Just finished a short Crystal- Rome – Barcelona cruise. Our last Crystal Cruises were in 2015. In the between years we have done 3 Seabourn’s, so we were excited to be back on the larger Crystal ship (Serenity).
Let me preface with – the following is about the food and service – which for us is the most important part of our cruise – ports are secondary.
The service was impeccable, the ship’s condition outstanding, staff incredible, enrichment great, shows and entertainment great, housekeeping great.
Now the food. Well, we were just, Un-Crystalized by the culinary offerings. Was it the shorter cruise? We had already anticipated a different vibe and demographics with a short cruise – so that wasn’t our problem. We believe that in service and food 6 days 16 or 36 should be the same in this category of cruise, and it was except for the culinary side of things. The service was still great. No issues there. I liked (wife did not) the cocktails and cocktail selection better than Seabourn’s. Seems to have been an improvement there – or maybe I just never read the whole menu before – nevertheless I thought the bartenders were good. Inclusive wines were OK to good – after going through the whole list (we always conduct our own wine taskings the first two days and settle into what we like – polar opposite to each other of course) – we zeroed in and settled on our favorites. IMO Crystal’s inclusive are better than Seabourn’s – my wife’s opinion – opposite.
When I compare to our 2015 cruises - the menus on THIS cruise were dull and very uninteresting – we actually pulled up all our pictures of food (we send our kids every meal) from the past and there seem to be a difference and not much picture sending this time, when compared to our recent Seabourn pics and past Crystals. In our opinions, Seabourn’s main dining room offerings were far superior to the current Crystal offerings. There was not one memorable meal – except for Umi Uma, which seems to have remained the same. Across most dining venues, the menus, entrees, seasoning and preparations seemed dull. There seem to be a lack of higher end ingredients/components and there seemed to be a lot of “dress up” to less complex offerings. Don’t get me wrong all food was good – just not great. Also small minor preparation issues that I find irritating at this supposed level - for example, I love their Brioche French Toast – but they did not serve real maple syrup in the MarketPlace – but yet they have a fresh squeeze orange juice machine. They served some thick imitation maple junk. They had to make a big deal to go to the Waterside to retrieve some real maple syrup (little jars) which took 25 minutes. I just pocketed some myself the next day for use in MarketPlace. Speaking of French Toast, in Water Side they could not get it right nor even understand that you need to soak the bread so the “custard” seeps in and cooks through the bread on the grill – or else you wind up with just hot dry bread. The MarketPlace did it right – I suspect by pure accident because they are probably sitting in pans soaking waiting en-masse to go to the grill. All fruit was completely under ripe - consistently. No excuse in the European market – all types of ready to eat fruit are available – and it’s a matter of timing ripening fruits (the ones that continue to ripen on the shelf) – they just served many of them too soon. Some of the lunch dishes in MarketPlace were tasty, good quality but not exceptional. I have to say buffets on our previous Crystal were better offerings and definitely better on Seabourn.
WaterSide’s makeover/updating was pleasant and I think an improvement but was almost too boring - they even changed the beautiful colorful Villeroy & Boch show plates to boring white – the room just lacked a little color. Wife asked where were the beautiful show plates - she wanted a set – Maître’d thinks they moved them off to the river boats. We had to search the menu to find something enticing each night – rather than having so much enticing where we could not decide so we would order several half orders to taste everything – for this trip WaterSide was just OK. Lunch was on the lower side of OK. Had 3 French cousins come onboard – thought I would impress them with lunch – lunch was anything but impressive. Service was impressive, ship was impressive, but food was again overcooked and the menu was a little short on creativity. We were eating at a Hilton restaurant instead of Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton (but service was Four Seasons).
Prego was one of the worst meals we had on any luxury ship (in the context of luxury ships). Again, the menu was uninspiring and it seemed like – in both the main dining room and Prego- that the menus were dumbed down which includes dumbing down high-end ingredients/components – one or two upmarket entrees interspersed with a greater number of mediocre mainstream entrees/starters/sides. My wife gnocchi were a solid potato mess, the sauce was terrible – jar worthy - rather than nonna ‘s pot in the kitchen. My Veal Marsala was way overcooked and the sauce was a sweet mess – seemed like the reduction was rushed. Again, the menu seemed more like a good Italian restaurant menu - OK but not “upscaled”. No way did we feel like we were eating at the top Italian restaurants in New York or LA – not even close. I would have taken good Italian neighborhood simple menu if they could have executed well.
Overall there seemed to be a dearth of real high-quality seafood and meats – you had to search the menu or wait for a special menu offering of a particular item – there was a higher percentage of mainstream ingredients/offerings rather than an abundance of high-end offerings. I don’t know, but we felt like we were eating on another ship – it seems like we were eating a step above mediocrity – nothing memorable – nothing really bad -we just were not wowed – at all.
The Asian Silk Kitchen for dinner was OK for me – not for wife. I did not mind it but again there was nothing memorable about it - tasty and OK.
The Churrascaria was again – another OK venue – the tastiest meat was the Picanha – most of the others too dry or not marinated enough. Sides and self-serve - tasty. On a second visit we just had them just drop the whole Picanha into our plates. Some shore restaurants do a much better version of Churrascaria.
In all cases – service was always impeccable.
Burger at grill was great – fantastic actually. Coffee and snacks at Bistro great. Don’t mind Ben and Jerry’s would prefer Haagen Dazs. Tea very nice.
DW adds “that besides dumbing down the food the toiletries were down graded – the brand ETRO was OK but the lack of scented products from ETRO was boring. We stayed at a Barcelona hotel (H1898) that had the same brand ETRO but wonderful examples”. She suspects that these were “house” brands created for Crystal but she swears are lessor quality even though the containers are larger.
It seems like someone at Corporate screwed a little with the formula. Reminds me of what happened to Morton’s Steakhouse. If you did not know the old Morton’s you would never know the difference but when it was bought by Landry’s many subtle changes were made.
So, for us - our jury is out on this. Someone else may find the food superb but have issues with room size or service etc. We definitely have different “food impressions” on this trip from our 3 previous 2015 Crystal cruises. We have another Crystal opportunity coming up on Symphony in December (from Costa Rica – to LA) – so we shall see if we have truly been UnCrystalized.