What you can expect from the new-look Crystal Serenity

Crystal Serenity
Crystal Serenity. Photo by Tom Griffiths.

Fresh from an extensive refit, ocean cruise liner Crystal Serenity promises to be Exceptional at Sea under the new ownership of the A&K Travel Group

Standing in the Gesù Nuovo piazza in Naples (Napoli), I am curiously observing the Church of Gesù Nuovo and its façade, comprised of geometric triangular bricks made from lava rock. Originally constructed as a palace in 1470, the Renaissance building was later sold to Jesuit priests who began constructing a church on the site in 1584.

The building’s exteriors don’t provide any hint of the grand interiors we find as we venture quietly inside this church here in Napoli, the third largest city in Italy, founded as Neápolis in the sixth century BC and of significance in the merging of Greek culture into Roman society.

Within the Church of Gesù are baroque masterpiece frescoes and statues, a stunning dome, bronze bas-reliefs, Carrara marble, and an intricate alter inlaid with semi-precious stones including agate, amethysts and lapis lazuli.

Proud Neapolitan woman, Rosanna, is our local guide from luxury tour group operator, Abercrombie & Kent, and as we wander down every laneway she invites us to stop and gaze at apartment blocks and other buildings that date back centuries. “Ragazzi, look on the right-hand side? Isn’t it beautiful, ?,” she says excitedly in her deep and textured Italian accent that I cannot help but get swept up in the history, romance and fervour of Naples.

Rosanna naturally knows all the best spots, taking us past San Carlo Theatre, the world’s oldest working opera house; and to Gambrinius Napoli coffee house where, amid a grand piano and beneath Murano glass chandeliers, we sample Neapolitan coffee and classic local pastries, including the buttery sfogliatella: a thinly layered and shell-shaped delicacy.

A new era

I’m in Naples during a port stop, cruising on a preview sailing with luxury cruise line, Crystal Cruises, on board the newly refurbished Crystal Serenity. The luxury cruise brand, in operation for more than three decades, was acquired in 2022 by the A&K Travel Group, securing its two most prized vessels: Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony.

Earlier that day, I had stood on the upper decks of the 740-guest Crystal Serenity as Captain Birger J. Vorland and crew had ushered her safely into port under the stream of a water salute by local tug boats, with the medieval Castel Nuovo just ahead of us in the distance. Come nightfall, our entire group ascends a red carpeted entrance to the castle, built in 1279, to attend an elegant evening of classical musical and canapes, under the glow of a full moon that illuminates the castle turrets and its courtyard.

Life on board

The renovations and refit of Crystal Serenity have seen the evolution of some much-loved dining venues. There are now 11 on board dining experiences and, during my six-day voyage, firm favourites begin to emerge.

Firstly, there’s Waterside Restaurant. I head here when in the mood for a leisurely breakfast with all the trimmings, sitting by a window to take in the sun shimmering on the sea as the ship glides through its waters. While there is a ‘guests-on-the-go’ breakfast option, when time allows I prefer to choose from the a la carte menu, with such offerings as Swiss bircher granola, buttermilk or buckwheat pancakes and a crab omelette. With my fellow travel companions, I also dine here for dinner. Some nights it’s just a table for two, and on others, it’s a group of six or eight seated at white table-clothed circular tables as we choose from the menu of Crystal Classics or Contemporary Cuisine, and sip on all-inclusive wines poured by sommeliers.

At the sleek Osteria d’Ovidio Italian restaurant, named in honour of Co-Chairman of A&K Travel Group, Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, I am positioned in an intimate dining setting on a curved, rust-hued velvet banquette, sipping on a Bellini and dining on fine Italian cuisine such as tortellini di stracotto di manzo.

Another must-try restaurant on board is Umi Uma by Nobu Matsuhisa Restaurant and Sushi Bar, the only restaurant at sea by the esteemed Japanese chef. In a newly refurbished space, the Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant offers a selection of Nobu’s signature dishes including Nobu-Style Black Cod, Grilled Chilean Sea Bass, Wagyu Beef Filet Steak, and some of the freshest sushi available at sea.

For more casual dining, I head to the tapas-style Tastes Kitchen & Bar on Deck 12, serving a range of noodles, salads, char siu bao, pizza, quesadilla and seafood. Nearby is also the buffet style Marketplace Restaurant, open for lunch and dinner. Out by the Seahorse Pool deck, I order a classic cocktail while reclining on a cabana and listening to live music. In the afternoons, I sometimes stop by Deck 12 for premium gelato at Scoops Ice Cream Bar, taking gelato back to my suite one afternoon and finishing it in the sunshine and privacy of my extensive veranda as our ship pulls into the coves of Dubrovnik. For an elegant afternoon on sea day sailings, I head to Palm Court for a tiered platter of sweet morsels served with Julius Meini Teas.

I find time to rest and rejuvenate at the newly conceptualised spa Aurōra, named after the Goddess of Dawn. Designed by leading design company, Tillberg Design of Sweden, the 12-room space invites the sunshine and sea views indoors, showcasing a harmonious palette of light, neutral colours and an illuminated fibre optic starlight ceiling.

Alongside the spa on level 13 is an impressive fitness centre where I spend some mornings using the Technogym machines. There’s an extensive range of free weights, and guests can join in the morning meditation, breathing and yoga classes hosted here. Other mornings, I walk around the full, 0.48km perimeter of the ship on the teak outdoor promenade on deck seven, passing other guests also savouring the sunshine and fresh sea breezes.

In the suite

I’m staying in one of the new-look Sapphire Veranda Suites (39m2) on deck nine. There’s a clever flow to the room that creates a sense of light and space, and it features a separate wardrobe, living room, dual-entry bathroom, bedroom and a generous 9m2 teak balcony.

As I arrive at my suite, I am greeted by my butler Jean from Brazil. He has returned to Crystal, having previously worked for the company for 13 years – and this is not unusual. He is among the 80 per cent of returning hotel operations crew, providing a continuity of service for those familiar with the Crystal standards.

Before even leaving my home, I had logged certain cruise and room options, including nominating my dining, spa, guest information and preferences from an extensive pillow menu, via Crystal’s online My Account dashboard. Now in my suite, Jean asks for my water, wine and tea preferences. Each day, he faithfully delivers my afternoon canapés, a little treat I come to relish as I relax on an outdoor chair on my veranda, or put my feet up on my velvet sofa, a glass of champagne in hand. A keen observer, Jean doesn’t miss the fact that while I’m travelling alone, I clearly have a sweet tooth – and subtly replenishes a box of hand-made chocolates during the voyage.

The spacious bathroom – with its stylish marble finishes and double vanity – is a favourite feature, as well as the stylishly packaged Italian amenities by Ortiga. The enormous shower (complete with marble seat) has sensible, one-touch buttons with clear icon graphics to operate the multiple water and jet options. Throughout the suite, there are several USB and USC charging outlets, and lighting is centralised through one-touch room controls. All suites come with an interactive tablet where you can check news and updates, or make reservations.

Several of the Sapphire Veranda Suites (including the one I’m staying in) are all new to Crystal Serenity as part of its 2023 refurbishment, now offering 151 Sapphire suites in total. There are also now six 59m2 Crystal Junior Penthouse suites – all newly designed in 2023 and featuring separate dining and living areas plus a private 14m2 veranda. The largest accommodations on the ship are the four Penthouse Suites (117 m2) located on deck 11, which each include a separate butler’s kitchen.

When it first launched, Crystal Serenity had a 1080-guest capacity. Under its new ownership and following the renovations and refit, the capacity has been reduced to 740 guests as a result of an expansion of the larger suites and several public spaces. This all means that when on board, there’s a smaller ship feeling and a marked sense of spaciousness throughout.

Future cruising

What promises to set the new-look Crystal apart from other cruise lines is the partnership with tour company, Abercrombie & Kent – leaders of luxury land tours for more than 60 years. The integration of Crystal’s sea operations with A&K’s land touring programs will continue to develop in the next couple of years, as Cristina Levis, A&K Group CEO, shared with us during this voyage.

“You will see the full potential of the partnership between A&K and Crystal as of 2025. Already in 2023 and in 2024, you will start seeing the level of details and the curation of these experiences, but… the full potential will be in 2025 with the world cruise.”

Looking to the future, Cristina Levis also announced during our voyage that Crystal is in negotiations to have four new ships built by the end of 2029 — two expedition ships and two classic ships.

“We aim to start construction of one expedition ship and one classic ship by Q2 of 2024. In terms of size, the expedition ships will have approximately 220 passengers while the classic ships will have approximately 650 passengers, so we are keeping it small,” she said.

Journey Notes

Crystal Serenity currently offers 111 voyages that cover the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Iceland, the Eastern seaboard, Canada, Baja California, South America and the Panama Canal. The World Cruise 2024 will last 125 nights and take in 61 destinations in 28 countries; while the 2025 World Cruise will sail between January and May 2025 for 123-nights and through 31 countries. Rates on Crystal Serenity will vary, according to the voyage and cabin selection. As a guide, rates for a Sapphire Veranda Suite on the 10-night Venice to Athens voyage, departing 14 November, 2024 will start from AUD$14,700 per guest (based on double occupancy).

The 606-guest Crystal Symphony was relaunched in September 2023, also after an extensive refit and will be sailing locally in Asia, Australia and New Zealand from November 2023.

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