It’s 9:00 a.m. and I hear a knock at the door. No need to get up, I already know it’s the butler coming to serve a breakfast of Eggs Benedict, fresh brewed coffee and an assortment of freshly baked pastries. Nothing to do now, but enjoy and prepare for a day of gourmet meals and a staff of people dedicated to anticipating my every need.
Ah-h-h-h, life is good.
No. I’m not dreaming and I didn’t hit the lottery. You don’t have to be rich to get a sample of living like the 1% when aboard a luxury cruise ship.
A private butler along with a luxury Penthouse suite with veranda, bathroom with shower and a full Jacuzzi tub are just part of the experience offered to guests of Crystal Cruise Lines. The surprise is that if you can manage without a private butler and only slightly smaller accommodations, a cruise aboard the same ship, with all the luxury amenities, can be remarkably affordable.
What Cost Luxury?
I took a seven-day cruise in the Gulf of St. Lawrence that began and ended in Québec City, Canada to find out what is offered on a luxury cruise and if the additional cost is justified.
When comparing cruise prices, you must consider the actual cost. Besides the fare, this includes the cost of all ‘extras’ like tipping, beverages, onboard restaurant dining and then weighing this against quality of service, passenger-to-staff ratio and overall amenities.
The experience, and comparison, begins from the moment you arrive. An efficient staff met us at the airport and, without problems or delays, our bags were loaded and we were taken to the ship. Normally, there are long delays when boarding a large ship for security and check-in procedures. Not so with Crystal. We boarded immediately. Refreshments helped us forget the long flight from Los Angeles without a meal.
Although not new (launched 2003), a recent $17-million face-lift – part of a two year, $52 million investment – gave Serenity new furnishings along with redesigned staterooms and public areas. The result is an elegant, yet contemporary, feel and attention to detail rarely found on large ships. Wine is served in fine crystal glasses and tea in Wedgwood bone china. It’s more like being in a fine home than on a large ship that accommodates nearly 1,100 passengers.
This feeling is enhanced by excellent service thanks to the high (by industry standards) crew-to-passenger ratio. For most large ships, this ratio is about one staff person to every three to four guests. For Crystal, there is about one crew person for every two guests. The difference is abundantly apparent. There were never any lines, no excess waiting and always someone was nearby to help.
All of the staterooms are spacious. The luxurious Penthouse suite (among the largest of its class in the industry) includes a queen or twin beds, sitting area with couch, chair and table, a full bath with shower, double sink and Jacuzzi tub and a private veranda all packaged in tastefully harmonized and modern window treatments, wall coverings, upholstery, and bedcovers.
The veranda stateroom (also large by industry standards) includes a private veranda, sitting area and queen or twin beds. Standard staterooms without veranda include large picture window, sitting area full bath and queen or town beds.
The elegant, wood paneled Crystal Dining Room is more like dining in a fine restaurant where gourmet dishes are served at breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food was consistently excellent and certainly a cut above any meals I have had on mainstream cruise lines.
Additionally, Crystal has two private restaurants: the Italian-themed Prego and the Asian-themed Silk Road.
The romantic Prego offers some of the finest northern Italian fare I have had – at sea or ashore – in a quiet, intimate setting. Silk Road operates under the supervision of master chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisam renowned for blending classically styled Japanese foods with distinct Peruvian and European influences.
An equivalent meal with wine at an upscale restaurant in Beverly Hills would cost hundreds of dollars. On Crystal, one visit to each restaurant is free, additional visits are only $30.
In some ways, Crystal is an insider’s ‘secret’ not shared by those who would appreciate the combination of personalized service and big ship amenities and activities. Most of the guests are repeat customers. On my cruise, the majority of the passengers had cruised on Crystal in the past (one was celebrating her 324th Crystal cruise and four live aboard full-time).
“It’s the quality of the food, the elegant accommodations, the entertainment and the friendliness and professionalism of the staff and crew that brings people back. For us, it’s all about creating the best possible guest experience,” said Gary Hunter, Cruise Director on the Crystal Serenity.
But, it can feel like a private club to those new to the line as people reminisce about past experiences. The passengers aboard Crystal also tend to be the older, retired, country-club set. On my cruise, the average passenger age was in the late 60s to 70s.
One reason may be the higher cost of the cruise; another the destination. More active destinations (like the Caribbean) attract a far younger audience. Still, if you are in your 20s or 30s and looking for all night partying, this is probably not the line for you.
“We are attracting younger people and those new to Crystal. More seven-day cruises, entertainment geared to young audiences, lectures, onboard learning classes and more active shore excursions are helping in this regard,” noted Hunter.
All Inclusive Fare
Unlike most large ships, Crystal is ‘all inclusive’ so, tips for the staff, drinks (including wine and other alcoholic drinks), dinner at the specialty restaurants and other bonuses, not normally included on mainstream cruise lines, are part of the package. For example, my trip included free transport to and from the airport in Québec or from Montreal to Québec. Some cruises also include the airfare from selected locations.
“All inclusive means that you are not asked to sign something every time you are served or you receive something that is not included,“ noted Josef Lumetsberger, Hotel Director on the Serenity.
At a cost (for this seven-day voyage) of about $7,000 per person, the Penthouse is not cheap, but, in addition to a large suite, it includes the personal, attentive service of your own butler who will press your clothes, serve meals in your room, make reservations for you and be sure your favorite wine is always chilled and ready.
Generally, the cost for a veranda stateroom ($3,800 per person for this cruise) is about $1,000 more than on a mainstream cruise line. But, the ‘extras’ on Crystal more than compensate for the additional cost.
For example, most mainstream cruise lines offer drink packages to cover the cost of wine, liquor and soft drinks. With tips, the such packages cost about $77 per day. But, everyone in your party (even minors) must purchase the package if one wants it.
In addition, there are charges for dining at onboard restaurants (prices range from $25 to $60 per person for each dinner depending on the cruise line). Tips for room stewards, serving staff, Maitre’d and others who provide service is also not included ($100 to $200 on average per person for seven days).
Adding this up, and taking into account the overall experience, the cost of travel on a luxury ship, like Crystal Serenity, can be nearly the same as for a ship that is much larger, more crowded and not as elegant.
It’s clear why Crystal Cruise Line is consistently ranked as the best luxury cruise line and why the majority of their passengers are repeat customers.
More information can be found at the Crystal Cruises website.