Crystal Serenity – New Ownership, New Interiors, Same High Quality

In many ways, it looked like a brand-new ship.

We had just boarded Crystal Serenity in Quebec City for its first North American cruise after the bankruptcy of its parent company, Genting Hong Kong, many legal challenges, and eventual purchase in 2022 by the Abercrombie & Kent Travel Group.

Serenity is now 20 years old, and its sister ship, Crystal Symphony, has been sailing for 28 years. After acquiring both by A&K, they entered an Italian shipyard for a $150 million bow-to-stern refurbishment, about $20 million more than A&K paid for both ships. Crystal Serenity’s veteran Hotel Director, Scott Peterson, told us, “For two old ships, the commitment the new owners made is extraordinary.”

In the most remarkable change, Abercrombie & Kent decided to decrease the room count and lower the maximum number of passengers from 970 to 740. Crew and staff total 655, making the passenger/crew ratio close to a remarkable 1 to 1. All public areas looked new, upgraded, or totally changed. That upgrade was most evident on passenger decks 8 and 9, where all former rooms were removed and the area stripped down to bare steel. Fewer, larger, and more luxurious prefabricated suites were installed. Also, for the first time, single ocean-view rooms were added.

Sapphire Veranda Suite | Photo: John and Sandra Nowlan

We were booked in one of those 116 new Sapphire Veranda suites on Deck 9. Each is a generous 537 square feet, including a double-width balcony. In a word, it was stunning. The modern, bright sitting room had a large sofa, a marble-top work desk, a meal table, and four comfortable chairs. It included a large walk-in closet, a Nespresso coffee maker, and a fridge stocked with complimentary champagne, wine, and beer. Every room category on Serenity includes the services of a well-trained butler who brings hors d’oeuvres every afternoon, fresh fruit daily, and can look after all needs, including laundry and pressing. Instead of paper, there’s an iPad in every room with daily programs, restaurant menus, and even full copies of daily newspapers from around the world. If requested, a printed daily schedule is available.

The Sapphire Suite Bathroom | Photo: John and Sandra Nowlan

The bed, in a separate room, is king size with high-end Italian sheets, the most luxurious we’ve ever experienced at sea. A marble table, a reading light, USB ports, and electric outlets are on each side of the bed. Both rooms include a 50-inch high-res TV with a wide selection of movies and several U.S. and international TV channels. Wi-Fi was, as expected, the best currently available at sea. The bathroom in our suite included two sinks along a marble counter, both liquid and bar soap, toiletries from upscale Ortigia Sicilia, and a huge shower, big enough for three people, with four separate nozzles.

Outstanding cuisine has always been a hallmark of the Crystal experience, and the new owners intend to build on and enhance that reputation. Many restaurants, including the Marketplace Buffet, Trident Grill, and Tastes Kitchen, have been refreshed and upgraded on Deck 12 and the main Waterside restaurant on Deck 5. Seeing fresh squeezed orange juice and real maple syrup at breakfast was a treat. The significant dining changes are evident in the two specialty restaurants on Deck 7.

Umi Uma, Miso Glazed Black Cod | Photo: John and Sandra Nowlan

Umi Uma (Sea Horse), known as Silk Road prior to 2018, is Master Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s only restaurant at sea. It was totally gutted and refurbished earlier this year. The popular sushi bar remains and table guests can enjoy Nobu’s award-winning Japanese-Peruvian specialties like Lobster with Truffle Yuzu, Sashimi Salad, and Miso Glazed Black Cod.

Salt Baked Sea Bass from the new Osteria d’Ovidio | Photo: John and Sandra Nowlan

Prego, the Italian specialty restaurant on Deck 7, has had a remake and a name change. It is now known as Osteria d’Ovidio to honour Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, former owner of Silversea Cruises and now Executive Chairman of the Abercrombie & Kent Travel Group. Our favorite dishes included Lobster in the Aqua Sale, Salt Baked Sea Bass, Tortello Pasta with braised beef, and Risotto with Scampi. Missing from the menu is a Prego staple, Mushroom Soup in a Bread Bowl. But the main restaurant, Waterside, includes it at least once per cruise.

The Palm Court | Photo: John and Sandra Nowlan

With its wrap-around ocean views, the elegant Palm Court on Deck 12 has always been the relaxation and reception center on Crystal Serenity. It has stayed much the same, with daily trivia and formal afternoon tea as regular events. The popular Mozart Tea, presented once each cruise with waiters in late 18th-century attire, has been dropped by the new owners. In its place, a Chocolate Tea will be featured.

Crystal has maintained the quality and quantity of its entertainment. The seven-piece Galaxy Show Band and the ten singers and dancers in the ensemble were outstanding. Enrichment lectures plus golf, bridge, art, and Computer University at Sea instruction are available most days.

One key reason we found the service on the “new” Crystal Serenity so smooth and professional was that more than 80% of former employees, many of whom had found other jobs since the bankruptcy, chose to return to Crystal. It’s an indication of the affection the crew and staff feel for the

Scott Peterson, the Hotel Manager, understands that passion and optimism. He thinks guests will, too. “For many years, Crystal was the number one cruise line in the world,” he noted. “Our goal is to return to that status and to be exceptional.”

John and Sandra Nowlan are travel and food writers based in the port city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Cruising has been their passion for the past two decades and they have traveled to and written about all seven continents. Their articles and photographs have appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout Canada, the United States, and Australia.