Sitting here at my desk on a very chilly January morning, it’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago I was sailing along the golden coast of the Mexican Riviera with luxury cruise line, Crystal Cruises. Onboard their newly refurbished ship, the Crystal Serenity, I enjoyed an incredible week exploring new-to-me cities like Mazatlan, La Paz and Cabo San Lucas. There were many special moments, both onboard and ashore, that created a memorable travel experience, but today I thought I’d share those key qualities that truly transformed the voyage into a trip I know that I’ll never forget.
I was lucky in that the Crystal Serenity had finished a massive dry dock overhaul just a few weeks before I boarded her. It was an extensive process that changed a lot onboard and, even if I didn’t fully realize it at the time, made my trip even better than it otherwise would have been. During that refurbishment, new interior design elements were added, certain staterooms reconfigured and new restaurants created. As a guest, the result was nothing short of amazing and I’m so happy I was able to sail the newly reimagined ship so soon after her dry dock. By cruise standards, the Crystal Serenity is small, about half the size of the typical mass-market mega-ships, but on the large side for luxury ships. The changes enabled the Serenity to offer open seating at all meals, which means no reservations or set times are necessary for the main dining room. It also gave me a stateroom that very quickly became my all-time favorite. Rooms were expanded and more suites added, creating an even more luxurious and bespoke experience for guests. It’s remarkable how much they were able to do in such a short dry dock, but the changes will keep the Serenity modern and a pleasure to sail on for years to come.
At the port of La Paz, I booked a Crystal Adventures Shore Excursion so I could spend a day exploring the colorful town of Todos Santos. Todos Santos is most famous for the Hotel California, which may or may not have been the inspiration for that famous song by the Eagles. Turns out though that’s the least important reason to love this small town. The process of the organized tour with Crystal couldn’t have been easier, and from start to finish I was well taken care of by both the guide and crewmember who joined to ensure everything was ok. After a bus ride through the surrounding desert, we arrived into the oasis town of Todos Santos, everyone excited to see as much as possible. Walking around the old historic core, the vibrant colors of the buildings and the incredible wintertime weather all left me completely entranced. Turns out I’m not alone, Todos Santos has been quietly gaining a lot of attention by tourists in the know and even the Mexican government named it a Pueblo Magico, one of just 100 or so communities around Mexico recognized for its natural beauty, cultural richness and history. I’d never heard of this small town along the coast before, but I know it’s a spot that I won’t soon forget.
Although I do enjoy cruising, some aspects of the industry have always annoyed me, including the feeling that I’m being asked for money at every turn. That’s one of the many reasons why I was so curious about Crystal Cruises, which promises an all-inclusive experience. Frankly, it seemed to good to be true and even boarding the ship I was a little skeptical. But, after a week sailing with them along the Mexican Riviera, I learned that 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. That’s always been at the heart of the Crystal experience though, since they were founded in 1990 and continues through to 2019.
Camels in the Desert
I’d wanted to visit Cabo San Lucas for a very long time and I was thrilled that it was one of the ports of call along the Mexican Riviera. I was also very excited for the shore excursion I booked through Crystal, a chance to spend the day outside of the city at a unique desert adventure center. Located along the Pacific Ocean is an unlikely sanctuary that introduces visitors every day to rescued camels. I’m always very hesitant about animal related activities because, to be honest, most aren’t responsible. This sanctuary is different though and they’ve brought camels from various parts of the Americas together to give them a better life and to share their stories with tourists like me. It was a fun day out and about and one of the best ways to better appreciate the high desert landscape of Baja California. After the excursion, I spent some time exploring the massive marina in Cabo before rejoining the ship for some much needed rest. One quick thing to note, this was the only port where we had to tender – take smaller boats to the port – and I was overall very impressed with the process. Believe it or not, but not all cruise lines manage the tendering process very well, but the wait time to return was short, the lines well organized and they even provided refreshments on the dock for passengers to enjoy before boarding the tender. Overall it was a very well organized and even pleasant experience.
The culinary aspect of the voyage is one that Crystal takes great pride in, and with good reason. I’m a very picky eater and sometimes that doesn’t mesh well with fine dining. I was slightly nervous about the food aspect before the trip, but throughout the week I was impressed with the options that even someone like me could enjoy. Throughout the day there are a number of different dining options, as on any cruise ship. The main dining room, Waterside, is open for all three meals and features rotating menus that include both Michelin-inspired dishes as well as more comforting classics that are better suited to my own palate. In the mornings, I preferred the buffet breakfast setup though of the Marketplace, which features everything and anything you could possibly want in the first meal of the day. Interestingly enough, that same space transforms in the evenings to become the Churrascaria, a Brazilian-style grill. If you’ve eaten at Fogo de Chao or any other Brazilian grill, it’s the same experience and was one of the culinary highlights of my trip. I enjoyed it so much that I ate dinner there twice. During the afternoon hours, many options are available whether you want a quick bite, something more organized or, my favorite, a made to order burger in the Trident Grill. Another feature that impressed me was the onboard coffee shop, the Bistro. Throughout the day guests can enjoy snacks and specialty coffees in this relaxed spot, all included of course. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from the food onboard the Crystal Serenity but I shouldn’t have been worried. Not only did I enjoy almost everything, but it quickly became an important aspect of the travel experience for me.
Chance to Finally Relax
I’m not normally a “sit by the pool and relax” kind of guy. No, I’m a “let’s worry about every detail” sort of traveler and always have been. I’m a fast-moving, Type-A personality and even when presented with incredible opportunities to decompress, it’s rare when I can actually turn my brain off long enough to enjoy the experience. Perhaps that’s why I’m so smitten by Crystal Cruises. Over the course of a week I relaxed and enjoyed the trip more than I have in a very long time. There are many reasons why I was able to enjoy being in the moment, starting with the service onboard. Every detail was already seen to; I literally had nothing to worry about. If something did arise, my butler would help me out. The luxury amenities onboard the ship certainly also aided my quick acceptance of vacation mode, but ultimately nice linens alone don’t create a luxury travel experience. It comes from a perfect balance of those accouterments along with service, hospitality and overall spirit of the experience. Crystal has somehow fine-tuned this phenomenon and I now understand why its passengers are so very loyal to the company. There’s simply nothing else like Crystal Cruises out there and it’s because of that, more than anything else that I know this won’t be my last experience sailing onboard the Serenity.