ROMANTIC RIVIERA – Nat’s Experience onboard Crystal Serenity (Part 3)

Day 6 – Portofino

Today we woke up to our first cloudy morning, and although it wasn’t raining yet, thunderstorms were predicted. After a quick breakfast inside, we decide to get ashore hopefully before the storm came in. Going ashore was again by tender as the little harbour of Portofino is too small for a ship like Serenity to dock. The tender ride was only around 10 minutes, and we were soon docked just steps from the harbourfront.

Portofino is a small little town. Fabulously fashionable, it has been the holiday spot of choice for stars such as Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly, Eva Peron and even Winston Churchill. It is still a hotspot for today’s glitterati who arrive on their yachts, or stay at the magnificent Splendido hotel overlooking the bay. The shopping is a little expensive for me, but I enjoyed a stroll around before stopping for a drink overlooking the waterfront – luckily, whilst we were stopped, we saw the only rain shower we were to see all day.

I do love to people watch, and the bars and restaurants of Portofino seem to have been built for this pleasure. They are dotted all around the main square, and the commercial opportunity hasn’t been missed by the local fashion boutiques, who, after a while, we realised had sent models to walk around the square showing their latest designs – at the start I did just think they were some odd women walking around and posing…

Even though it was cloudy today, the humidity was still quite high, so when most of the group decide to walk up to a viewpoint, Mum and I decide to return to the civility of the ship and a delicious, freshly cooked chicken burger and fries in the Trident Grill.

After lunch, the weather starts to clear which means ice-cream by the pool and some sunbathing. We don’t have long though, as at 5:30 we had reserved complimentary tickets for the magic show – this cruising life is all go go go!

Its been a few years now that Crystal Cruises has had a partnership with the Magic Castle, which is the US branch of Magic Circle, and onboard every voyage, they send one of their members to put on small magic shows onboard. The Master Magician on our cruise is a gentleman by the name of Seth Kramer who has performed in Las Vegas, and throughout the cruise he is putting on 10 shows of around 25-minutes in length, performing sleight at hand card magic and mind-reading tricks. The shows are complimentary, but ticketed to keep the audience number to around 20. It’s a great extra option on the daytime schedule during a cruise, always entertaining and with such a small audience you get to sit nice and close and try and work out the secrets! Plus, your ticket allows you exclusive entry to the Magic Castle in Los Angeles, if you are ever in the area.

The magic shows take place in Pulse, which is located aft on deck six, and right next door to the photo gallery, so as we made our way out of the show, we stopped to have a look at the pictures that we had had taken the other day. The great thing about the photos on Crystal, is that you can take every opportunity of having your professional photos taken without having to commit to buying them all. What we usually do, is ask for all the pictures we have taken to be kept aside for us, and then the last night of the cruise we go back and try and make the tough decision about which ones we want to purchase!

We were back to the Cove for pre-dinner drinks, served by the lovely Themyo. Over drinks we decided to try Silk for dinner tonight which is the Chinese style restaurant, up on deck 12, adjacent to the Trident Grill. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a menu that varies throughout the day. We were quickly seated, and our waiter, Prince, again recommended that we dine ‘Family Style’

We basically ordered almost everything on the menu for us all to try including Spring Rolls, Dim Sum, Beef Pot Stickers and Crispy Prawn Dumplings for our starters, Hot and Sour soup with crab after that and then a range of main courses, including Mongolian Style Lamb Chops, Kung Pao Shrimp, Chilean Sea Bass, Hong Kong Style Chicken Curry and Stir-Fry Beef Tenderloin. It was all so amazing and we really loved the experience of dining on deck which was very relaxed. In fact, we enjoyed the experience so much, we had to run as soon as we had finished our main courses as we wanted to see the show this evening and we were already running late!

Tonight, our Headline Entertainer was Jacqui Scott who has appeared in many productions in the West End including Evita, Miss Saigon and Cats. She has also performed at many concerts, including a series of concerts in 2013 to celebrate Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 65th birthday. Although we missed the first half of the performance, what we did see was fantastic – she certainly has an amazing voice. We saw her perform some pop classics as well as some signature songs from Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita.

As we had missed dessert, after the show I swung by the Bistro which is open until around 11pm for a sweet treat. They offer a whole choice of cheese and biscuits, petit fours and even a chocolate fountain!

Day 7 – Porto Venere

The sight I wake up to this morning is just breath-taking. The bay of Porto Venere is one of the jewels of the Italian Riviera. After our regular al-fresco breakfast at Marketplace, we are ready to head onto the tender once again to get ashore. It was a slightly longer tender ashore today, around 15 minutes, but it gave plenty of time to admire this beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is also known as the Bay of Poets.

Again, I have been lucky enough to visit Porto Venere before, so was happy to just wander around the cobbled streets and take a stroll up to San Pietro and the Grotto Arpaia, famous as the place where Lord Byron liked to come and recite his verses. The streets of Porto Venere are filled with little boutiques selling handmade goods, restaurants serving the freshest seafood caught right in the harbour, and delicatessen selling the freshly made pesto that the area is famous for.

We had a little stroll to the San Pietro church to see the gorgeous views over the bay and back towards Crystal Serenity, before stopping at the Grotto. There were lots of swimmers and sunbathers on the rocks and in the sea, which was so clear, it looked glorious – if only I had brought my cossie!

We headed back to have a little browse in the shops, stopping to pick up some souvenirs before again taking the scenic ender ride back to the ship, getting some great pictures of the bay and our wake along the way.

We had lunch in our regular spot, where I opted for a delicious chilled latte this time, before heading back to the pool.

I didn’t manage to stay outside all afternoon today; it was just too hot, so instead I retired to my stateroom and chose a film to watch from those available on the in-stateroom interactive TVs. The TVs also allow you to view voyage information, details about what’s going on around the ship as well as live views from the bridge camera, a choice of TV stations and a selection of music. The films on offer were a mix of classic titles as well as new releases, and once I was settled on my choice, I snuggled down in bed to watch.

As it started to cool down a bit, I went out on my balcony for a while to relax in my robe with a face mask on and a podcast playing. It was such a relaxing way to spend an hour, and that, along with my lazy afternoon, had me fully re-charged and ready for the evening.

We definitely had the correct day for our reservation today, so promptly at 7:30, we all arrived at Prego, the speciality Italian restaurant, and were seated on a large round table. I love coming to Prego, I am a huge fan of Italian food, and the dishes here are always delicious. Before you even start you are treated to freshly cooked ciabatta served with little dishes of extra virgin olive oil, rock salt and a garlic & mascarpone cheese dip that is to die for. I would be perfectly happy just eating several servings of this throughout the evening. But, as we are here, I may as well have a proper meal, so decide on the Caesar salad to start, following by the Veal Scaloppini al Limone, which as I said, is my absolute dream dish. It is served with seasonal vegetables and a side of angel hair pasta. We finished the meal with coffee, liqueurs and desserts, mine being a Pistachio Zabaione. Delizioso!

This evening’s entertainment was again to be provided by the Crystal Ensemble of Singers & Dancers, starring in ‘Icons in Concert’. A mini concert at sea with classic rock songs from the 50’s right up to the power ballads of the 80’s and 90’s. Again, it really was spectacular, I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it was done really well. The audience could even get involved as we were given glow sticks as we entered to wave along with!

After the main show, we headed back to the Stardust Club as the comedian from earlier in the cruise was doing a second show. It was only a short show, around 30-minutes, and whilst still funny, there were a few more US centric references which us Brits didn’t really get, but we still enjoyed it!

After the show we headed to the casino. A few of the group had been a few times before to try their luck at Craps, Black Jack and Roulette, none of them being very successful, but I was obviously a lucky charm, as my Dad came away with some Black Jack winnings which I tried to get him to go 50/50 on, but he wasn’t having any of it…

The evening was finished with a few drinks in the Avenue Saloon. It’s the first time I have come to the piano bar this cruise as I have been having fairly early nights, but I always have a good night in here when I come. The servers are fantastic, and the pianist, who on this cruise was Dan Davies always makes it an entertaining evening! I was very well behaved though; one drink and I was away to bed.

Keep a lookout for Part 4 – coming soon!

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