For shoreside pursuits, Crystal offers a fairly noteworthy range of options. In addition to the expected selection of tours focusing on city highlights and culture, the ship has several unusual and exciting options that cater to the line's well-heeled passengers. Perhaps you'd like to fly a MiG fighter jet in Russia or get VIP seats and hospitality at the Monaco Grand Prix? Other boutique and high-end tours include spa days at luxury spas, trips on private yachts and cooking classes with Michelin chefs.
A word of caution though: Even Crystal's standard shore excursions are expensive, with full-day excursions often costing hundreds of dollars.
If group tours aren't your thing, you can hire a private car and driver through the line, or create a private adventure through its travel concierge.
Crystal is also unique in that it offers voluntourism excursions on nearly every sailing through its "You Care. We Care." program. Examples include working at the San Francisco Food Bank; assisting with meal preparation for abused, ill or abandoned children in Nafplion; aiding injured sea turtles at a sea turtle research center in Athens; and helping to maintain the gardens with the elderly inhabitants of the 660-year-old Domus Christi shelter in Dubrovnik.
Finally, the ship offers complimentary shuttle service when the port town or city center is not in walking distance of the pier.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
Crystal stands out from the luxury cruise pack for its robust entertainment program. The line truly tries to offer something for everyone, and it's hard to remain bored for long. Even as the line is offering more port intensive itineraries, it remains committed to a varied roster of daytime activities, even adding more scheduled events for afternoons spent in port, for those who may do a morning tour and return to the ship for or after lunch.
In addition to the enrichment activities outlined below, a sea day schedule might include team trivia, affinity group get-togethers, afternoon movies in the Hollywood Theater on Deck 6, bridge or mah jongg play, needlepoint sessions, bingo and casino tournaments or wine tastings. These events are held all over the ship, in an array of lounge spaces, as well as the Marketplace between meals. Otherwise, there are many cozy spots for lounging with a good book.
Crystal also partners with Magic Castle, the Hollywood-based private club of the Academy of Magical Arts, to bring member magicians onboard to perform close-up magic shows for a limited number of passengers. You will be amazed at the sleight of hand performed just a few feet away from your seat without you having any idea how the magician found your card or made balls disappear and reappear. Half-hour shows take place on sea days, or in the late afternoon on sea days, and complimentary tickets must be reserved in advance at the library. Grab your tickets early as they go fast.
Crystal is investing in its evening entertainment program, and the caliber of productions is noticeably improving. The line has partnered with a known choreographer from London's West End to enhance its new "Crystal on Broadway, The Show" (featuring numbers from "Something Rotten," "West Side Story" and "Rent") and is leveraging its big-name partnerships, such as the one with producer Kevin McCollum (the man behind "Crystal on Broadway") to attract talented singers and dancers. If you've long dismissed small-ship evening entertainment, it might be time to give it a second chance. Crystal is positioning itself to outpace its luxury line competitors in this department.
Each evening, the Galaxy Lounge on Deck 6 forward hosts the main show, with two show times. Guest acts might include a musical soloist (including musical theater performers as part of the "Crystal on Broadway" program), comedian or magician, or the Crystal singer and dancers will do a Broadway revue. Sightlines are good -- unless someone tall sits in front of you as the seating is only gently sloped -- and drink service is available.
On many nights, a second cabaret show takes place in the Stardust Club on the same deck aft. Here, Crystal's own singers and dancers do swing and pop shows, among others, while passengers sit at four-top tables. Sometimes the second show is in an alternative location. We attended a packed, Irish Pub Night in the Avenue Saloon, which kept the crowds tapping their toes for three straight hours.
Another area in which Crystal Serenity excels is live music. The Crystal Cove off the Deck 5 atrium is the place for a variety of acts. On one night alone, you might get a pianist playing pre-dinner, a duo during the early evening, a violinist later on and a guitarist playing to the night owls. A pianist also sings and entertains in the Avenue Saloon just next to the Stardust after dinner; some of Crystal's pianists have quite the following.
Crystal Cruises also attract devoted ballroom dancers, who enjoy the dance band that plays in either the Palm Court or the Stardust Club. Dance hosts join most cruises to squire ladies around the dance floor, and they're happy to humor you if you're a beginner. Don't be intimidated by the experienced dancers! The ballroom dancers are indefatigable; they were going strong at midnight the night we hung out in the Palm Court.
The one overlooked venue -- at least on our sailing -- was the Pulse Nightclub. It's tucked away so doesn't get much foot traffic, so the DJ who comes on at 10 p.m. is often rather lonely. We never saw more than 10 people in the disco at night.
The Resorts World at Sea Casino, on Deck 6 just aft of the Galaxy Lounge, offers a comprehensive range of table games and slots. Look for casino tournaments on sea days.
The Hollywood Theater is the ship's cinema, if you'd rather watch recent releases on a big screen rather than on demand in your cabin. Popcorn is served. The screenings are great for cloudy afternoons at sea and as an alternative evening show. (By day, the venue hosts everything from guest lectures to religious services.)
The Crystal White Extravaganza is a signature event in which passengers dress in white and gather in the Crystal Cove to drink, dance and listen to music provided in turn by the various onboard musicians. If you want the full experience, make sure to pack an appropriate outfit.
If you think learning is fun, Crystal Serenity is your ship. The cruise line is big on all kinds of enrichment, from guest lectures to more hands-on activities.
Deck 7 is the heart of the line's enrichment program. There you'll find the Computer University @ Sea classroom, where classes range from digital moviemaking to the secrets of Photoshop and iPad use. Sign up for classes early, as they do fill up. A designated Bridge Lounge is the spot for both social play and beginner and intermediate-level classes. The cruise line brings on bridge instructors most sailings to teach passengers. (Puzzles are set out in the back of this area for those looking for a different kind of mental challenge.)
To satisfy Crystal's ballroom enthusiasts, four ballroom dancers offer both free group lessons and private, extra-fee classes ($100 for an hour, $75 for a half-hour). The latter are held in the new Dance Studio, adjacent to the Studio multipurpose meeting room.
The Odyssey Art at Sea program brings artists in residence aboard to instruct passengers in everything from watercolor to knitting. Make sure you attend on Day One to get the lay of the land; many projects are cumulative, and if you want to finish an art piece, you'll need to show up regularly throughout the cruise.
If you'd prefer to simply listen and learn, the Crystal Visions Enrichment Program attracts guest lecturers ranging from astronauts to retired actresses and politicians, as well as naturalists and general interest speakers. Don’t worry if you miss a talk; you can watch them on demand in your cabin.
Other learning opportunities include spa seminars (beware: these are usually aimed at selling you something), golf instruction with a PGA pro, cooking classes and mixology classes.
Crystal Symphony has a range of bars and lounges that each have their own ambiance and style, and many passengers have a favorite. Most also have live music throughout the evening, and on our cruise, the duos and soloists were so talented that guests would come to the bars as much to listen to the music as to sip their favorite beverage.
The line is hip to the craft cocktail trend, and features a selection of different gin and tonics, some made with herbs or flavored gins, as well as a Manhattan menu in the Avenue Saloon. You'll find other cocktail selections, as well as light and nonalcoholic cocktails, but the included liquor list is wide enough to satisfy most drinkers.
If you're drinking late at night, generally around 11 p.m. to midnight, waiters will come by the Avenue Saloon, Crystal Cove, Pulse and Stardust Club with snacks like pizza and mini grilled cheese sandwiches.
Passengers must be 18 to be served beer and wine, and 21 for liquor. However, when docked in the U.S. or sailing 3 miles or closer to shore, passengers must be 21 to be served any alcoholic beverage.
Crystal Cove (Deck 5): The atrium bar is the closest watering hole to Waterside, and makes a great meeting place for pre- or post-dinner drinks. The couches and oversized easy chairs make a great perch for listening to the rotating roster of live musicians who perform here, including on the unusual see-through piano. The performance quality is high -- you'll find you come for a drink but stay for the music.
Avenue Saloon (Deck 6): The most atmospheric bar onboard, the Avenue Saloon is dark and intimate with leather couches and easy chairs, shuttered windows and shaded table lamps dotting the bar. A pianist entertainer typically presides over the venue, but sometimes the bar is used for events like Irish Pub Night or even daytime seminars.
The Connoisseur Club (Deck 6): Next door to the Avenue Saloon is the cigar bar with its explorers' club feel. You can purchase a range of cigar brands, or enjoy manly drinks like single malt whiskeys, port wines and martinis.
Pulse Night Club (Deck 6): On the other side of the Avenue Saloon is the Pulse Night Club, where a DJ spins tune from 10 p.m. until "late." We're not sure this night spot has a pulse; every time we peeked in, we could count only a handful of partiers. On our cruise, the venue doubled as the spot for the Magic Castle close-up magic show -- and attendance at those intimate shows was possibly double what the disco gets.
The Silk Bar (Deck 12): The Silk Bar is less of a destination than a spot to meet up with your party before dinner at Silk Kitchen, and the supplier of Silk's signature drinks.
Palm Court and Sunset Bar (Deck 12): The Sunset Bar quenches the thirst of the dancers and schmoozers who hang out in the Palm Court day and night. If you're not in the Palm Court for an activity, it's still an ideal place to take in the views from the floor-to-ceiling windows, read, nap, knit or chat. If you want to be seen, choose an armchair or couch by the dance floor; to hide out, sneak behind the bar to the lower-level seating areas by the windows.
Serenity's Seahorse Pool is found on Deck 12 midship, and the area is colorful and cheery without being flashy. Rows of padded loungers, topped with terry cloth covers surround the pool. Long wicker couches and oversized circular "pod beds" heaped with pillows are perfect for either one or two people to stretch out comfortably in the sun. Two hot tubs overlook one end of the pool; a bandstand, shaded by a circus-tent inspired awning, faces the other.
If you're looking for additional lounge chairs, you won't find them circling the pool one deck up on Deck 13. Instead, they're located forward on that deck; but it can get windy in the open area up front. For more secluded sunbathing, head aft; you'll find lounge chairs, pod beds and chairs and tables on Decks 8, 9, 10 and 11. Note that these are also smoking areas.
Golf putting and driving nets are down on Deck 6 aft, along with Ping-Pong tables enclosed by a net. PGA golf instructors are often onboard to give workshops and private lessons. Shuffleboard is located a few decks above on Deck 8. Due to popular demand for paddle tennis, Serenity has two full-size courts located at the top of the ship on Deck 13.
The heart of the ship is the Deck 5 atrium, where you'll find the front desk, shore excursions, future cruise sales and Crystal Society host or hostess. The medical facility is also on this deck.
One flight up the grand stairway, Crystal's Avenue of the Stars boutiques circle the atrium on its upper level. The shops sell a range of jewelry from designer to diamond, watches from brands like Tag Heuer and Hublot, Crystal logowear, cruisewear (such as button-down shirts and dresses), cosmetics and perfume, name-brand purses, sunglasses and other gifts. Shops are only open when the ship is at sea. On sea days, shopping enthusiasts might enjoy fashion shows, talks from the designers and seminars about watches and gemstones.
Aft on Deck 6 is the Crystal Images photography center where you can find prints of photos taken by the ship's photographer or arrange for a private portrait session. Prints are pricy, and there's a flat-fee for unlimited digital images, but you have to buy each print as well.
Deck 7 aft houses the Bridge Lounge for card play and puzzles, The Studio for meetings and events and the well-stocked library. The Computer University@Sea area comprises an Internet Cafe, with computer stations and iPads for going online and printing out boarding passes, and a classroom for digital learning. Wi-Fi is complimentary for all passengers on one device per person at a time. (The 2018 refurbishment enhanced bandwidth and added signal boosters in all cabins; internet speeds were fast at sea, but the connection was spotty in several ports of call.)
Complimentary self-serve laundry and ironing facilities are located off the passenger corridors on Decks 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11. The launderettes include multiple washers and dryers with complimentary detergent, ironing boards and irons, a utility sink and a TV to entertain you while waiting or folding clothes.
Smoking is allowed only in the Connoisseur Club; on Decks 8 through 11 aft; on the port side of the pool deck; and on the Promenade Deck.
The Crystal Life Spa, Salon and Fitness Center make up Deck 13 aft. Treatment rooms include a couple's room and a Crystal quartz bed.
The spa offers a complete range of spa services, such as massages (hot stone, bamboo, Thai poultice, deep tissue and Swedish), facials and scrubs. Acupuncture and medispa services (dermal filler and wrinkle treatments, neck and tummy tightening) are available; the acupuncturist will also consult with you about (and sell you) Chinese herbal supplements.
If you are planning on purchasing three treatments, the spa offers a promotion where you get 10% off the most expensive treatment, 20% off the middle one and 30 percent off the least expensive treatment. You can also look for deals in the Reflections newsletter on select services offered at specific times.
The salon offers haircuts, styling and treatments using Kerastase products; manicures and pedicures; waxing; teeth whitening; men's barbering services; and lash enhancing.
In addition to changing facilities, showers and lockers, the single-sex changing rooms include complimentary steam room and sauna facilities. The relaxation room in the spa is a hidden find for a relaxing read, even if you're not booked in for a treatment.
The fitness center is divided into three sections. There's a cardio room with a line of treadmills facing the side of the ship (rather than forward), with a rowing machine and recumbent bikes, and a weight room with free weights, Technogym equipment and elliptical trainers. Cardio machines have individual TVs attached.
A group class area at the other end has spin bikes, yoga mats, foam rollers, bosus and a variety of workout balls, a TRX machine and even boxing gloves. Classes are complimentary and include Pilates, yoga, core work, stretching and Tour de Cycle. (Note there's not much room for individual mat work and stretching when there's a class taking place.)
Personal training, nutrition consultations and individual Pilates training are available for an additional fee.
If you're looking for an outdoor workout, Crystal Serenity offers more than the usual options. The wraparound teak promenade deck on Deck 7 is ideal for walking or jogging; 3.35 laps makes a mile and there are no lounge chairs to block your way. If you want to spice up your morning walk, borrow Leki walking poles or a weighted WalkVest for some extra resistance. A member of the fitness staff is on hand every morning to show you how to use them, and they're available to borrow throughout the day.
There's also a shorter circuit on the Astroturf above the pool on Deck 13; here, nearly 8 laps equals a mile.
The Fitness Garden spans Decks 7, 8 and 9, where outdoor exercise equipment is scattered among lounge chairs. We're not convinced these get any use, but they're fun to contemplate.
Crystal is one of the few luxury lines to offer any dedicated space for children and "kids sail free" promotions on select itineraries; the result is you will see children onboard. Cribs are available, no charge, and some staterooms, including all suites, have sofas that can be turned into third berths for kids. Kids 11 and younger pay 50 percent of the cruise fare when sharing a cabin with two fare-paying adults (for cruises without a kids-sail-free promo). The minimum age to sail is 6 months, but Crystal may restrict the number of passengers younger than 3 years old on any given sailing.
The two connected kids clubs, Fantasia and Waves are located on Deck 12 by the elevator banks between the pool deck and the Palm Court. The colorful space is divided into three multipurpose rooms, with kid-sized chairs and tables, a stash of board games and TVs for movies or game play (Sony PlayStation and X-Box 360). Fantasia technically hosts kids ages 3 to 12, while Waves caters to teens (13 to 17); children under age 3 can use the facilities when supervised by a parent or guardian.
Youth staff are not always onboard to staff these kid areas. They come onboard when there are at least 12 to 15 kids under the age of 17, usually during the summer or holidays. When they're onboard, kids will get their own junior newsletter with the days' activities. Events may include scavenger hunts, pajama parties, cookie baking or pizza making, karaoke, pool games and paddle tennis.
In-room baby-sitting services can always be arranged through the front desk for $10 per hour for one child, $15/hour for two and $20/hour for three. You will need to give 24 hours' notice.