I recently had the opportunity to sample the larger of the two sisters, Crystal Serenity, for the first time, on a short voyage chasing the waning December sun south from Barcelona to Gibraltar. The first thing that struck me about Serenity was not the fresh, modern décor - though this is one of the many things which distinguishes Crystal from their more staid and traditional competitors - but the incredible effort to which the crew had gone in preparing the ship for Christmas. We boarded at the beginning of December, and the lobby was already a veritable winter wonderland of snowfrosted spruce, glittering tinsel and rosy-cheeked Santas, a spectacle rendered all the more surreal by the balmy Spanish weather outside.
As we cruised east from Barcelona towards the island of Mallorca, our surroundings were reflected in the zesty, Mediterranean-inspired flavours at Tastes, the innovative street food restaurant on the top deck. At dinner the tapas-style selection of sizzling garlic prawns, Greek lamb kebabs and succulent steak, combined with the twinkling lights and lush foliage, was enough to make me momentarily forget that I was on a ship at all.
Amazing food was a recurring theme of our time on Serenity: at the elegant Italian restaurant, Prego, a simple-looking plate of sausage gnocchi delivered an explosion of hearty rustic flavour to rival any Tuscan trattoria. And the culinary team at Silk Road raised the bar still further with an incredible Nobu-curated menu of startlingly good sushi and sashimi, followed by exquisite Wagyu beef and blackened cod, not to mention the delicious lobster and rock shrimp - quite simply the best Asian food I have ever tasted.
Serenity is also perfectly geared up for pre- and post-prandial indulgence; every time you feel the slightest twinge of hunger a waiter seems to appear with a plate of gourmet canapés, while the ice cream bar on the pool deck is dangerously inviting at all hours of the day. After dinner I particularly enjoyed the dimly lit and effortlessly stylish Avenue Saloon bar, a great place to indulge your inner James Bond with a vodka martini or channel the spirit of Don Draper with an orange-infused Old Fashioned. The range of entertainment on offer every evening was incredibly impressive for a ship of this size, from the sounds of the '60s in the Galaxy Lounge theatre to the tinkling of ivories in the Crystal Cove bar. Most unexpected of all was an impromptu burst of opera in the main lobby one evening, delivered, of course, by the onboard golf instructor.
Have I left anything out? Undoubtedly. The wonderful service from the staff at the pool bar, the sumptuous suites, the Mozart-themed afternoon tea served by staff in 18th century period costume, the spectacular cathedral of Palma de Mallorca, the Roman ruins at Cartagena, the espresso martinis, and indeed the monkeys at the summit of the Rock of Gibraltar taking umbrage with a woman who got too close to them with her selfie stick… But that's the remarkable thing about a Crystal cruise: so much is included, there is so much to do, and there are so many reasons to be excited about this unbelievably ambitious company as the Crystal family continues to expand.
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