Welcome to Checking In, a review series in which our editors and contributors rate the best new (and revamped) luxury hotels and cruise ships based on a rigorous—and occasionally tongue-in-cheek—10-point system: Each question answered “yes” gets one point. Is there caviar on the menu? Does your suite have its own butler? Find out below.
Describe it in three words:
Indulgence at sea.
What’s the deal?
Everyone loves a comeback story, and Crystal’s is a revival that has everyone abuzz. After the beloved brand fell on rough times and stopped sailing in 2022, loyal followers and crew thought they had no choice but to move on. Flash forward a year later, and travel industry heavyweight Abercrombie & Kent acquired the brand, breathing new life into Crystal and bringing it back to life with a $150 million splash. The result? Both longtime travelers and crew have returned in astonishing numbers, and familiar touches and service abound—but with a fresh look. First came the rebirth of Crystal Serenity in the summer, followed last month by Crystal Symphony; a host of new ships, including expedition vessels, are also on the horizon.
The best of the northeast’s autumn splendors were on full display on this itinerary, which began in Manhattan and made its way north with stops in Boston, Halifax, and Cape Breton Island, before disembarking in Quebec City. Crystal Serenity can accommodate 740 guests but this voyage was half full, which at times had me feeling like I had parts of the ship to myself—a true treat.
Serenity received a thorough revamp before its much-anticipated return to the seas courtesy Swedish design practice Tillberg Design and architectural firm GEM. The first order of business was reducing the room count in favor of adding more space to each of the suites—each of which has ocean views, and many of which come with private verandas. The design is contemporary and sleek, but given the number of brand loyalists, a select number of Sapphire Suites retain Crystal’s classic wood-paneled aesthetic. But regardless of room category, linens come from the Italian brand Jesurum 1870—a favorite aboard mega-yachts and in royal palaces—and toiletries are by luxe Sicilian brand Ortigia.
The best room
At a massive 1,265 square feet, the Crystal Penthouse Suite is a sprawling lair with an entrance foyer, a plush living room, a bathroom with a Duravit spa tub overlooking the ocean, and a butler’s kitchen. But the redesigned Junior Crystal Penthouse Suites are nothing to scoff at either, with an impressive 645 square feet of space spanning separate living and dining areas and a roomy bedroom, walk-in closet, and bathroom.
Did they greet you by name at check-in?
Not at check-in, but by the time we docked in Boston the next day, Serenity felt like a place where, well, everybody knows your name. The staff was incredibly warm and engaging and greeted every guest personally with a smile everywhere we went.
Was a welcome drink ready and waiting when you arrived? (Bonus point if it wasn’t just fruit juice.)
Yes, a glass of bubbles served just after check-in, and a chilled bottle was waiting in the suite. A variety of beverages are complimentary in the mini-bar as well.
Is the highest tier worth it?
The Crystal Penthouse Suite and Junior Crystal Penthouse Suites are worth booking for their impressive dimensions and comfortable design alone, but each of these top-tier categories also comes with one particularly noteworthy perk: the full menu at Umi Uma by Nobu Matsuhisa is available via room service.
Is there a private butler for every cabin?
Every cabin, regardless of category or size, comes with a personal butler standing by to help with any arrangements, reservations, and laundry, and to deliver a delectable array of canapés in-suite every evening before dinner.
Does the ship handle your luggage?
I pulled up at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal in an Uber and left my bag there, and it was waiting for me at my suite by the time I’d finished checking in.
Is it good for the ‘Gram?
The redesigned suites are chic and spacious and have plenty of nooks for pictures, and the ocean views from all directions on the ship make for countless dreamy backdrops. I spied a few influencers aboard my sailing and let’s just say they had a blast shooting glamorous pictures in the Hollywood Theater, Palm Court, poolside hot tub, and numerous bars.
Is there a gym or spa? Or both?
The fitness center is massive and fully equipped—I spent many hours there trying to deflect the inevitable pounds I amassed at the nine restaurants. There are a host of complimentary classes and tests on offer, and you can also book sessions with the personal trainer. Next door is the Aurora spa, a new addition to Crystal. With its location on the top deck, the relaxation room has a calming view directly over the water, while treatment rooms offer a range of high-tech and indulgent treatments like Biotec 2.0 facials, a gold and caviar body polish, and IV therapies.
Caviar on board?
I spotted caviar on a few of the menus on board, but there’s also an in-room caviar service with a range of Kolikof offerings.
Are the restaurants five-star?
If there’s one thing that truly sets Crystal in a league of its own, it’s the food. Let’s start with Umi Uma by Nobu Matsuhisa: The only Nobu restaurant at sea serves all the beloved classics, like the legendary miso cod and the rock shrimp tempura, and is included for all guests once per sailing. Ditto a meal at the Italian fine-dining restaurant, Osteria D’Ovidio. But there isn’t a bad bite to be found anywhere in the ship, from the elegant main dining room Waterside and the casual buffet-style Marketplace to the globally inspired Tastes Kitchen and the casual poolside Trident Grill. Other lovely additions include afternoon tea at the Palm Court as well as an all-day scoop shop. This is definitely the right ship for anyone who loves to eat.
Is the entertainment up to snuff?
The entertainment on board wound up being an unexpected highlight. From a cabaret supper club at Stardust Lounge to a Billy Joel concert starring James Fox—who played the lead in the Piano Man’s Broadway musical Movin’ Out—to nightly performers in the Palm Court and Avenues Saloon, there was something for everyone each evening, with a talented host of performers and dancers.
Are excursions included? What were the highlights?
Excursions aren’t included, and were the weak spot on this sailing—perhaps because the ship wasn’t full, there were only a limited number of options to consider, and the choices tended to be a bit cookie-cutter. Given Abercrombie & Kent’s involvement, however, I would imagine that signature excursions will be a big focus as the brand regains momentum. But with prime docking locations in each port, heading into Boston, Halifax, or Sydney to explore by myself was incredibly easy—and each destination offered a fascinating mix of history, cuisine, and natural beauty.
The final stop on this fall-foliage voyage was Quebec City, and when I realized that the port is a five-minute walk away from Old Quebec, I decided to extend my trip and linger in the city. I checked into the elegant Auberge Saint-Antoine, a Relais & Chateaux property whose history is inextricably intertwined with Quebec City’s rich past—in fact, the hotel doubles as a museum, with myriad artifacts uncovered at the properly displayed on every floor and in each of the 95 rooms; there’s even an uncovered stretch of the 17th-century city walls bisecting the Artefact bar. It was the perfect base for a magical two days exploring the charming city, and was filled with other Crystal guests who had the same idea.
Would you buy the ship if you could?
It’s a bit big for my garage, but I’d happily sail again.
After eight days making the most of the decadent dining, the restorative spa, and my sumptuous suite, I left the ship feeling, well, serene.
What Our Score Means:
1-3: Fire your travel agent if they suggest you plan a voyage.
4-6: Solid if you’re in a pinch—but only if you’re in a pinch.
7-8: Very good. We’d go on another sailing and recommend it without qualms.
9-10: Forget booking a week. When can we hit the open sea again?