By the time my husband and I boarded the Crystal Serenity at the port in Civitavecchia just north of Rome, it had been 10 years since we’d sailed this beautiful ship. Very recently, Serenity underwent a total redesign — whisked away for a 28-day stay in dry dock at Lloyd Werft Bremerhaven dockyard in Germany for an elegant overhaul. We were both keen to see what had changed since we sailed her from Miami to Los Angeles via the Panama Canal a decade ago.
For this particular six-night voyage our destination was the Mediterranean, with nights spent in a luxurious Seabreeze Penthouse on the 10th deck, a new category of penthouses added to meet the growing demand for butler-serviced guestrooms. In addition to full-sized penthouses and two penthouse suites, there are 36 Seabreeze Penthouses onboard. Each measures 350 square feet and features a large veranda, spacious walk-in closet with ample drawers and hanging spaces, a large safe, vanity table-desk and an adjustable flat-panel television equipped with a good selection of on-demand films, music and screenings of onboard lectures and presentations.
Deluxe details included a Dyson blow-dryer, Hansgrohe showerheads, double sinks and a separate toilet closet. Our walk-in closet also contained slippers, a tote bag, warm throws, and two sets of his-and-hers robes appropriate to both warm and chilly weather conditions.
When we embark on a cruise, one of the most important aspects of our stateroom is a private veranda. Even on shoulder season trans-Atlantic cruises when the skies are gray and a blanket is necessary to stay comfy in outdoor deck chairs, we spend a huge amount of time enjoying the view and the sense of being out on the wide sea. Given the Mediterranean route of this cruise, it was especially important, as views included the beautiful scenery of Cannes, Marseille and Propriano in France, Spain’s shoreline and the rugged beauty of Italy’s Amalfi Coast.
Originally built in 2003, the ship has actually been downsized, albeit slightly: The original capacity for 1,070 passengers has been reduced to 980, though the number of crew remains the same —making for an even better guest-to-staff ratio. There’s an impressive artwork collection on board, displayed in stairwells, dining rooms and public spaces. Our favorites include the large-scale mixed media canvas behind the reception desk and landing sculptures created by South African artist J. Newman, and the ceiling mural of an antique navigational map by British artist Paul Treasure displayed above the bar.
On the way from Rome to Barcelona, we enjoyed beautifully served, delicious room service meals on our veranda, and sampled each of Serenity’s world-class dining venues, from high tea at Palm Court to four-course meals at the music-meets-dining Stardust Supper Club.
Our favorites were sitting at the sushi bar at Umi Uma, a Japanese restaurant with menus created by legendary Chef Nobu Matsuhisa; and Brazilian barbecue served tableside at the new Churrascaria. Serving staff arrive with sections of skewered meats sliced to your specifications, and served with a mild-to-hot selection of sauces. Dinner service begins with highly addictive Brazilian Caipirinha cocktails, made with fresh muddled lime and sugar mixed with Cachaca and club soda. Ceviche, salads and vegetables are served buffet style.
We especially appreciated the new seating arrangements for dining, including the stylish main dining room, Waterside (called the Crystal Dining Room pre-renovation). While the all-inclusive cruise fee includes even specialty restaurants, we often hesitate to choose the dining rooms because making a request for a private table for two meets with resistance on some cruise lines. On the Serenity, the new open-seating plan frees guests from dining at a specific, set time, or sharing a table with others if their preference is for privacy.
The best amenity by far, however, was our butler, Marcello, who created a seamless experience for us, whether arranging for room service from the specialty dining venues, making sure I had the perfect cup of tea, gathering tickets for shore excursions or simply showing up each evening with canapés and a warm smile.
California is more than just a beautiful beach and a sunny day. It has plenty of can’t-miss attractions in the many downtowns across the state, including these hits for families: