The Serenity of Cruising


The portrait that adorns the Crystal Serenity’s sumptuous main hall is that of Julie Andrews looking regal. Her connection to the ship isn’t mere coincidence – she christened it on its maiden voyage in 2002 and has been regarded as the ship’s godmother ever since – but her stately gaze, looking approvingly over the sumptuous surroundings before her, seems all too appropriate a comparison. Although, dare one say it, it’s not Andrews in her current form that seems the spiritual forebear of the vessel, but her as Mary Poppins. A journey upon the Crystal Serenity offers rather more than a spoonful of sugar, and all the medicine that the delighted participants are going to receive is consequently rather wonderful.

Serenity Sorento

Setting sail with the Newly Affianced one, hereafter known as the NA, proved a novel experience. We were setting off on that time-honoured jaunt round the Mediterranean that only a cruise can provide in true splendour and comfort, and if the Serenity offers anything, it’s both of those things. Unlike the increasingly fraught horrors of air travel, where it seems as if an uneasy glance in the wrong direction will have you taken off for ‘enhanced interrogation’, embarking upon the Serenity is a painless, even pleasant procedure, with smiling hosts welcoming you on board the boat before you’re taken off to your stateroom. The ship provides rooms for around 1000 or so guests, which sounds a lot, but actually works out around half the capacity of many similar (and inferior) vessels. The effects of this are both obvious (no horrible queuing or endless waiting around for service) and less so.

Serenity Stateroom

The size, opulence and general comfort of the staterooms is something fairly remarkable. The NA, not a woman unused to luxury and comfort, expressed herself astounded with all the little details of our penthouse, from the sizeable verandah to the bottle of Billecart-Salmon nestling comfortably in an ice bucket on arrival. The bed was larger than our one at home, as was the bathroom. In fact, I’d be perfectly prepared to trade virtually every single domestic comfort for a lifetime berth on the Serenity. It’s that relaxing and enjoyable an experience.

This is in no small part to the butler system, where every inhabitant of a penthouse room or suite is provided with an immaculately clad Jeeves figure, for whom nothing is too much effort. Ours, a suave young man from Ibiza called Vicente, dealt with every request from the NA and I in a fashion that would have made his fictional forebear proud. From producing champagne and three-course room service dinners on demand to finding the precise sort of tonic and limes that we wanted with our evening Tanqueray, Vicente proved a warm, friendly and, thank God, never remotely stuffy host.

Serenity Dining Room

But then this was true of all the staff, whether it was the drily witty double-act of Arlena and Fabio at the various excellent dinners we had at the Crystal Dining Room, the ‘another glass of champagne’ greeting of Mariella in the Cove bar or merely the effervescent smiles and warmth of Benjamin, who made getting us yet another drink as we lounged around poolside seem like a positive pleasure rather than the chore than most people would appear to find it. Crystal’s staff recruitment and training process is legendary, industry-wide, and rumours circulate that it’s only slightly less rigorous than joining the SAS, or obtaining an internship at Conde Nast if one didn’t go to private school. Whatever the truth, it pays off beautifully. If the hallmark of good service is that it should, like a film score, be unobstrusive, then surely the hallmark of great service is to notice only the seamlessness with which it is offered.

Travelling on the Serenity for eight days offered a rich and varied assortment of pleasures, only some of which related to food and drink. There’s a decent range of stopovers, during which guests can either pay extra for private shore excursions that might include anything from a helicopter ride to a wine tasting, or take advantage of the complimentary shuttle bus into the nearest town. The destinations that we went to were a mixed bag – Sorrento was as charmless and tourist-ridden as ever, but Dubrovnik offered medieval charm and splendour in abundance and the restaurants and bars of Corfu were tempting enough to make both the NA and I plot a return to sample the unmissable pork souvlaki at the fantastic tavern we found there.

Crystal Serenity

Nonetheless, we were always pleased to head back on board to sample the continued delights there. There’s a good range of lectures and film screenings, which alas we couldn’t quite drag ourselves away from the pool to attend, and an equally fine array of evening entertainment shows, courtesy of the ship’s staff and cruise directors. Your appetite for these will depend on how much you enjoy Broadway-style music and pizzazz, but there’s no doubting the commitment and energy put into them by the casts, and they were lapped up by the audience.

As for the NA and I, we instead took more interest in the food and drink side of the ship in the evenings. There’s a dazzling range of restaurants to eat at, ranging from Michelin-star quality food at Silk Road, serving up Nobu-approved dishes (the black cod is every bit as good as in Mayfair, I’m pleased to report) to the main dining room, which manages a near-impossible task of producing top-notch American-French cuisine each night to what is undeniably a demanding audience. 8+r<There’s also Italian at Prego, casual dining and breakfasts at the Lido Café and burgers and pizza at the Trident Bar & Grill. Best of all, it’s run on an all-inclusive basis, meaning that there’s no extra charge for dining at the fancier venues, nor for the well-stocked list of house wines on board. (There’s some really upmarket stuff on a paid-for ‘Connoisseur’ list as well, for the truly deep-pocketed.) Drinking, meanwhile, is best done either in the stylish Avenue Saloon, which has the feel of a dark-panelled Manhattan speakeasy, or the top floor bar, which offers peerless views over the sea to go with your superbly mixed Bellini.

I could go on. The NA wouldn’t thank me for it, which is probably a good sign for our forthcoming nuptials. But I can honestly say that I’ve never had a more enjoyable, stress-free week and a bit in recent memory than my sojourn on the Serenity, and I can’t wait to take once more to the high seas in style, armed only with a glass of champagne, some scrumptious treat and the expectation of having the very best experience onboard. Dame Julie would be proud, I hope.

Crystal Cruises has a selection of Mediterranean cruises for 2014 with prices starting from just £2,260 per person from Rome to Istanbul departing 30th April. Price includes return scheduled flights, overseas transfers and seven nights in a deluxe stateroom with picture window with all meals and soft drinks, selected alcoholic beverages, port taxes and gratuities. Call Crystal Cruises on 020 7399 7601 or visit the website.


Leave A Reply