Crystal Is Back! A Look at Crystal Serenity's Suites and More

Crystal is back on the high seas once again! Last Friday, Luxury Travel Advisor boarded the ultra-luxury, 740-passenger Crystal Serenity in Naples, Italy, for a three-night preview cruise to Marseille, France. After a $150 million revitalization project for this ship and the 606-passenger Crystal Symphony, relaunching September 1, 2023, guests will board fully refreshed ships with new interiors by Tillberg Design, updates to certain public spaces, new stateroom/suite design by GEM with new decor, furniture and soft goods, and several new accommodations options.  

Updates vary ship to ship. As for Crystal Serenity, while the ship has a clean, fresh, contemporary feel, loyal Crystal guests will also love discovering some familiar touches, too—among them the iconic, colorful atrium ceiling. As Crystal Serenity sets sail Monday for its inaugural revenue cruise from Marseilles, what else is good to know? Here are some highlights gleaned from our brief time aboard.

Atrium of Crystal Serenity
Crystal Serenity has newly refreshed interiors, but retains such familiar touches as the atrium's colorful ceiling. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Fewer Guests, Better Crew-to-Guest Ratio

New owner A&K Travel Group, headed by Manfredi Lefebvre d'Ovidio, the former chairman and owner of Silversea Cruises, and Geoffrey Kent, co-chairman and founder of Abercrombie & Kent, both clearly bring travel industry “know-how” to Crystal's rebirth. Of course, Lefebvre has the significant ultra-luxury cruise leadership experience, but Crystal also is now tapping into A&K's land expertise to create new shore-side options—everything from shore excursions to pre- and post-cruise tours, overland options and so on. That's under way now and will continue into 2025.

Evident immediately upon boarding, we noticed a hefty dose of pampering aboard. That's because Crystal Serenity's guest capacity was reduced to 740 guests, down from 980 guests when the ship was in service for previous owner, Genting Hong Kong. That's also down from 1,080 guests at the time of the ship's original launch. Crystal Symphony also has more limited capacity at just 606 guests. Reduced capacity has created a crew-to-guest ratio of nearly one-to-one for both vessels. 

In addition, the vast majority of crew members hired for the two ships are former Crystal crew members. That's a plus that's appreciated by Crystal's loyal past guests who have come to know specific crew members from past voyages. During our short cruise, we watched as many crew members also joyfully recognized and greeted guests whom they've met in the past.

“The staff have returned at 83 percent and are servicing their guests loyally,” says Tom Baker, president and partner, CruiseCenter, a Signature Travel Network agency in Houston, TX, who also sailed on Crystal Serenity this past week. "My butler Engin from Turkey had 27 years with Crystal prior, and—as so many other team members have said—is so happy that A&K and Manfredi have brought the brand back," he says. Baker was also impressed with the onboard “attitude,” culinary quality and the ship's refreshed look.  

Luxury Travel Advisor similarly liked those facets of the relaunched Crystal product. For instance, we particularly noted the spaciousness and feel of the new Aurora Spa and its Technogym fitness center. Having had a wonderful pedicure at the spa, we can also attest to the high quality of the spa services. OneSpaWorld has returned as the spa's operator, and the level of spa staffing seemed good at the time of our visit.  

Specialty restaurants including the Umi Uma by Nobu Matsuhisa Restaurant and Sushi Bar have been redesigned. The former Prego restaurant is now Osteria d’Ovidio, a tribute to Manfredi Lefebvre’s Italian heritage. Check out the spacing between that restaurant's tables (see photo below); guests can comfortably dine without feeling too close to other tables, and that also helps keep noise levels down so guests can enjoy comfortable conversation.

Crystal Serenity's redesigned specialty restaurant is now called Osteria D'Ovidio; it was formerly Prego in this space.
One of Crystal Serenity's specialty dining venues, the new Osteria d'Ovidio, serves fine Italian cuisine. It's located within a redesigned space formerly occupied by Prego. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Crystal Serenity's Accommodations

During our short time this past weekend on Crystal Serenity, one goal was to check out the revitalized accommodations. As for the ship's top digs, those are Crystal Penthouse Suites. Previously, Crystal Serenity had two of those luxurious, 1,265-square-foot suites, but now the ship has four of those (Nos. 11023, 11025, 11026 and 11028), each with a private veranda of up to 107 square feet.

Most notable, though, from the perspective of many of the travel advisors we met aboard, is the new  "Junior Crystal Penthouse Suite" category. During a one-on-one interview with Brandon Townsley, Crystal’s vice president of sales and trade partnerships, we learned more about these. They've been created by combining space from three smaller accommodations. He describes the new suites as akin to a spacious mini-apartment with up to 645 square feet of space; the balcony size is 161 square feet. (Tip: Check out our slide show atop this story for a few photos of these new accommodations, located on Decks 8 and 9.)

Another new category is the 215-square-foot “Single Guest Room with Ocean View” stateroom. Crystal has added 14 of those and the line says they're already highly popular.  Often they're being reserved by loyal past guests who are mature ladies traveling solo. Coincidentally, we learned in our briefing session over the weekend that the line's gentleman hosts, who will dance with guests needing a partner on the dance floor, are back, too.

Different Configurations of Sapphire Veranda Suites

Entering the door to a new Sapphire Veranda Suite, guests will arrive in a small foyer, which opens to a dining area and desk/entertainment area. That continues into the living area with a blue couch.
Opening the door to No. 8073, which is a new configuration of the popular Sapphire Veranda Suite, guests will discover the dining area on one side, the desk/entertainment bar area on the other and the living room just beyond. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Another big change on Crystal Serenity for accommodations is that the ship now offers either a classic configuration or a new layout for the popular "Sapphire Veranda Suites." Townsley explains that the classic configuration of those suites have the same design as in the past, so no walls were moved, but they've been refreshed, as have all accommodations aboard—meaning a new interior design by GEM, including all-new carpeting, wall coverings, Italian marble in bathrooms, soft goods and furniture.

In addition, Townsley says the ship's new Sapphire Veranda Suites also offer a different configuration. Luxury Travel Advisor stayed in one of those, No. 8073. While the classic configuration offers both a full-size tub and a shower, the newly configured suites instead have only a humongous shower with a rainforest shower in the ceiling plus an adjustable hand-held shower and marble bench (for guests to sit) at one end. They do not have a tub. 

Some people love and absolutely desire a tub, while others much prefer a more spacious shower. Whichever configuration is chosen, Townsley says all Sapphire Veranda Suites offer up to 430 square feet of space with a large private balcony of up to 107 square feet; that veranda extends along both the living and bedroom areas with entry from both.

Opening the door to our Sapphire Veranda Suite, we entered a small foyer and then encountered the suite’s entertainment area/desk with an Italian marble surface and large mirror covering the wall above. This area offers a stocked mini-refrigerator (including beer and wine), enclosed cabinet with glassware and three levels of glass shelving on either side. Atop the surface is an ice bucket, bottle of red wine, ice bucket and Nespresso coffee maker.

Living area of the new configuration of the Sapphire Veranda Suite, #8073 on Crystal Serenity.
Living room of the new configuration of the Sapphire Veranda Suite, No. 8073, on Crystal Serenity. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Just opposite is a dining area with a large round table and two chairs. This flows into the living room area, which has a dark blue couch that doubles as a sofa bed, a glass coffee table, two end tables, a chair and a corner and wall-mounted HDTV, which is visible from both the couch and the dining area.

Drapes provide a privacy curtain that can be pulled between the living area and bedroom. Guests will sleep on a queen bed convertible to two twins. That's bookended by two night-stands. The bedroom also has a second wall-mounted HDTV system. 

We slept in comfort on custom bedding from Jesurum 1870, a Venetian-based brand. For more than 150 years, this firm has provided woven linens; they were originally created for royal families, private residences and mega yachts but are now on Crystal, too. Guests also have a pillow menu, so they can choose from a variety of pillow types.

Bedroom area of #8073, newly configured Sapphire Veranda Suite, on Crystal Serenity.
Crystal Serenity's bedding is soft, comfortable and conducive to a good night's sleep.  (Photo by Susan J. Young)

In this suite, another nice touch is that there is bathroom entry via two different doors, one just inside the front door in the entry area, the directly from the bedroom. Outfitted in Italian marble, the bathroom offers double sinks on the marble vanity, a toilet and that humongous walk-in shower mentioned previously (again, no tub in this new configuration, but those are available in the classic Sapphire Veranda Suites).

We liked the shower’s different spray options and the bench seat on one side. As for bathroom products, Crystal has collaborated with La Bottega, a hospitality curator for its stateroom and suite amenities; those include Ortigia brand soap and fragrance products.

Throughout the suite, we particularly liked the elegant furnishings, new carpeting and wall finishes. GEM’s redesign incorporated neutral tones and high-end fixtures complemented with pastel colors and shades of gray and beige. That said, there are pops of blue color in our suite, such as the rich blue sofa. We loved the creative wall art piece with raised aqua and curved white discs just above the sofa.

Large wall art piece in #8073, newly configured Sapphire Veranda Suite on Crystal Serenity.
This attractive art piece with multiple discs is mounted on the wall above the sofa in No. 8073, a Sapphire Veranda Suite.  (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Just inside the entry door before entering the living area, there’s also a decent-sized walk-in closet with drawers, a private safe, two types of robes for guest use, slippers, an umbrella and plenty of hanging space. And outside, the elongated private balcony with teak decking is furnished with two cushioned chairs and a round table. 

All guests aboard Crystal’s ships have butler service, in addition to their room steward. Suite perks in our Sapphire Veranda Suite included welcome champagne, complimentary soft drinks, complimentary wine and spirits from a set menu, afternoon canapes, 24-hour in-suite dining, shoeshine service, flowers, fresh fruit (changed daily, on request only), assistance with packing and unpacking and more. We also received dry cleaning for five pieces, one bag of free laundry every 10 cruise days, second-day service, and free pressing, five pieces a day with second-day service.

Binoculars are available on one living room table for guest use aboard. Plus, this suite offers complimentary unlimited standard Wi-Fi (one device). One thing missing? During Saturday’s executive/media briefing, one advisor pointed out that her new Sapphire Veranda Suite configuration had no full-length mirror. The official executive response from Crystal was: “We’re going to fix it.”  

Looking Ahead for Crystal

The revitalized Crystal Serenity is docked in Naples, Italy in late July 2023.
The revitalized Crystal Serenity is shown dockside at Naples, Italy, in late July 2023. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

As it began its return to service over the past year, Crystal built a from-the-ground-up reservations system in six months, not having the longer timeframe that is often required for that. “It’s not yet perfect, but I promise it will be very, very soon,” stressed Cristina Levis, CEO of A&K Travel Group, at a media and trade executive briefing on the ship last week. 

Townsley told us that reservations call centers are located in both Miami, FL, where staff is now increasing, as well as Guatemala City, Guatemala. Townsley says the latter was tapped for its existing call center resources during the line's start-up period. Moving forward, that Central America office is expected to handle additional growth from the Latin American market.

We also asked Townsley about trade support and learned that a third outside sales director will be added this week. Plus, the inside sales support team is growing too.

As for itineraries, upcoming voyages for the two-ship existing fleet will include the Mediterranean, northern Europe, Canada and New England, Alaska, the Caribbean and Panama Canal, as well as the Middle East, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Looking ahead, advisors can expect the launch of some shorter cruises, too—say five, six or seven days—in 2025. That’s because Crystal desires to attract new-to-Crystal customers either stepping up from a premium or other luxury cruise line, or coming from the land side such as from A&K’s tour base. For those folks, a bit shorter itinerary provides a good way for them to try out the brand. 

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