How do you improve on six-star style? Seriously, how do you take one of the very best cruise experiences and add to it, enhancing the essence of what it is and what it does?
Those were the questions that immediately occurred to us when we heard earlier this year about the huge refurbishment that Crystal Cruises had planned for their gleaming flagship Crystal Serenity.
It was back in March, during the annual cruise convention of Seatrade in Miami, that Crystal announced the plans for the most extensive maritime makeover in the line’s history, a three-week, multi-million-dollar project to overhaul a ship that already has more ‘Best Of’ accolades than just about anything else afloat.
True, Serenity was all of 15 years old, positively middle-aged in modern cruising terms but, even so, this seemed a highly ambitious revamp of a vessel that wasn’t exactly creaking at the seams.
It’s no secret that we are big Crystal fans. We believe their combination of ship size, elegance, amenities, tradition and service put them right at the forefront of ultra-luxe cruising, and we never need any second urging to spend time on either the Symphony or Serenity. Indeed, our last extended experience (a 12-night voyage around Canada and New England a few years ago) was so good that we practically had to be pried out of our stateroom at the end of the line in New York.
So we were kind of left scratching our heads at what more Crystal needed to do to advance their own six-star style to make their flagship even more desirable to devotees like us.
Part of the answer came via last year’s update of the Crystal Symphony, which introduced the new Penthouse Suites, Marketplace dining area and enhanced main dining room, as well as the extra spaciousness from a net reduction in stateroom numbers. Suddenly, this 20-year-old paragon was looking as spry and sharp as a three-year-old at Epsom Downs in June.
With that in hand, Crystal has turned their attention to the newer, bigger ship, again calling on the expertise of the Lloyd Werft shipyard in Bremerhaven, with the announcement that this refurbishment would begin on October 18 and be complete by November 6. The first guests to see the new-look ship will be on the full transatlantic voyage from Lisbon to Fort Lauderdale on November 10, and then the grand 16-night cruise from Florida to California, sailing November 21.
Most ships go for dry-docks and upgrades several times in their nautical lives. The Serenity has already had one significant refresh, in 2013, and they are not often so eye-catching that they really grab your attention. But this one feels distinctly different. And tantalising.
First of all, Crystal promised us “an eye to innovation and a design aesthetic that is pleasing to our guests of today and tomorrow,” which is no small boast in today’s cruise world where brand new ships are the stock in trade of most companies.
But what has made this impending curtain-up so much more delicious in terms of anticipation and expectancy is Crystal’s series of news reports and videos on the progress of this particular transformation.
From the Crystal Insider blog, there were regular updates on how the work was going via ‘Sneak peek’ articles that detailed exactly what was happening to this beloved vessel and all her internal workings. Hand-in-hand with those were the videos, hosted by popular Hotel Director Herbert Beulacher, showing us the real-time workings of the shipyard and the scope of the work being undertaken.
It is a rare – and brave – mission from a cruise line to show the depth of this kind of makeover and reveal the bare bones of what is being done, right back to the basic fabric of the ship. There is absolutely no glamour in exposing the underbelly of all the wiring, raw steel, insulation, pipework and essential infrastructure that is always well out of public view, but Crystal is happy to show just how much is going into this process, and it is much more riveting as a result.
Now we can get a clear idea of the full nature of what is being done and, more importantly, see first-hand just how spectacular all the upgrade work will be once finished.
For example, we now have great insight into the stateroom changes, which amount to 36 spacious all-new penthouses and two penthouse suites in place of the regular verandah staterooms on Deck 10. The changes here will drop the ship’s capacity from 1,070 to 980, and increase the space ratio from a generous 63.5 to an ultra-expansive 69.3 – and make these the most desirable accommodations on board! There will be no reduction in crew numbers, hence the service should be even sharper than Crystal’s usual smooth style.
Those go hand-in-hand with the new dining opportunities, which include transforming the former Lido Café into no fewer than two novel alternatives, The Marketplace for daytime dining (with an open-kitchen concept and dishes made to order) and the Churrascaria in the evening, serving Brazilian style barbecue from traditional skewers. The old Crystal Dining Room will become Waterside, a fully open-seating setting for modern cuisine in a more intimate atmosphere featuring more tables for two.
At the same time, the former Tastes will become Asian-inspired Silk Kitchen & Bar, offering Chinese food served family-style in an al fresco ambience, while one of our favourites, Palm Court, will be completely redeveloped with a new stage and bar, as well as furniture, layout and décor. There will be a new look for the Stardust Club and redesign for the Computer University @ Sea.
The bare-bones strip-down will also enable the fitting of new integrated technology that will vastly improve the onboard WiFi and other high-tech elements, including state-of-the-art high-def TVs for every stateroom with the Crystal Connect system of info, news, sports and on-demand films.
It all adds up to some of the most sophisticated and enticing renovations we have seen in the cruise world in many an age. Short of cutting the ship in half and adding a new section, Crystal will have achieved an extensive refresh that should make Crystal Serenity feel like new practically from bow to stern. And with new dining opportunities that will be the envy of big-name restaurants far and wide.
So, anyone who is fortunate enough to be onboard for the next few sailings should get the maximum effect of that sparkling new makeover. We are only slightly jealous.
PS: Sign up for the Crystal Insider, on this link, and you can catch all the latest scoop on Serenity’s Big Refurb.
Have you cruised on Crystal Serenity? What did you enjoy most about the ship and are you looking forward to the new look? Give us your thoughts in the Comments section below.