Crystal Cruises’ Serenity

On a recent perfect, pre-sunset evening, Crystal Serenity pulled out of Venice at a leisurely pace, its passengers settled in on Deck 12 around the Seahorse Pool to sip complimentary Bellinis while soaking up the incomparable view. All was accompanied by the soft jazz of the Crystal Sextet. Could a vacation begin any sweeter?

And it just got more so. The voyage would lead them through waters that run deep with legend and romance–the Adriatic, the Dardanelles, the Bosporus Straits. Finally, the ship would reach the Black Sea and the culturally rich treasures of the Crimean Coast—a newsy event in 2010 when Crystal Cruises expanded its European offerings to include the Black Sea, an exotic counterpoint to the more familiar Mediterranean itineraries. Spotlighted in the Ukraine port calls was a maiden visit to compelling Sevastopol.

Want still more ammunition to spur clients to beat down your door? Try reminding them that Crystal routinely sails away with awards along the lines of “world’s best.” You may not even need to remind them. If they number among your most sophisticated, selective clients, odds are they’re already rock-solid fans. Staffers say that on any given cruise, a third to half of the guests have sailed with them before.

It’s the line’s famously winning formula of service, space, quality and choices that bring clients back, says Michael Siemens, who, along with his wife Rosemary, is a personal vacation planner with San Diego-based America’s Vacation Center. While both are cruise specialists, Michael has a particular focus on Crystal. “I was working in the travel industry when the company’s first ship, Crystal Harmony, launched in 1990, and I made my first Crystal FAM in 1991.” (Sister ship Crystal Symphony followed in 1995, Crystal Serenity in 2003. Crystal Harmony joined its parent company’s Japanese cruise division in 2005.)

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Notes Siemens, “Among the four or five luxury cruise lines, one of the things my clients like about Crystal is that the ships are relatively large. Sometimes on the smaller ships, there’s little going on at night. Also, there’s a noticeably good space ratio—you don’t see anyone standing in line or having to wait—as well as a variety of entertainment including Broadway-style productions and music in clubs and lounges. I’m impressed as well, with the quality and credentials of the lecturers in the enrichment program and the other learning opportunities. These are the kind of things that are the advantage of a larger ship in the luxury market.”

Siemens also points out that, “It’s the attention to details that counts. For instance, there’s a complimentary shuttle at hand if the ship is not docked within walking distance of the central area. My clients praise the quality of service and the friendliness of the staff wherever you go. They always greet you, even if they don’t know you.”

While giving high marks to the overall culinary picture and the two specialty restaurants in particular—“They do a stunning job with Prego and Silk Road”–Siemens found the room service menu lacking. “I was disappointed in the limited offerings,” he says, “which I didn’t find up to Crystal standards.” He notes, however, that ordering room service during dinner hours allows passengers to select straight from the Crystal Dining Room menu. If your clients opt for Penthouse accommodations (as the Siemens highly recommend), they will be pampered by their own butler, who will not only provide daily dining room menus but room service with tablecloth and full settings, served course by course.

Indeed, meal offerings are as diverse as they are delicious. Along with the elegantly styled Crystal Dining Room come a pair of specialty restaurants with celebrity chef signatures: Silk Road and The Sushi Bar (Nobu Matsuhisa), and Prego (Piero Selvaggio). Both are complimentary (a $7 gratuity is charged)—and do be sure to advise clients to make reservations early for these popular spots. For lighter fare, there’s the Lido Cafe, Tastes, the Trident Bar & Grill, and the Bistro. The sun-splashed Palm Court is a delightful place for tea and cocktails with its baby grand piano and classical string quartet.

The line is known for its classic, traditional style—with a modern sensibility—that features main and late seatings in the Crystal Dining Room with the same companions and wait staff. While this format will not change, a new option is in the wings. Starting in January 2011, cruisers can choose open dining by reservation (perhaps just for two, or with newfound friends) between 6:15 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. Clients might also wish to consider the Vintage Room experience with its focus on specially prepared food and wine pairings—six courses served over three hours ($210). All of which can be arranged in advance (along with spa appointments, shore excursions, and other activities) via the new online “Priority Check-in & Planning Center” that debuted in 2010.