The lovely Louise from our reservations team at TCP was the first to embark on the ‘Mediterranean Passage’ cruise onboard Crystal Serenity from Athens to Rome.
Day 1 : Embarkation
After a very early start this morning I flew from Gatwick to join the Crystal Serenity in sunny Athens. The flight time is just over 3 hours so we arrived at the pier side just in time for lunch at 1.30pm. Boarding the ship was a smooth process, and despite many guests arriving at the same time, it ran like a well-oiled machine with designated embarkation groups being called one by one and guests being speedily checked in by an army of staff. Once onboard we were greeted with a glass of champagne and each party was personally welcomed by one of the on-board staff and given a quick rundown of the several lunch venues currently available and where to find them. There is definitely something for everyone: chic a la carte dining in the elegant main dining room, Waterside; buffet choices with panoramic views and outside seating in the Marketplace; freshly-grilled quick fare at the Trident Grill; Chinese comfort food at Silk Kitchen & Bar; or light bites at the Bistro. Today we chose a generous cheeseburger and fries from the Trident Grill and ate outside on the pool deck, and following that I somehow even managed to fit in an ice cream from Scoops just to top it off.
After a wander around the sun deck catching some rays (a definite luxury considering it is November next week!), we headed to our stateroom which become available for guests from 3pm. Our stateroom is a B1 deluxe verandah, situated on deck 8. Our luggage had been delivered from the quayside where we had left them in the trusty hands of the porters and our stewardess arrived promptly afterwards to introduce herself and explain the timings of making up the room and the basic amenities. After unpacking we decided to get freshened up and ready for the evening relatively early. We had a dinner reservation in Umi Uma at 8.30pm but before that we had the mandatory muster drill at 5.15pm and then the ship was due to depart at 6pm so we decided to get out and enjoy our first sail away on deck and then in the comfort of the panoramic forward lounge, Palm Court, where we were treated to a spectacular sunset.
Palm Court was re-imagined last year and now has modern sleek furniture, a great band space with dance floor, and a trendy circular bar – all with 180 degree views from the front of the ship. It made a great place to while away a couple of hours until dinner. Umi Uma was the perfect first evening meal, the menu as a whole is very light and fresh so it doesn’t feel too heavy after the treats from earlier. For a non-fish eater like myself, the wide range of freshly prepared sushi and sashimi is unfortunately wasted on me but I was quite content with seared wagyu beef, teriyaki chicken and just a couple of desserts to finish me off! The staff are so chatty and attentive, it is a great intimate experience and conveniently located on the deck just below our stateroom so an easy walk home at the end of a long day.
Day 2: Santorini
After a restful sleep I was up early to enjoy the ship sailing into the crater of the volcano where we were due to drop anchor. We were in good company, with several other ships including our very own Crystal Esprit anchored off the coast so we knew we wanted to be up and out to try and beat the crowds. The scheduled embarkation time in Reflections magazine was 8am so at 7.30am we went to the Marketplace for a buffet breakfast. After hearing the announcement clearing guests to leave the ship, we boarded a tender to take us to the small port area. From there it was a quick cable car ride up the sheer cliff face to reach the town of Fira. We spent the morning strolling around the winding streets, taking in the grand views of the now submerged crater with the small crowd of ships bobbing away beneath us. By the time we had explored and come back down to the port area, the queue for the cable car was snaking along the quay side so we knew we had done well to go ashore early.
Once returned to the ship we headed back to the Marketplace for lunch, which similarly to breakfast is a sumptuous buffet. As the ship was quiet due to most guests still ashore in Santorini, we took advantage of a table outside to enjoy the gorgeous sunshine and views. Today the buffet featured a selection of Greek dishes alongside a roasted meat carving station, made-to-order pasta dish of the day, and an abundance of fresh salad options. Following lunch we settled into one of the giant day beds by the pool to relax for the remainder of the afternoon, only moving for dips in the pool and my daily visit to Scoops ice cream bar. Dinner this evening was in Prego, the second speciality restaurant onboard – this time Italian. Again, the service is friendly and informative but I would say at a slower pace than in other restaurants onboard. The sommelier explained the choice of wines in detail and the waiter recommended several dishes – I opted for beef carpaccio expertly dressed with 21 year old balsamic glaze, followed by duck breast, and finally a classic tiramisu. Coffees were accompanied by delicate petit fours and by the end of a very relaxed meal, we headed to bed as the ship sailed into the night.
Day 3: Sea Day
Today we had a day sailing before we reach our next port of call, Catania, tomorrow. Although I am on-board for 5 nights, the full published voyage is 13 nights and this is the only sea day on the entire cruise so it would be interesting to see how busy the ship feels with all guests on-board ready for a day of relaxing! The daily reflections magazine outlines the planned activities for today including lectures, dance classes and musical performances to ensure guests are occupied throughout the day – you can do as much or as little as you like. Luckily for us, the weather was glorious so after our daily breakfast in Marketplace we set up camp around the pool to enjoy the sun. It began to get busy around mid-morning but there are hidden loungers on the sun deck and at the aft of decks 8, 9 and 10 so you can always find a spot somewhere.
For the more active guests among us, options include the state-of-the-art gym, walking or jogging around the 360 degree promenade deck and golf lessons from the PGA pro on-board. Lunch today was enjoyed in Silk which offers Chinese comfort food including dim sum, wok fried veg and noodles, plus soups. As all guests were onboard, it was pretty busy with guests sitting the Silk area with food brought out from the buffet so the area felt quite frantic, but it was nice to have an alternative dining venue to give some variety. This evening is a black tie optional night, which traditionally would be a formal affair but nowadays, having been changed to ‘optional’ there is a range of attire on show so it is not essential to bring a tuxedo for men who do not care for dressing up on their holiday! We get a range of comments from potential guests – some who love dressing up and some who don’t, but I would say there is such a spectrum of outfits on show that you would not feel out of place whatever you wear. The advice is a minimum of a jacket to be worn for men, but if you do not care for the formal event, perhaps tonight would be the night to visit Silk or the Churrascaria for a more informal evening. Alternatively, the main restaurant, Waterside, offers somewhat of a gala dinner on black tie optional evenings including specialities such as caviar, oysters and lobster, and the photographers are positioned outside the restaurant to capture guests in their formal attire. Tonight we took the opportunity to watch one of the headline shows ‘Crystal on Broadway’ showcasing song and dance numbers from some well-known Broadway shows, all performed by Crystal Serenity’s own ensemble of singers and dancers. There are two show times most evenings, to fit in with the majority of guests’ dining times and tonight we saw the 7.45pm show, followed by dinner in Waterside. The Cruise Director, Rick Spath, made an appearance after the show giving a brief update on what to expect for tomorrow’s call in Catania. Unfortunately it seems the weather will be taking a turn for the worse and already some tours to Etna have been cancelled due to the conditions so we will see what tomorrow brings!
Day 4: Catania
This morning we were due to dock at 8am and I awoke at 6am as we were on the approach, the lights of the city up ahead. It was still dark at this time and I could see an electrical storm, bright flashes illuminating the heavy cloud around us so we decided to get up and walk around the promenade to investigate. The bank of grey cloud over the city didn’t look great, we couldn’t even see Etna towering over the city, but the thunder and lightning made for a pretty exciting show. At 7.45am we still seemed to be bobbing around outside the port area so we were curious to know what was going on and why we hadn’t docked yet, and at just gone 8am the Captain made an announcement to say our call into Catania was being cancelled due to high winds making it unsafe for us to get into the port. He further advised an amended schedule of sea day activities would be sent round to our staterooms and that we would have some scenic cruising through the straits of Messina at around noon plus a slight detour to see Stromboli around 4pm. Sure enough, a sea day schedule was delivered to our room with activities to keep us occupied for this unexpected day of sailing. The weather was not quite as good as yesterday so we made use of the blankets around the pool deck as well as enjoying more of the inside spaces such as the Bistro and library.
In the afternoon the winds and seas calmed and we could see the towering cone of Stromboli ahead in the distance so we enjoyed walking around the promenade deck keeping an eye on the volcano as we approached. At approximately 5pm the Captain made another announcement that we would head around to the north side of the island which is where the activity happens, and then double back so we could maximise the chance of seeing the volcano in action. Luckily for us, as we turned and more of the island came into view, we could see billowing smoke from the top which then tumbled down the north flank. The sun was shining directly on the volcano so we could see so clearly the island topography and the evidence of the continual eruptions of ash and rocks which had created a landslide of debris down the cone into the sea. As the sun set and we had doubled back to see the volcano on the port side, the darkness allowed us to see regular spurts of magma from the top, with rising orange plumes illuminating the sky. What a memorable and unexpected treat, the cancelled call into Catania could have so easily resulted in a slow day sailing straight on to Sorrento but this great detour proved to be one of the highlights of the trip! Thank you to Captain Birger for this fab ‘Plan B’!
Day 5: Sorrento
This morning I was up early again to watch the arrival into the bay of Naples where we would be dropping anchor by Sorrento. The sun rose over the city and breathed warmth over the ship and we spent some time taking some photos and enjoying the views of the city and the looming Vesuvius across the bay. This is turning into a volcano tour of Europe it seems!
After our usual breakfast in Marketplace we enjoyed some time on our balcony to try and avoid the initial rush from guests on excursions and to ensure the shops would be open when we arrived as it was currently only 8am. The tender took us ashore in a couple of minutes and although there was a shuttle bus offered by Crystal, we took the steep walk up to the town centre. From the view point over the cliffs we could see the Serenity in the bay, and we spent some time wandering the cobbled streets, having a traditional gelato and some arancini along the way. This port of call is a gateway to several points of interest including towns along the Amalfi coast, the city of Naples, mount Vesuvius and Pompeii, but as we had visited a few of these before we decided to stick with Sorrento and have a leisurely meander in the sun. We headed back on-board in the early afternoon and as most guests were still ashore enjoying their tours, we had the ship to ourselves for a few hours so we enjoyed a final lunch at the Trident Grill (plus the daily Scoops ice cream) and sat in the sun, once again loving the fact that we were sunbathing at the end of October whilst London was suffering with a drizzly weekend.
At around 5pm we retired to our stateroom as we had to pack for heading home tomorrow so we stuffed everything in the cases, freshened up, and headed out for our final evening. The ship set sail at 7pm so we watched the sail away from the comfort of Palm Court with a few cocktails before heading to our last dinner in Waterside. This evening there was roast beef and Yorkshire pudding on the menu so I couldn’t turn this opportunity down seeing as it is a Sunday – delicious! Sometimes the popular opinion is that the main restaurant on a cruise ship is inferior to the speciality restaurants but this couldn’t be further from the truth. I actually think Waterside is my favourite place for dinner, I love the formal setting, the wide variety of dishes with both the Modern and the Classic menus, and the flexibility of open seating to dine at a time which is convenient to you.
Day 6: Civitavecchia / disembarkation
Sadly our crystal experience had come to an end, we were getting off the ship in the morning to fly back to chilly London. We had already been given our disembarking instructions and had left our luggage outside our room last night so that was all taken care of. Our final bill arrived this morning, and because we had registered a credit card at the beginning of the cruise, it had already been settled so there was nothing more to do other than have our final breakfast and have a last wander around the sun deck and the promenade before heading back to reality. This trip was a real treat and I can see why our loyal guests come back time and time again. The on-board staff in all areas are friendly, knowledgeable, and efficient and really do make the holiday. Nothing is too much trouble and many make the effort to remember guests’ names and build a sincere rapport which makes a really special and memorable experience. Added to this, the range and quality of cuisine, the choice of entertainment to suit all tastes, and the amenities on-board, plus not forgetting the destinations which we travel to see, all make for a wonderful trip. Until next time, Crystal Serenity!
Feeling inspired to book a cruise around the Mediterranean? Visit http://www.crystalcruises.co.uk for more information.
Stay tuned for part 2 where Laura and Vicky will embark onboard Crystal Serenity and continue on the Mediterranean Passage cruise.