NOVEMBER 2013 – The only way to take in a combination of cities with a perfectly balanced blend of regal heritage and modern design in a short period of time is to board one of the world’s most prestigious ships,funpack – just once – and immerse yourself in a luxury travel experience so extraordinary that it will change your perspective on cruising forever. Everything about the Crystal Serenity is destined to make you wonder why you hadn’t discovered this remarkably relaxed way of exploring the world sooner.
Why hadn’t you figured out that flights and trains between six different countries might actually take longer than sailing between them – while you sleep like a princess, waking to find yet another new city to explore, or simply to spend an enriching day at sea? With a personal butler to do the thinking for you, a Crystal Cruise offers a style of travel that surpasses even the most sceptical independent traveller’s expectations, hands down. Crystal Serenity is the largest of two luxury cruise ships operated by Crystal Cruises, yet it still feels as intimate as a world-class boutique hotel.
What sets it apart is an extraordinary choice of entertainment, activities and gourmet dining experiences set over 13 decks, so that guests never feel crowded. But more importantly, the Crystal journey is about bespoke service. It’s about an ever-present but entirely unobtrusive complement of staff (one for every two guests), who enjoys engaging warmly with discerning travellers from all over the world, enveloping them in a sense of wellbeing from the moment they board. And to ensure an entirely stress-free cruise, an online cruise planner allows for priority check-in and assists with advance restaurant reservations and excursions on shore. Of course, if you’re staying in a Penthouse Suite, it’s double the pleasure as everything is laid on, from personal stationery to binoculars.
Before long you can expect your butler to remember your favourite cocktail, and that you enjoy a cappuccino long after an Italian would deem it acceptable – though he’ll oblige with a flourish. It’s the personal touches that count – always replenishing the tonic for impromptu G&Ts and recalling that you prefer lime to lemon. Settle in, once everything is unpacked in your walk-in dressing room and discover oh-so-soft Frette bathrobes and Aveda amenities of pure flower and plant essences. Bathing on the Baltic has never been this good! Get set to let every muscle go once the bubbles rise in the Jacuzzi bathtub before dressing for your first gourmet experience of the journey.
Crystal Cruises’ Asian dining restaurants are simply the best at sea, serving the gourmet delights of the legendary Nobuyuki ‘Nobu’ Matsuhisa. Then there’s Piero Selvaggio’s Italian dishes as well as other delights from Crystal’s acclaimed chefs, all to be savoured over the next 10 nights and days. Repeat guests will invite you to share their secret hot spot: The Sushi Bar, where an intimate group of diners can watch top chefs creating mouthwatering Nobu specials such as yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno, tuna tataki with ponzo sauce or grilled wagyu beef steak served with three delicious sauces.
Pan-Asian taste sensations continue at the legendary Silk Road, the only sea going restaurant in Nobu’s global empire, where guests experience the full ritual of Japanese cuisine. Piero Selvaggio’s menu at Prego, an intimate Tuscan restaurant, reads like an opera and is prepared and served with equal passion (the slow-roasted pumpkin ravioli is legendary). Solo travellers enjoy an invitation to join a ‘table for eight’, a unique concept that offers speciality dining around a community table. But for something completely different, several evenings of buffet-style theme feasts afford guests the opportunity to try new dishes every time. Well-trained sommeliers love presenting wines from their home country, but if you’d like an exclusive food-and-wine pairing, The Vintage Room awaits. By special arrangement, private parties of up to 12 can enjoy a bespoke menu of dishes created by the chef to match a collection of fine wines – complete with winetasting notes from the head sommelier. One of the benefits of taking a 10-day voyage is that there is plenty of time to savour all these on-board feasts.
They are all-inclusive, which means guests can rather splurge on shore excursions and luxury shopping. There’s certainly plenty of exploring to be had as this Baltic experience explores the best of Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Russia, Germany and Denmark. The ship docks at the ports of Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn, St Petersburg, Warnemünde (allowing sufficient time for an excursion to Berlin) and finally, Copenhagen, and each shore excursion takes in an exciting mix of old and new at each destination, as well as plenty of culinary highlights. Many guests choose to spend their first night at the elegant Grand Hôtel in Stockholm, to recover from long-haul flights before boarding the ship. You can check-in for the cruise here, too, as it’s a partner in the Crystal Hotel Programme.
It’s the ideal way to begin the holiday as, set on the waterfront opposite the Royal Palace, and close to the historical old town of Gamla stan, the romantic hotel offers a magnificent introduction to the Swedish capital –known as ‘Beauty on Water’ because it spreads over 14 scenic interlocking islands. Once aboard, there are still two days to enjoy guided excursions in this fashionable city. The first overnight sailing takes you swiftly to Helsinki.
This is best seen on foot, and there are plenty of guided walks, stopping at museums and cultural sights, or at Kauppatori Market Square, where summer flowers and fruit are abundant and the day’s freshest catch is sold from open boats. Fish lovers should try the marinated herring or salmon, but there will also be reindeer, elk and hare on the menu. Finland is home to Finnish designers Marimekko and Vuokko, so leave time to pop into one of their Helsinki stores. And don’t miss the extraordinary Chapel of Silence (built in an elliptical shape especially for World Design Capital 2012) and the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Equally interesting is the Church of the Rock or Temppeliaukio Kirkko, with its excellent acoustics that makes it a popular venue for concerts.
Shortly after returning to the ship, you’ll set sail for Tallinn, in Estonia. The birthplace of Skype is a romantic medieval city with cobbled streets in the Lower Old Town and cafés spilling onto the sidewalks adding a convivial atmosphere. Estonia is the perfect contrast between the culturally diverse, design-forward atmosphere of Helsinki and St Petersburg, where much of the city appears frozen in a time warp.
While sailing on to Russia that night, a sophisticated evening of theatre, cabaret or dancing sees guests dressed up in tuxedos or cocktail gowns. Lavish Broadway-style productions or sessions at the pulsing dance club beckon – unless you’d rather try your luck at the Crystal Casino. Dancers can take complimentary dance classes or whirl the night away with an Ambassador Host, an experienced ballroom dancer. If that’s not your style, take in a movie in the Hollywood Theatre followed by a browse through the ship’s boutiques. If you’re up early the next morning, you’ll notice the morning sun lighting the dachi, or summer houses, dotting the countryside as the ship slices through the grey-blue waters of the Neva River before reaching the outskirts of the city of contrasts that is St Petersburg. Stark Communist architecture contrasts sharply with Peter the Great’s predilection for the baroque and rococo styles – clearly visible in arches, columns and stucco on façades painted in every shade of green, yellow, amber, blue and cream. Comparisons with Venice are inevitable, but the scale is more that of Paris and its wide boulevards. Disembark for a day of discovery in this magical city.
Take a boat ride on its canals and be whisked into the astounding galleries of the Hermitage with pre-booked tickets. The choice is yours… Will it be a night at the ballet? A countryside excursion to Catherine Palace with its magnificent amber room? Or a visit to Peterhof Palace with its playful cascading fountain of statues? Either way, the culture-filled days in this magnificent city are set to make memories for a lifetime. After three nights in Russia, a full day at sea gives guests the opportunity to enjoy all the on-board activities at leisure. Crystal Cruises is consistently voted the best in the world because, besides offering an unparalleled luxury travel experience, it’s provides a highly sociable cruise with plenty for everyone to do.
Always ahead of trends, it welcomes multi generational families who love to reunite and enjoy a stressfree journey together – one that allows each guest to do as little or as much as they like on the ship. Grandparents enjoy the Walk on Water on the 360-degree promenade deck or take a class at Computer University@ Sea. Children head for Scoops Ice Cream Bar for an endless flow of frozen delights and freshly baked cookies, in between splashing about in the pools. Dedicated staff in the Fantasia children’s activity room or Teen Centre also keep them happily occupied for hours, with dining choices for every palette (picky ones too!) at all times of the day. Parents slip away happily to the pampering Feng Shui inspired Crystal Spa or to the state-of-the-art fitness centre where there’s Tai Chi or yoga. For the very active, there’s also PGA golf instruction and paddle tennis on full-size courts on the top deck.
Or why not attend a Crystal Visions Enrichment lecture by an expert speaker, or a session with the Creative Learning Institute? You could even learn a new language! A more relaxed day can be had poolside, where the Lido Café serves drinks and snacks, and there’s laid-back dining at the Trident Grill or Tastes – also open most evenings. At dawn, the small German port of Warnemünde comes into focus, with its quaint harbour opening into a delightful beach resort.
Wander here or take a train to visit the historic Hanseatic town of Rostock, or head straight for chic Berlin – a city that’s hurtling into the future just as fast as it came out of the past. It’s a vibrant city with a trendy young crowd ensuring its rising status. For those who choose not to go to Berlin, it’s an ideal time to shop at leisure on board the ship. Head to the Avenue of the Stars, home to four luxury boutiques: Apropos (with a beautiful Christian Diorarea), Captain’s Choice, Crystal Collection and Facets. Come evening, it’s time to retire to your suite to slip between pure Egyptian cotton sheets for the last overnight sailing.
Rest your head knowing that Crystal’s PURE particle-free reduction process provides relief from allergies, so you’ll wake completely refreshed. Come morning, the ship has docked at its sixth and final stop, Copenhagen. Here guided walking tours take you through historic streets, giving an insider’s guide to one of the greenest-thinking cities in the world. It was here that Lego was invented, but it’s also home to many top designer goods, including Georg Jensen. Take a stroll along the pretty canal in Nyhavn and through the trendy Latin Quarter, or discover the glass-lined modern buildings on Copenhagen Island. But, if food is your passion, your inner gourmet will undoubtedly lead you to Noma, René Redzepi’s Nordic restaurant, voted the best in the world in the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Like the cutting-edge design boutiques, Noma celebrates the Scandanavian landscape in its food, transporting diners instantly by the flavours and aromas to the beach where ingredients were foraged. It’s a fitting culinary experience to end a bespoke journey like no other, one that consistently stands apart from the rest. But that’s exactly why Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony rank as the two highest-rated ships in the world.