Guest contributor David Wishart, a well-known international travel writer and cruise expert, shares his recent travel experience aboard the Crystal Serenity. Be sure to check back in with us for some more insightful reviews from David’s travel exploits.
Crossing the Atlantic Ocean used to be such an ordeal. Christopher Columbus, for example, took 70 days to get to the other side.
My recent cruise from Barcelona to Miami followed a similar route, steaming fairly close to Palos, the tiny Spanish port that Columbus set sail from in 1492. However for me, the journey was only 12 days and I was fortunate to have calm seas and sunshine the whole way.
While I enjoyed retracing Columbus’s epic voyage, most of the 800 others on the Crystal Serenity probably didn’t care. One man told me he hated flying, another said that his wife wanted to avoid jetlag, and a throng was there, it seemed, just to play Bridge.
Although there was no doubt that everyone enjoyed the discounted fares of this repositioning cruise. In our case we were one of an armada of ships sailing west – mostly to Miami and Ft Lauderdale. It is something that happens every autumn, and the reverse in the spring. However, if you prefer northern latitudes, Cunard also does Southampton to New York; but that is its flagship itinerary.
Repositioning cruises are lean on ports – just Tenerife and St Martin in this instance – so the cruise lines bulk up on entertainment. Crystal Serenity themed the trip Big Band cruise and brought aboard the 17-strong Artie Shaw Orchestra. There were also half a dozen gentlemen hosts to dance with the ladies. No lonely nights then. But what is there to do on Crystal Serenity during those sea days?
Tip #1: Find a comfy chair and “open” a good book
Load your eBook reader with favorites or classics that you have been putting off. And, if you are doing this to please your partner and think this might be a cruise too far, bring War and Peace. On the other hand, Crystal Serenity has a splendid library that includes films that you can play in cabins. You won’t find Titanic though.
Tip #2: Seek out the computer room
Once the orphan of the storm, the computer room is now the busiest place on the ship (after the self-service laundry room). For that thank the iPad, as ubiquitous on board as sequins in the bar. Going on line at sea is not cheap, but nor is any satellite service. You will find friendly computer staff though, regardless of whether you are a geek or granny.
Tip #3: Have a leisurely breakfast on the Lido deck
Personally I like days at sea, when a ship can get into its stride and is freed from the disruptions of docking. I often go to the Lido deck aft for breakfast outside and, if my luck is in, sit at a table right at the stern with just a whisker between me and the ocean churning below as we spank along at 19 knots. If you love the sea and ships, this is truly a special place.
Tip #4: Indulge
The breakfast buffet was amazing. (It beats me that swanky hotels often seem to struggle with the idea of providing fresh fruit every morning, yet Crystal Serenity serves up mango and strawberries, and never runs out). But, beyond breakfast, the food in general was marvelous. I particularly liked the two-sitting arrangement, as it enabled passengers to have the same table and waiter every night. There was also a willing head waiter who could whip up a curry on request, and two bijou restaurants: the Italian Prego, and Silk Road (which is a work of art by Japan’s Nobu). Both were offered at no extra charge – as was all drinks and wines.
Tip #5: Get active
Time for golf? Joe Herbert, the golf pro on board, has a great setup with two nets and excellent clubs for free use. He is an accomplished teacher and his twice- daily classes were well attended. But, if golf isn’t your thing, head on over to the gym.
Tip #6: Learn a new language
An hour later and I am in the Spanish class, where Nelson has an equally enthusiastic following. As that ends, the room quickly fills with passengers learning to play the keyboard. Are we having fun yet?
Tip #7: Attend a lecture
You hear some good speakers at sea, and Lee Ellis (pictured) is one of the best. Shot down over Vietnam, he spent five years in the prison known as the Hanoi Hilton and is now a motivational speaker.
Tip #8: Relax
Slide across to the spa for a massage. Or, as the sun goes down take a cue and sink into a bath (albeit something not found on an average cruise ship). While you soak have your butler press your dinner jacket.
Tip #9: Make new friends
A fabulous benefit of a voyage like this (and a real voyage it is), is that you can really get to know people and make friends. Most are veteran cruisers who have done the Med, Caribbean, Alaska and more.
Tip #10: Enjoy the entertainment
The Crystal Serenity had everything from a proper cinema, a casino, shopping and of course Artie Shaw.
Yes, there were two ports of call, but the ship is the thing, and the voyage, and thinking about Christopher Columbus whose heart was set on arriving in India. He never got the curry that we had, but he did find America.