There are many cruise lines around the world and, even for people who travel frequently, appreciating what makes each cruise line different can be a daunting task. I’m a firm believer that there is a cruise experience for everyone, whether you enjoy bumper cars at sea or a thrilling expedition to the polar regions. Cruising has never been more popular, thanks not only to the accessibility of the travel style, but lower costs and a greater willingness by travelers to do something a little different, to venture out further than they would ordinarily. Personally, I think cruising is a great arrow in one’s travel quiver. It’s another option, to be enjoyed every now and then as a unique way to experience destinations you might not otherwise see. I’ve always enjoyed this style of travel, and in recent years I’ve fine-tuned what it is I like most in a great cruise experience. A focus on the destination, dedicated crew members and a certain level of comfort are all important to me, and they’re also all qualities I found in clear abundance during my first sailing with Crystal Ocean Cruises onboard the Crystal Serenity. Today I want to share some features of both the ship and the company that might be news to you but which, for me at least, made my adventure with them an experience that I know I’ll never forget. Note: I was invited by Crystal Ocean Cruises to join them for a sailing but, as always, all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.
I see many mass-market cruises as a way for companies to squeeze every last cent from my pockets for a week, while also visiting some nice destinations. As long as one understands that going into the experience, I suppose it’s fine but it also deeply annoys me. Whether it’s an airline, hotel or cruise line I always prefer to pay a little more if it means that I’ll be left alone. That’s one of many reasons why I was so excited for my sailing with Crystal Ocean Cruises, for their promise of an all-inclusive experience. I’m a natural-born cynic though, so I went into the experience a little wary but immediately realized that yes, sailing with Crystal Cruises really is an all-inclusive luxury experience. Not only is the experience all-inclusive, it’s superior than any other cruise line with whom I’ve sailed. For every guest, amenities such as fine wines, champagnes, specialty coffees, dining (including specialty restaurants), Wi-Fi, gratuities and more are always included. That still astounds me and made the journey so much more pleasant than others I’ve experienced. It’s nice not to feel like a number or a walking ATM for once; allowed to just enjoy the experience and forget about everything else.
Dedication to the Destination
Travel and especially luxury travel is in the process of a remarkable shift, one that has had reverberations on every aspect of the experience. Namely, travelers are no longer content with the old ways of doing things, instead they want travel experiences that are immersive, responsible, engaging and which connect them to local communities. That’s true no matter where in the world I visit, and it’s a trend not just for Millennials but every age and style of traveler. Thankfully, Crystal has embraced this concept and the destinations are very much a central aspect of the experience. I sailed with Crystal along the Mexican Riviera, from Puerto Vallarta to Los Angeles, a sailing with several ports of call in cities that were all new to me. I tried not to be my normal Type A self this trip, booking just a couple of excursions beforehand and leaving the other ports of call open to my own random explorations. Onboard, the crewmembers did a fantastic job preparing guests for the various stops, giving us all of the information we needed to best see the cities and get us excited for the adventure. In cities where the walk to the main part of town is longer than normal, Crystal also provides complimentary shuttles, another great feature that is nearly impossible to find in the cruise experience. That convenience also set me up for success on my independent days, allowing me to get out and experience the new-to-me ports of call in my own very personal way. The two shore excursions I planned were fantastic value added experiences, providing me with a different way to see the destinations and also have a lot of fun along the way. People travel to experience new places and meet new people; it was gratifying to see how thoroughly Crystal embraces this concept of personalized exploration.
This may or may not be a surprise, but in the hospitality business there is an important aspect that so many companies get wrong – hospitality. It seems counterintuitive, but it has increasingly become harder to find truly exceptional service and attention to detail. That’s one aspect that almost always sets the luxury travel experience apart from others and it truly came to define my time onboard the Crystal Serenity. It’s an important part of the cruise line’s DNA, as I learned, and to isolate each example would mean a minute-by-minute recap of my weeklong cruise. No, instead there are a couple of examples I want to share that I think exemplify what this commitment to kindness and service is all about. I was walking down the hallway one day and noticed one of the butlers chatting with a guest as he dropped something off for her. About 15 minutes later I walked by again, and they were still chatting. She was a little older, traveling alone and her face was lit up with excitement as she detailed her day. I am positive that the butler had many other things to do, but he understood her need to be heard and to share, and by spending a little bit more time with her he obviously made her day. Folks, that’s true human empathy and is an all too rare commodity in the travel experience. Whether it was ensuring my fridge was fully stocked with Diet Coke, helping passengers figure out their days onshore or just confirming a dinner reservation, I never heard the word “No” onboard the Serenity and it’s this level of care that sets Crystal Cruises apart. Of course, this level of hospitality wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the ratio of crew to passengers, 1 to 0.67. One of the lowest in the industry, it pretty much guarantees personalized service that just isn’t possible to find anywhere else. It transforms the trip into a remarkable life experience that I’m sure no one soon forgets.
The “It” Factor
I’ve sailed with a number of different cruise lines over the years on nearly every type of ship in many corners of the world. None of that prepared me for the Crystal experience though for the simple fact that there’s nothing else quite like it. Luxury is a mantle that is too easily applied in 2019. Every company seems to want to be included in this exclusive category, but true luxury isn’t so easy to find. And yet, that’s exactly what my time spent with Crystal Cruises was, a remarkable luxury travel experience. Crystal has spent years fine-tuning their product and since they currently have just a couple of ocean-going ships, they have the opportunity to create what are near-perfect experiences for their guests. It’s this level of customization and personalization that I think is key. Unlike many other cruise lines, they have the ability to cater the travel experience to the expectations and demands of their passengers, a luxury not many other companies enjoy. As a result, the sailing experience feels bespoke, special and certainly unique. An almost indefinable feeling, this is the “It” factor that everyone wants to enjoy, but which is so difficult to find.
I expected to enjoy my sailing with Crystal Cruises and I’m so thankful that they invited me to join them in Mexico. What I didn’t expect was to be as impressed as I was. Sure, I knew that there would be certain luxuries and amenities, but my cruise experience was about so much more than some creature comforts. It was one of the most enjoyable weeks at sea I’ve ever spent, and that has nothing to do with a high thread-count. No, that comes from a different place; it comes from a commitment to service and to ensuring guests are treated as valued passengers. That in turn changes everything, the trip is so much more fun than it would have otherwise been and provided me with the chance to sit back, relax and just enjoy the experience. As strange as it sounds, that’s increasingly rare – especially for me – and it’s a feeling I very sincerely hope to experience again, and soon.