Crystal Cruises touts the tag line“the difference is crystal clear.” No need to wonder what all the fuss is about; this cruise line is luxury incarnate. And recently I gave myself permission to sample that luxury — at least once in my life — and to indulge myself to the fullest. As I boarded my ship of dreams, I murmured, “Ah, let the pampering begin.”

Plying the waters around the world, Crystal’s two ships — Serenity and Symphony — embody a true upscale cruise experience. Whether in my stateroom or while visiting a penthouse, I felt like a VIP; from embarkation to debarkation, and at every moment in between.

When I embarked on the Serenity in Venice (one of my favorite places), I did not see a line of antsy people. Rather, the check-in process was quick, easy, and seamless. (Or should I say serene and a symphony of integrated efficiency?) Once onboard, I soon noted and immediately appreciated the warm and friendly staff who actually remembered my name and my preferences. How wonderful that my waiter remembered that I like my steak medium-well, that my preferred apéritif is a Kalua on the rocks, and that I like a Perrier with a twist when I sit down to watch a show.

Whether you’re in a suite or penthouse, Crystal accommodations have all the makings of a floating Ritz. Here's a sampling of amenities that I found in my luxurious penthouse suite:

  • private verandah
  • Frette bathrobes
  • Aveda toiletries
  • a cushy soft duvet
  • 100 per cent Egyptian cotton linens and towels
  • complimentary bottled water and soft drinks
  • same-day laundry and dry cleaning
  • 24-hour complimentary in-stateroom dining
  • personal butler service
  • separate Jacuzzi tub
  • flat screen TV
  • complimentary wine and beer, plus choice of liquor
  • welcome champagne
  • complimentary pressing and shoe shine
  • “ordering in” from any of the specialty restaurants.

Shortly after I entered my stateroom, I heard a soft rap on the door. There was my butler decked out in tails and gloves. He introduced me to my suite and all its amenities. Then he gently reminded me that all I have to do is touch one button on the phone, and he's there, no matter what time of day or night. Even though he's at your beck and call, he remains unobtrusive. It's a lot of luxury, but someone has to do it.

Onboard the Serenity, it didn't take me long to exhale and just relax in the most complete sense. But this kind of “my world is my ship” R&R actually energized me and created a new appetite — for stimulating activity. In fact, there's so much to do on a Crystal cruise that I wondered where to start. My own recommendation is to just amble around the ship. Wise sailors always get their bearings first.

Elegant yet understated, the interior of the ship emphasizes warm woods and inviting neutral earth tones that are artfully juxtaposed with a deep, rich red that is a continuing theme throughout the ship. The understated, non-glitz atmosphere is in part what makes you feel right at home; you feel embraced by a genial and unpretentious ambiance — very “real folks”-friendly.

You won’t be confronted by a bright, overwhelming neon atrium. Instead, the Crystal Plaza holds sophisticated sculptures and paintings, marble floors and accents, and a small waterfall. Nearby, a pianist tickles the ivories with soft classical melodies. No overly dramatic

Those who sail on a luxury cruise expect pampering and a semblance of privacy. Rest assured; onboard Crystal, you can seek out your own quiet corner. Or, if you so choose, opt to become that social butterfly that you always wanted to be

Daily diversions seem endless. Take a brisk walk on the 360-degree teak promenade deck; and let the equally endless views reinvigorate your senses. There’s a large outdoor lap pool, plus a smaller pool under a retractable dome. Swimming on the ocean, not in the ocean has a certain world-within-a-world feel to it.

With a panoramic view before you, it's easy to work out in the state-of-the-art fitness center. If that's not burn enough for you, there's always aerobics, step and strength-training classes, and Pilates and yoga instruction.

For the sports-minded, take advantage of the golf driving range and putting green, featuring TaylorMade golf equipment. Also, there’s a full-size paddle tennis court.

If you hanker for something on the less strenuous side, play bridge with like minded passengers, or stretch out all on your lonesome with a good book or DVD from the very well-stocked library (with more than 3,000 book and DVD titles). Or just indulge in the many options available to you in the blissful Feng Shui-inspired spa and salon.

A Dream of a Crystal Cruise
by Kay Harwell Fernandez

“Like glimpses of forgotten dreams.” — Alfred Lord Tennyson

The cruise market provides more than an escape from reality. It delivers the proverbial dream come true, especially if you're fortunate enough to sail on an ultra-luxury cruise — even if it’s a once-in-a-lifetime cruise experience.

I lived that dream recently on an 11-day Mediterranean cruise.


But Crystal also emphasizes the body-mind connection. The cruise line thinks of everything by providing an unparalleled “finer things in life” enrichment program. The Creative Learning Institute offers keyboard lessons with Yamaha; language classes with Berlitz; Tai Chi introduction with the Tai Chi Cultural Center; Wellness at Sea lectures with The Cleveland Clinic; and wine tasting with the Society of Wine Educators. And the bridge lounge has a professional ACBL Bridge instructor on every sailing. The little gray cells will also not lack for stimulation. I chose a Yamaha keyboard class that met three times. I also decided on learning a bit more Italian since many of our ports of call were in Italy.

Also, experts in their field give lectures on everything from music to current events. Destination-specific lectures come from the cultural and educational arm of the Smithsonian Institute. And experts from Sotheby’s share their knowledge of the art and culture of ports on your itinerary. But if you want even more of a focus to your new life away from land, Crystal offers themed cruises such as the Film & Theater Festival cruise to the Wine & Food Festival cruise.

Wait, there’s more. The Computer University@Sea presents complimentary classes in 16 different learning specialties from digital photo finishing to website construction. My husband took five of these classes and came away with much enthusiasm and a wealth of information.

And because energy creates energy (one of the best parts of getting away from it all) when it's time to give your brain cells a rest, immerse yourself in a myriad of Crystal evening activities. Go in search of lady luck in the casino, dance to a disco beat, or pick up the mike to express yourself with a heart-felt Karaoke ballad. You know you have always wanted to do it, and that your among friends...

The Galaxy Lounge presents lavish, Broadway-style productions starring energetic and talented performers. In the large, Dolby-equipped Hollywood Theatre, you can see recently released films in super comfortable chairs. And in yet another example of why Crystal garners awards, waiters dole out bags of fresh popcorn for your movie-going pleasure.

Gastronomy and cruising go hand in hand onboard Crystal. Each meal is a performance; you’ll savor every morsel. World-renowned chefs contribute their creations to the menus. Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois on Main menu can be found aboard the Symphony, while Nobu Matsuhisa’s cuisine is at Silk Road and The Sushi Bar on the Serenity. Piero Selvaggio’s Italian specialties are in Prego on both ships.

In addition to the specialty restaurants, you can dine in the Crystal Dining Room, or opt for more casual fare at the poolside Trident Bar & Grill. Choosing from the extensive menu can be mind-boggling because everything sounds (and is) delectable. For an appetizer, try the pistachio-crusted goat cheese tower with sun-dried tomatoes and pesto vinaigrette, or an endive, pear and blue cheese salad with toasted pecans and pear dressing.

A chef’s suggestion for the main course could be grilled rosemary and garlic-marinated lamb chops, served on white bean mashed potatoes, topped with onion triangle, tomato and calamata olives, served with eggplant parmigiana and Barbaresco wine gravy. During a captain’s gala dinner, a personal recommendation is the filet of Black Angus beef poached in red wine with radicchio and pancetta. If you’re too full for a decadent dessert, you can always try a refreshing passion fruit champagne sherbet.

Cruising with Crystal is also all about the ports of call. In 2007, there are 63 voyages that take you to the familiar ports of the Caribbean and Mexican Riviera or to exotic places in Asia, Antarctica, Israel, Europe, and many others. Itineraries range from seven days to 109 days for the World Cruise.

Before you go ashore during one of the ports of call, check with the knowledgeable staff at the shore excursion desk. The cruise line organizes only the best of shore excursions. Because they have a reputation and high standards to uphold, they expect the same of their onshore partners. For example, Crystal Adventures takes you to the penguin colony in Punta Arenas, a walk on the ocean floor in Bora Bora, whale watching in the fjords of Greenland, or on a volcano hike in Santorini. Good business always succeeds when you respect the consumer. This is the Crystal ethos.

If you're wondering about the price tag for this dream, you might be surprised at how affordable this upscale cruise experience can be. With a medium-tier cruise market, for example, passengers are often nickeled and dimed to distraction. Savvy travelers have always known that quality is the fundamental “value-added” feature. In my experience, Crystal includes so much in its fare that it remains a good value. There are no surprises. Just a dream fulfilled.

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Photographs courtesy of Crystal Cruise Lines