nothing”.
    Why can’t I get the preview of enrichment speakers and other entertainment before I sail?

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