Serenity Now

Charlie Chaplin, the late comic actor, said, “The saddest thing I can imagine is to get used to luxury.” Assuredly, I’m no Charlie Chaplin, because I got used to the luxury of Crystal Serenity really fast. During a 14-day Panama Canal cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles, my wife Michael and I cruised in a deluxe stateroom. Moments after bags arrived, there was a knock on the door, and our butler introduced himself. “Please bother me as much as you can,” Peter said. “I am here to be used.”

Use him we did; full menu meals in our suite, evening hors d’oeuvres, and reservations at the specialty dining rooms for which others had to appear personally. Peter butled with alacrity, and, unlike some of his more famous colleagues, would never write a book about personal peccadilloes.

While on Penthouse Deck, our stateroom was not a penthouse, but a smaller cousin to the nearby Crystal Penthouses. We had a lovely verandah, a fully stocked mini-bar, two bottles of wine and our choice of two upper end bottles of liquor.

I picked vodka, and Peter delivered two bottles of Chopin. The spacious bathroom with dual sinks, tub and shower came with thick oversized cotton towels and amenities. The robes were Frette; the duvet and pillows, down.

The ship’s ambience is far from glitzy; no neon tubing, flashing lights, “look at me” art or faux statuary. Serenity’s main dining room, paneled with dark wood, is reminiscent of an upscale “North Beach” San Francisco restaurant. The food is good, the service exceptional, but it was not our first choice for dinner. The specialty restaurants, Prego and Silk Road were tied for number one on our list.

At Prego, look for the long Italian name that translates into the best mushroom soup, served in a “bowl” of oregano bread, you’ll ever taste.

Silk Road features a sushi bar that is under the watchful eye of Nobu Matsuhisa, whose New York, Beverly Hills and Malibu restaurants have almost a month’s wait for reservations. The longest we waited for his inventive sushi creations was about five minutes. Imagine all the sushi you want, for as long as you want, for a suggested tip of $6 per person. We spent three nights there.

Of course, the Panama Canal was the highlight of this particular cruise. It is an engineering masterpiece that took many years to complete, and although I have been through it around 15 times, I am still awestruck upon each passage. We asked one older woman why she had taken this particular cruise, and she said she wanted to fulfill her husband’s lifelong dream to go through the Panama Canal. When we asked how he liked the experience, she paused for a bit and then said, “I don’t know, I didn’t ask him.”

Crystal Cruises prides itself on its Creative Learning Institute, or CU, providing both lecturers and hands-on instruction in a variety of subjects. On our cruise you could learn to play a Yamaha keyboard, find your way around a computer, be trained in Tai Chi and yoga, or get active on the latest machines in the gym. Serenity’s expert lecturers covered everything from the history of the Panama Canal to wellness, lifestyle, wine and food, even departed movie stars. A golf pro gave lessons at the “driving range” and putting green. I sank three 12 foot putts in a row, and, wisely, never went back.

On the last warm night of our cruise, we ordered from the main dining room menu, and Peter delivered a four course dinner to our cabin. I sat on our verandah and raised my ice cold Chopin to the glow of the just set sun: Here’s to you Charlie!

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