ROMANTIC RIVIERA – Nat’s Experience onboard Crystal Serenity (Part 1)

Day 1 – Monte Carlo

It has been a very stressful lead up to my trip onboard Crystal Serenity, as I have had to keep it a secret…I am sure you all feel the same way as me, that one of the most exciting things about going on holiday is the build-up. Talking to anyone who will listen about where you are going, discussing what you are going to do when you get there and sharing that excitement with your fellow travel mates. But this time, that pleasure was denied to me as I had decided to surprise the rest of my family who were travelling.

My parents were sailing to celebrate their wedding anniversary, and were being joined by my Aunt and Uncle, and my Cousin and her partner. I thought it would be fun to tell them I couldn’t make it, and then surprise them on the day (which it was, keep reading to find out how the big reveal went) – However I didn’t account for the excruciating weeks leading up to the trip where I almost severed my tongue through the amount of biting of it I had to do!

Anyway, by the time I had made it to Heathrow on embark day, managing not to let anything slip, I was so stressed and really ready to start my holiday. I arrived into Nice late morning, and as I had booked the Crystal coach transfer was met just after passport control and walked through to the luggage carousel where there were porters waiting to assist with our luggage. There was a small group of us who had arrived around the same time – maybe 10 – so when we all had our luggage, we were walked the short distance from the terminal to our awaiting coach.

The journey from Nice through to Monte Carlo takes around 1 hour – depending on traffic, which can get quite busy along the route – but most of it is quite scenic driving through the hills of France, catching glimpses of the azure sea.

Upon arrival at the port of Monte Carlo, we were escorted straight into the terminal, with no need to wait for our luggage which would be taken straight onboard for us. In the terminal we only had a quick security check as our actual cruise check in would take place onboard. After ducking out of the embarkation photo opportunity, I headed along the dockside to embark onboard my home for the next 8-nights, the glorious Crystal Serenity.

At this point, my excitement levels were quite high, with the anticipation of finally revealing my surprise to the family. Luckily, check in takes just a few minutes onboard, as I had completed all of my immigration details before embarking using the online Priority Check in & Planning Centre. After having my security picture taken, and being handed my stateroom key, I was ready to find everyone.

As I left the Plaza, I called my Mum on the guise of checking they had boarded ok, and found out where they were – and where else on a gorgeously sunny day in Monte Carlo, but having drinks by the pool, so I headed upstairs. As I came out on deck, I saw the group of them sat with – several – glasses of champagne and sneaked up on them. It was absolutely fabulous to see registering on everyone’s face that I was actually there, and they were thrilled, I think…well there were tears from Mum, and I am taking those as tears of joy! They were all flabbergasted and asked how long I was on for – I think they thought I had flown all that way just for the day! As if, I was onboard now and there was no way I was getting off before the cruise was up.

Other than some Travel Partner Ship Visits I conducted earlier in the summer, this was the first time I had seen Crystal Serenity since her last refurbishment in November 2018, and I was really excited to try out all the new dining options. This was the first time that my cousin and her partner had ever been onboard – their first ever cruise in fact – so after a quick drink and a rest, I was on hosting duties again to show them around and help them get their bearings.

As I had missed lunch, I headed down to the Bistro for a snack. The Bistro, if you haven’t been onboard, is a Parisian style café open all day for light snacks and drinks, whether you are looking for a late breakfast, light lunch or after dinner treats. The coffee they serve is from the Viennese coffee manufacturer, Julius Meinl, which initially started being served on our fleet of river boats, and is exceptional. A delicious latte went very well with my freshly baked roll, and piece of cake.

All guest’s staterooms were ready a little earlier than usual, so at 2pm, we all headed to our rooms to settle in and unpack. I was staying in a B3, Deluxe Stateroom with Veranda on deck 8. Personally, I love to have the private veranda space as I like to sit out there before bed and it’s also great for checking the weather first thing in the morning!

I also met my stewardess Hongjuan, who would be looking after my room this week. She was so welcoming, as are all the crew, and made sure I had everything I needed.

After unpacking, and a quick outfit change, I headed back to the pool to soak up some of the afternoon sun.

Dinner this evening was to be in the main restaurant onboard, Waterside, but first, drinks…we had decided to meet in the bar down in the Crystal Plaza – The Crystal Cove, for a pre-dinner drink.  Always great for delicious cocktails, the Cove also has a crystal piano with a fantastic pianist pre-dinner – Richard Pucci, and after dinner on this cruise we had duo Ana & Humberto playing and singing for us.

My cocktail of choice is always a Jade Martini. It is absolutely delicious and it’s how I know I am really back onboard Crystal. We headed into dinner when we were ready – everything is so much more relaxed now that the restaurant operates on an open-seating policy. Even with us needing a table for 7, we never waited more than a few minutes for one to be ready for us. I decided to start the cruise on a gentle pace, choosing the light tomato pasta followed by a delicious fruit platter – don’t worry, I won’t be this good for the rest of the week!

We decided to head to the Galaxy Lounge to see the show this evening, which was a variety show featuring the Crystal Ensemble of Singers & Dancers, as well as an appearance from the Ballroom Dance quartet, a speciality artist – Violinist, Irina Guskova – and also the Crystal Showband Vocalist, Karin Kovacova. I think it’s great that these first night shows are a little overview of the entertainment you can expect for the rest of the week and already I knew we would not be disappointed. The production was slick, the voices fantastic and the dance moves were outstanding.

It was straight to bed for me after the show after my long day – I just couldn’t wait to get curled up in the gorgeous bed

Day 2 – Cannes

So, I am trying to keep up this ‘being healthy on a cruise’ thing, so as soon as I wake, I am up and out onto the promenade deck – deck 7 – for a few laps. The Promenade deck is a fantastic place for walking or running. I prefer to be outside than in a gym, and you get to see a little of your days port of call as you walk around. On Crystal Serenity, just 3.3 laps equal one mile, and it’s nice to get outside before it gets too hot.

We had decided last night to meet around 9am for breakfast, in the buffet style restaurant, Marketplace. So, after a quick shower, I headed upstairs. Marketplace, if any of you have sailed onboard Crystal before, used to be called the Lido and serves a veritable feast of choices for both breakfast and lunch, in a buffet style. There is plenty of choice of cereals, fresh fruit, pastries, pancakes and waffles as well as hot choices – sausages, bacon etc and of course freshly cooked eggs or omelettes as you like them. We couldn’t get a table outside all together, so instead split half seated inside and half outside. Marketplace is my favourite place to eat for breakfast as there is such a variety of options, however big your appetite in the morning, and even if you cannot get a table outside, there are huge floor to ceiling windows so that you still have a great view and plenty of natural light.

Today we had docked just off of Cannes, famous for the film festival and the holiday spot of the legends of the silver screen such as Brigitte Bardot. It was a short comfortable tender ride to the dockside tender stop, which was just a 5-minute walk from the famous Palais des Festivals et des Congrès where the film festival is held every year. It was another gorgeously hot day, and as we are all lucky enough to have visited Cannes many times before, decided to just have a stroll around, with maybe a bit of shopping. There was a Ferris wheel on the seafront, so that was our first stop for a panoramic view over the bay.

As it was a Saturday, there was a little Vintage and Antique market which had some great vintage designer clothes and accessories, as well as some cute antique homewares – if only I had room in my case! We had a wander past the impressive yachts in the harbour and did some shopping in the boutiques before stopping for a drink at a little street café.

Lunch was back onboard in the Bistro, for some cheese and biscuits with a fresh coffee and a little cake – well I am on holiday – before a quick change and up on deck and a place by the pool.

You quickly get used to the wonderful deck crew anticipating your every need, whether it is bringing your favourite drink or some iced water, or a much-needed chilled towel. Having a multitude of seating options by the pool suits the whole group, with some of us loving to lay out in the sun, whilst the rest of the group sits on the comfortable sofas in the shade. As the sun begins to fade, we head off to get ready for pre-dinner drinks in the Crystal Cove.

For dinner this evening, we had decided to try one of the new restaurants onboard – Churrascaria. Churrascaria is a Brazilian Steakhouse that was introduced after the refurbishment last November, and is the evening incarnation of the daytime buffet restaurant, Marketplace. As at Waterside, it is an open seating restaurant, so no reservations are needed. We are welcomed and seated with a delicious speciality Caipirinha cocktail within a few minutes, before the headwaiter comes over to explain how the restaurant works. A choice of Brazilian bread sticks and queso dough-ball appetizers are brought to the table with a selection of chimichurri sauces. We are invited to visit the counter where there is a plethora of salads, and side dishes for us to choose including salad leaves, rice salads, bean salads and baked potatoes. Once seated, the Crystal Gauchos come along with the skewers of different meats which they carve at our tables for us. There is a selection of chicken legs with parmigiana cheese, beef short ribs, little Brazilian pork sausages, lamb cutlets, shrimp and filet steak. As they carve a portion, we all have little tongs at our place settings for us to pick up the serving and put it on our plate. All of us also have a little round card that looks a little like a coaster, with the words ‘Yes Please’ or ‘No Thank You’ on either side, you use these to indicate to the servers coming around whether you would like more meat served, or whether you have had enough.

After you have had your fill of meat, you can choose to finish your meal with freshly roasted pineapple dusted with cinnamon or pick from a selection of desserts at the dessert station.

After dinner we were back in the Galaxy Lounge for tonight’s production which was ‘Crystal on Broadway’. In 2017, Crystal started a new partnership with Broadway veteran Kevin McCollum. He was tasked with refreshing the entertainment onboard including introducing new shows as well as bringing entertainment to a wider variety of venues around the ship

Tonight’s show was a mixture of classic hits from some of the Broadway shows that Kevin has produced – Something Rotten, West Side Story and Rent. The cast of singers & dancers were absolutely phenomenal and we all really enjoyed the show – even those of our group who are not big musical fans.

After the show, Gary Hunter, our Cruise Director for this voyage, always comes on stage to talk us through the next day’s programme, and also the other entertainment options for the rest of the evening, and tonight, he told us about a fireworks display that was being put on along the shore of Cannes at 11pm. We were due to depart port at that time, but Gary told us that the Captain had managed to arrange a later departure for us so that we could stay and watch the fireworks.

We had a little time to spare, so we headed to the Palm Court lounge up on deck 12. This panoramic lounge has always been a favourite spot of mine as it is always quite quiet and feels exclusive, but since the changes last year, this lounge is now absolutely stunning. The jewelled tones of the furniture, the glamourous glass light fittings and the beautiful grand piano in the centre of the room all make for an exceptional space. I love to come here in the day to relax with a book and to enjoy a cocktail or two during the evening. We had time for one drink accompanied by mellow piano music before we all made our way up to deck 13 just before 11pm for the best views of the display. It was so kind of Cannes to give us such a send-off to our next port of call…

Stay tuned for Part 2!

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