Crystal Cruises is, to my mind, a great “move up” from a
premium cruise line (Celebrity, Oceania, etc.) and also a wonderful “move over”
from the luxury lines (Seabourn. Silversea, Regent, etc.). But there are a number of misperceptions that have kept this
presently two ship (and rapidly expanding and diversifying) cruise line from
being at the fore of many traveler’s thoughts.
And that is why I have taken this November 13, 2015 cruise from Lisbon, Portugal to
Madeira to the Canary Islands to Malaga, Spain and ending, finally, in Monaco.
I especially liked this itinerary, not for its uniqueness,
but its economies; focusing on it being a great value proposition…and not just for
the cruise. Because the ship does not
depart Lisbon until 1:00 a.m. technically on Day 2, we had the ability (with
just a touch of trepidation) to fly into Lisbon the same day (avoiding the cost
of a hotel stay) and have time to enjoy the city with a bit of cushion should
there had been flight delays or lost luggage…which fortunately did not happen.
|Lisbon, Portugal and its beautiful old trams|
We arrived in Lisbon, Portugal early in the morning (7:30
a.m.) and, after a quick coffee, were met by our outstanding guide, Susana, for
a private tour of Lisbon. Susana
honestly reaffirmed what I already knew:
Lisbon has suffered terribly from a depressed economy and a declining
population. It was understanding the
attempted rebuilding of the business and financial sectors (and the
accompanying residential market) by moving them to the new Expo area (with some
wonderful modern architecture) that provided a first-up important perspective
of the city…the famous older part being virtually abandoned other than for the
tourism and hospitality industries.
|Pasteis de Belem|
We then visited Pasteis de Belem for one of Lisbon’s
delicacies, custard tarts. This bakery
is well worth the visit as is taking some time to sit in one of the many rooms
of is almost 200 year old building and enjoying a tart or two…with a glass of
tawny port (even if it is only 10:00 a.m.)
|Famous Lisbon Custard Tart with a Tawny Port or Espresso|
After a few more sites, just near the famous Tower was a little, funky,
van with a sign “Wine with a View”…and you know that sucked me right in. Two glasses of white port, please!
|White Port with a View|
And then, Oh Boy! What I a view did we have. (And they did
it because they wanted to sit in our chairs.
|Not such a good view|
From there we visited Padrão dos Descobrimentos (the
Discoveries Monument) that was created during the dictatorship of Salazar, but
remains one of my favorite modern sites.
As we were heading to the old town Susana pointed out Mercado
da Ribeira, also known as the Time Out Market, in Lisbon. This is a new venture with a farmer’s market
on the right and a massive food hall with various take-away restaurants lining
the walls. I asked if we could stop for
a look; as these sorts of places can either be a tourist trap or a real
find. (Anthony Bourdain is developing a
somewhat similar, though more diverse, concept in New York.). Susana said we could pop in for a look, or if
we wanted to eat there we could. Well,
the food hall was interesting, but not for me.
|Mercado da Ribeira|
However, I found an area behind the food hall with a few
restaurants that most never even venture into and there it was: Mariscada Azul. What attracted me was the
beautiful seafood display, but what got me to stay was the friendly, but
understated, staff. And with that we
pulled up two stools (this is not a typical restaurant) and before we could even
order the waitress placed three delicious things in front of us: A gooey, smelly, runny…and wonderful…sheep’s
cheese, an octopus salad and delicious Portuguese bread with a buttery herb
spread. I had been waiting for a pata
negra (Iberico ham) and they had a leg of it right there and sliced off a plate
|Iberico Ham, Octopus Salad, Sheep Cheese and Portuguese Bread|
was just the start!
But then there was a sign for cod, or bacalao. Interestingly, as Susana had mentioned
earlier, the Portuguese eat a tremendous amount of cod, but never fresh. It is always salted and, thus, made into
bacalao. Even more interesting, just
this past June on the 2015 Goldring Travel Culinary & Cultural Cruise we
visited Tromso, Norway (where I held one of our events) and visited one of the
processing areas where the cod is dried and salted. [I am really blessed to be able to tie this very
important and international culinary and cultural item together in a matter of
a few months! And now you know why
Goldring Travel doesn’t just have Food & Wine cruises; we do so much more!]
|Bacalao with Potatoes|
Anyway, we obviously ordered the cod with potatoes. It was fantastic, but actually the potatoes
could have stolen the show on that plate!
But while that was being prepared I spotted two of my
favorite foods: Razor clams and
Gooseneck barnacles; the latter being a real delicacy with a unique flavor and
|Razor Clams with Garlic|
We, of course, paired our feast with a Portuguese Alvarinho
After lunch we drove through the old town portion of Lisbon,
which is really being renovated and upscaled with many more restaurants, cafes
and shops being present than the last time I was here. But with full stomachs and the Crystal
Serenity waiting for us we decided to head to the ship (now it was about 2:30
From the time we arrived to getting to our Penthouse took
less than 15 minutes and our bags arrived about five minutes after that. Very impressive.
What I notice almost immediately is the layout of the
Penthouse is very similar to the layout of the new Crystal Esprit yacht! So over the next nine days I will be figuring
out how well it “lives”. But no sooner
did I notice that my doorbell rang with our butler, quickly followed by our two
room stewardesses, introducing themselves.
Crystal Cruises really does a wonderful job of making you feel welcome
as soon as you board.
We had contemplated getting settled, but then heading out
into the town (which in Lisbon is walking distance), but with the mandatory
muster at 8:00 p.m. we decided it would be better to enjoy the Crystal Serenity
for the evening rather than try and do too much. Options are a good thing, and to be sure, as
you will see throughout my articles, one of the strong points of Crystal
Cruises is that you have many options available to you…and being able to check
in and then go out on this cruise is just one of them.
|Crystal Serenity Pool Area|
(Note the two paddle tennis courts aft)
After unpacking we took a stroll around the ship, which is
similar, but still different from, the Crystal Symphony which I sailed on a few
years ago. Most of the public spaces are
located in the aft third of the ship on Decks 7 and 6 with Reception and the
Main Dining Room midship on Deck 5. The
larger lounges are on Deck 12 and 6 forward.
In other words, this midsized ship is very easy to understand and get
around. (The concern by some luxury
travelers that the Crystal Serenity is too large simply is not well-founded.)
After our stroll, we sat in our suite and enjoyed a glass of
champagne before heading to dinner. On
Crystal Cruises your alcoholic beverages are included, so reaching into your
stocked refrigerator is very convenient…as is stopping by one of the various
bars and lounges. (A little niggle is that the refrigerator gets cool, but not cold.)
Time for dinner! On
Crystal there are three dining times:
Early (6:30 p.m.), Late (8:30 p.m.) and Dining By Reservation. As I did not want to bother with making a
reservation each evening, Crystal’s late seating at a table for two was
perfect. The service and cuisine was
very good and a sommelier serves the complimentary wines. I must note that the complimentary wines so
far are superior to those offered by Seabourn…though I am not so sure the
sommelier is really as knowledgeable as he should be. (I was having a seared ahi tuna appetizer and he suggested I switch to
the offered pinot grigio rather than the cabernet I was drinking. Not a good pairing.)
After dinner it was time to enjoy the rest of the
evening. We started in the Connoisseur’s
Club which is, by far, the nicest cigar lounge at sea. The staff quickly brought me a Glenfiddich,
which I noticed is in higher quality glasses then elsewhere on the ship, and I
was quite happy. Literally steps away is
Avenue (a very social and popular piano bar) the Stardust Club (a larger venue
for dancing and talks) and, Pulse (the disco) and just a few steps further is the movie theater.
The concept that Crystal Cruises is only for older travelers
is not exactly accurate. Debunking that
was the last stop on our first evening:
Pulse. Suffice it to say, the night
went past 2:00 a.m. and that is just not an option on most luxury cruise ships.
All in all an excellent experience…and this cruise is just