ROMANTIC RIVIERA – Nat’s Experience onboard Crystal Serenity (Part 4)

Day 8 – Piombino

Today is another new stop for me, Piombino, a little port on the Tuscan coast, and today we were docked, so no need to get a tender ashore. We had breakfast in our favourite spot – Marketplace – before grabbing our things and heading out.

We were docked a little way from town, so there was again a complimentary shuttle bus which took around 15 minutes to get to the centre. I was excited to discover a new port of call, but unfortunately was a little disappointed. There is a lot of history to Piombino, being the hometown of opera star Andrea Bocelli as well as Napoleon’s sister, Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, but to be honest, if I ever cruise to this port again I think I would spend my day enjoying the facilities onboard instead!

Piombino is very close to the islands of Elba and Corsica, and on a clear day you can even see the famed isle of Montecristo. Most of the tours going today were to nearby towns or vineyards, so that should probably have been a warning to me that there wasn’t much to see in Piombino itself!

But there is always a silver lining, being back onboard so quickly, meant we could soak up even more of the fantastic atmosphere and sunshine on the pool deck before heading home tomorrow.

Mum and I had decided to skip lunch today as we wanted to go to Afternoon Tea in the gorgeous Palm Court. Afternoon Tea is served every afternoon between 3.30 and 4.30 and is a sophisticated affair. You are welcomed at the entrance to the lounge and seated, where you are shortly joined by a white gloved waiter who talks you through the selection of teas available and takes your order.

Whilst you are waiting for your tea, another server appears as if by magic with a wonderous tower of goodies, including a selection of finger sandwiches, freshly made fruit scones and delicious little sweet treats.

Our tea and coffee are served in a flash and we start tucking into the sandwiches – my favourite was definitely the coronation chicken. The other choices were egg mayonnaise, ham, cucumber (of course) and cheese. Just as we were ready to make headway with the scones, another waiter came over to offer us jam, and a choice of clotted or freshly whipped cream. Well, it has to be clotted cream doesn’t it, or it’s not a proper afternoon tea in my eyes. The scones are not too large, and are so fresh they were still slightly warm and, served with a fresh strawberry, were just delicious.

We finished with the selection of treats from the top tier of the tower (thank goodness we hadn’t have lunch!) There were little peach tartlets, shortcake biscuits, chocolate & hazelnut sponges and mini chocolate gateaux.

We had a lovely hour in Palm Court, and not just because of the wonderful afternoon tea. We really enjoyed the piano music that accompanied the tea as well as the glorious views from the panoramic windows – it is well worth taking an afternoon of your cruise to enjoy this treat.

We were definitely not going to miss sail away tonight, it being our last opportunity, so a full half an hour before we were due to depart, we all convened up on deck 13 at the front of the ship. Hearing the melodic voice of Louis Armstrong on the deck of a ship with the breeze in your hair is an enduring memory of mine from my very first cruise with Crystal way back in 2005. Every time I hear ‘What a Wonderful World’ I get a mixture of feelings of nostalgia, excitement and sadness – nostalgia for all the previous times I have been lucky enough to be cruising and listening to this signature tune; excitement, as hearing it usually means we are heading towards our next port of call and sadness, as whenever I hear it at home, I am not on a Crystal ship!

We all watched Piombino shrink into the distance, before heading off to get ready for dinner which we would enjoy back in Waterside this evening. Our previous tables in Waterside have been positioned on one of the side sections, but this evening we were right in the centre. The centre section is screened a little from the rest of the restaurant by beautiful panelled screens, and feels like an exclusive place to sit – in fact it feels like a whole different restaurant.

The menu selection tonight included some wonderful classic dishes such as rib-eye steak and salmon, but wanting something a little lighter, I opted for the lobster strudel and a delicious fresh pasta served with asparagus and Parma ham – both were absolutely outstanding. For dessert, finally the dish I have been waiting all cruise for – a little trio comprising of peanut butter mouse, chocolate sponge cake and chocolate ice-cream – absolutely sensational!

Our final show onboard was to be another variety show, including Gary Hunter, our fabulous Cruise Director, and a gentleman called Brett Cave who would be showcasing the music of Elton John & Billy Joel.

It turns out, that Cruise Director Gary, actually started his career at sea many years ago as ventriloquist, and every so often he dusts off Mr & Mrs Tweed (his ventriloquist dummies) and puts on a show. A mix of comedy and song, it is really sweet and very cleverly done – I was keeping a close eye on Gary’s mouth the whole time, and it didn’t budge!

Brett Cave, a fellow Englishman, put on a great show mixing songs from two of the world’s greatest rock and roll pianists and performers – he soon had everyone singing along.

As many fellow cruisers will know, the last night of the cruise is usually when you get your main luggage items packed, so that they are offloaded and ready for your collection dockside, bright and early on disembarkation day. Our deadline was 11pm, so after the show, I headed back to my room to pack my last few things and place my suitcase just outside my stateroom. I had kept a small bag back for my overnight bits that I could quickly put in my case before checking it in at the airport tomorrow, but other than that, everything was taken care of for me.

And there it was, already my last night onboard – I’m not ready to go home!

Day 9 – Civitavecchia/Rome

Unfortunately, today we have to disembark. The rest of my family had decided to stay in Rome for an extra day for some sightseeing, but I was going home. Even though I didn’t have to leave as early as they were planning to, I got up to have one last holiday breakfast with them on our usual table in Marketplace. It was a very sombre affair…let’s face it, everyone is sad to have to go home at the end of a cruise!

I said my goodbyes, and went back to my room to relax for another hour before my transfer was leaving, so I sat out on the veranda and enjoyed my last bit of time in the sun.

At 10am, I was down in the Galaxy Lounge, waiting to be called for my transfer. A small group of us were to be transported straight to Rome Fiumicino Airport ready for our flights home. As we disembarked, we claimed our luggage in the terminal, and were escorted to our awaiting coach. During the transfer, the Crystal representative called ahead to her colleague at the terminal to find out all of the check in desk numbers for us, which is really helpful, it saves you having to scan the huge board of information when you arrive. Once at the airport, there were porters waiting at the side of the coach ready to assist with our bags and we were in the terminal checking in within moments. Everything had been made so easy for us.

What a week we had had, both the frequent and the brand-new cruisers amongst us. We had eaten the most delicious food, enjoyed a fantastic variety of entertainment, and more importantly spent some real quality time together – something that we don’t really have the chance to do in everyday life.

And that is what I think cruising does best, not only do you see new places and have new experiences every day, but you have the time to meet new friends, or re-connect with friends and family you may not get to see so often. We have already started discussing where we want to sail to next…

If Nat’s experience onboard Crystal Serenity has inspired you to find out more information on booking a Crystal cruise – visit: www.crystalcruises.co.uk


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