We were sad too for our many of our clients, loyal Crystal aficionados, who were 'homeless' following the demise of their favourite cruise line. My own history with the company dates right back to 1991, when I returned from maternity leave after just three months to travel to Los Angeles and present our credentials to act as the company's UK General Sales Agent. And of course we were devastated for the extraordinary crew, who offered an exemplary level of service within the luxury arena.
So when Manfredi Lefebvre d'Ovidio, former owner of Silversea Cruises, with a lifetime of maritime experience behind him, finally fulfilled a long held dream to acquire the two classic ships Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, as well as the assets of the brand, in June 2022, we were delighted at the prospect of this particular phoenix rising from the ashes.
Crystal Penthouse Suite Bedroom
Having said that, the journey ahead for Dottore Lefebvre and his management team was not going to be all plain sailing. They had to deal with the bad taste left by the failure of the former owners Genting Hong Kong, and the debts they left behind them.
And whilst the brand was known and loved, the new company was effectively a start-up, needing to create the management team and all operational functions from scratch. The ships required extensive refreshment, and all of this needed to be developed against the negative background murmur of naysayers, who were determined that this particular phoenix would never rise again.
Junior Crystal Penthouse Suite Living Room
A year later, we are delighted to be back on board Crystal Serenity - and of course there were times when we thought we would never see this moment. With an extraordinary 80% of the crew returning to the Crystal fleet, expectations were running high, but it was not until we actually set foot on the gangway, saw the familiar faces and received a heart warming 'welcome home' that we could really believe that Crystal is back.
After months in the Fincantieri yard in Trieste, we were expecting to see some changes, and there are indeed many, but nothing to concern the regular guests. A priority was to increase the size of the private accommodation, with three staterooms converted to two or even one, two to one, and so forth.
Umi Uma Restaurant
The new suite and stateroom categories are both beautiful and consistent. We particularly like the new triple size category Junior Crystal Penthouse Suites, at 645 square feet, with comfortable living and dining areas, a separate bedroom, spacious walk-in closet and extensive bathroom including bath tub (with disco lights!).
The new capacity of Crystal Serenity is 740 guests which results in an industry leading space to guest ratio (remember when the ship first came into service back in 2003 the capacity was 1080, and even then she was extremely spacious…). What is really noticeable on this ship is that the space translates into an extraordinary variety of public spaces. Stand-out are the spacious pool deck, with loads of conversation areas and shaded spots as well as lounger space, so that even on a sea day it never feels crowded. Two lounges large enough to accommodate the full guest complement mean that it is no problem to offer two shows a night (and more on the entertainment later). Dining options abound, and everywhere is relaxed, elegant and spacious.
The Vintage Room
The main dining room, Waterside, has become more intimate, subdivided into separate areas and spaces, which has really addressed the old acoustics problem. An extensive menu and delightful service ensure that dining here will never feel like a compromise.
As for the other restaurants, Tastes continues to be a major favourite for me for the beautiful décor, with living walls and herb gardens, and for the delicious menu of sharing plates. In Umi Uma we were delighted to feel the hand of Nobu Matsuhisa, and appreciate the extraordinary value of a Crystal Cruise (checking the London menu I see that the Black Cod Miso alone is £53).
Crystal Serenity Bistro
The new Osteria d'Ovidio is every bit as good as you would expect from the company's new Italian ownership, although there will be some who mourn the famed mushroom soup (still available, but in Waterside only).
For natural grazers the Bistro continues to be a great venue, and like any market square, the place where you will see everyone if you linger long enough over a delicious coffee or glass of wine.
Crystal Penthouse Suite Living Room
One of the stand-out features of Crystal within the ultra-luxury market is the quality and variety of entertainment including shows, parties and a great guest lecture programme, the CU@Sea with its creative media classes, ballroom dance classes and more, which mean the energy around the ship both evenings and sea days adds to the social excitement, as guests share their own stories.
The true Crystal difference, though, lies in the soul of the ships, lead by the beating heart of the crew, and I have spent much time on board hearing the stories of old friends amongst the astonishing 80% of crew who have returned. They have welcomed and embraced the new management, and the beaming smiles around the ship are tribute to their delight in returning to this very special working environment.
Crystal Penthouse Suite Bathroom
I often speak of the delight of stepping aboard a ship and feeling the weight of the world lifting from your shoulders. Our return to Crystal lifted a cloud I didn't even know I was carrying, and I couldn't be more pleased to wholeheartedly recommend Crystal 2.0.