At first glance, this is the odd one out when it comes to luxury cruising. Not only is the ship a lot larger than its six-star rivals, Crystal keeps the fixed two-sittings tradition for evening meals and you are allocated a table and waiter for the duration of the cruise.
Alcohol and gratuities are extra, except for British passengers who have bought a flycruise. All this had coloured my judgement of Crystal before I had even stepped on board.
However, by the time I stepped off, I found this was one of the most luxurious cruise experiences I have enjoyed. For one thing, the size of the ship compared with the number of passengers means there is plenty of space.
I thought the ship was half empty until everyone appeared at once for a special Asian lunch in the conservatory – my favourite part of the ship – on day three. The service was faultless, as was the food.
I was impressed with dinner in the main dining room, but that was surpassed by the dishes served in Prego, the Italian speciality restaurant, and The Silk Road, created by sushi king Nobuyuki Matsuhisa.
Both are included in the price, but a $6 per person gratuity is recommended. That’s fair enough, but the heavy-handed way a bill for that amount was delivered to the table at the end of the meal, taking away any idea it was voluntary, is my one criticism of the cruise.
My stateroom was a Penthouse, a nice room with a walk-in wardrobe, a marble bathroom with separate bath and shower, two sinks and a balcony.
I also had a butler, who laid out canapes at 5pm every afternoon.
Crystal Serenity fact sheet
Ship statistics: 68,000 tons, 548 suites, 465 of which have balconies. Holds 1,080 passengers.
Passenger crew ratio: 1.6:1.
On-board culture: Very American and upmarket, but not at all stuffy and dress was casual.
Facilities: Main dining room and self-service, Prego and The Silk Road speciality restaurants, pool-side grill and ice-cream bar. There is also a spa and fitness centre, two swimming pools and so many lounges people just disappear.
Cost of excursions: From $49 for a two-and-a-half-hour coach tour of Naples, to $356 for a cookery lesson in Florence (the tour lasts eight hours, the cooking lesson is three hours), or $2,368 for a four-hour helicopter flightseeing trip over the Dolomites.
Sample package: A seven-night cruise from Rome to Venice in September 2008 cost from £2,462 per person including flights and transfers.