Having started our honeymoon in the glamorous town of Sorrento, cradled on Italy’s west coast, we were excited to sample a day of pure relaxation on board Crystal Serenity.
For those who are new to the cruise industry, Crystal sits among exulted company at the top of the pile. Its peers – such as Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas – each compete to see who can achieve new heights in the ultra-luxury market. Whether that’s Seabourn offering caviar in the surf (where paddling guests are served delicacies by Seabourn’s dedicated crew) or Regent’s 2,917 square feet Regent Suite, there seems no end to the lengths these operators will go to to ensure their guests are not just well catered for, but are treated like royalty.
However, even by the mind-blowing standards set by its competition, Crystal’s announcement earlier in the year took many by surprise. Having been bought by Genting Hong Kong, the company is now embarking on the heaviest expansion programme of its history, introducing a river line, new ships, a Dreamliner and even residences at sea.
All of this goes to mark just how much confidence Genting has in its new toy. However, how would we find a day of relaxation on board one of Crystal’s vessels?
Well, blissful doesn’t even begin to describe our day.
We started with breakfast at the Lido Cafe, on deck 12, aft. The extensive choice of the hot buffet as well as breads, cereals and fruits was enough to keep even my particularly fussy wife happy. We took a table out on deck and enjoyed the morning sun and a glass of orange juice along with a coffee and perused the day’s programme to see what was happening throughout the ship. Should we take in a lecture? Perhaps a film in the cinema? In the end we pipped for spending some time on one of the many sun loungers that dutifully line up by the side of Serenity’s swimming pool. Staff were on hand to top up our drinks and attend to our every need as we lazily, leafed through the pages of our books – in between snoozes.
That evening we had dinner reservations in one of Crystal’s speciality restaurants, Prego, and wanted to dress up for the occasion. Unfortunately that meant dragging ourselves away from the pool. We opted for what was meant to be a light buffet lunch – although it inevitably turned into a four course banquet – and retired to our room for a little more sun on the balcony as we thought about getting ready for dinner.
Prego, which is Italian for ‘you’re welcome’, was arguably my favourite restaurant on board. The lobster ravioli was unbelievable, the mushroom soup in a bread bowl was excellent and the veal was the best I have ever tasted. We were well attended to by a sommelier who recommended wines based on our own preference and course. One negative was that there weren’t many options for my vegetarian wife and we were told it wasn’t possible to have an alternative antipasti created for her. However, apart from that, we both thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We went to bed with full stomachs – and after more than a couple of glasses of excellent red wine.
The next morning we awoke to find ourselves in Kotor in Montenegro, a small town nestled within the Gulf of Kotor, commonly known as Europe’s most southerly fjord. It is no exaggeration to say that it is a place that doesn’t feel of this time, the Unesco World Heritage site is a masterpiece of winding alleyways and medieval squares. The area has been fought over for centuries and was at various points part of the Venetian Republic and the Ottoman Empire. It wears its influences on the surface too – bearing a striking resemblance to the Queen of the Adriatic – and is a real gem on our itinerary.
We walked the streets – dodging the numerous cats that dotted our route – and carved our own path through the town rather than taking one of Crystal’s guided tours. Kotor’s Old Town, despite being small, is dense, and exactly the type of destination that a Mediterranean cruise was made for. It would have been wonderful to have spent longer there, but within a couple of hours it felt like we had walked most of its labyrinth of walkways.
I have heard cruises criticised before – mainly by people who have not been on them – that they do not let you spend enough time in one place. Admittedly that can be true sometimes, but with more lines offering overnight stays in ports, it is less of an argument as it once was. What I would say is the opposite – it lets you see more places than a traditional, land-based holiday. It is unlikely that we would have found a place like Kotor on our own – and less likely that we would have booked a week, and certainly not a two-week holiday there. However, on the back of a cruise, I was transported to this beautiful, tiny town and spent a day getting to know it. Tomorrow we will be somewhere different and the next day, too. All of this while only having to unpack once.
And of course, we could use a cruise to sample a number of different places before returning there for a longer stay.
As we walk through Kotor, with its romantic, Mediterranean feel, I can’t help but be utterly relaxed. Here we are, on our honeymoon, discovering beautiful new destinations without the stresses of having to deal with flights, airports, taxis or hotels. We are completely free to enjoy our holiday.
The only thing we need to bear in mind is that we need to be back on the ship before it sails away.