Sibling Serenity Canal

My brother says that I have a mad Magellanic need to circumnavigate the world. He is right and I’ve done that twice. Well close to twice, except for that reef off Egypt. “Going All The Way”, an EBook tells that story.

I have been cruising for many years and have been through the Panama Canal more times than I can remember. I write about those trips.

He is a former editor of Cosmopolitan, Parents, and a contributor to American Photographer, Smithsonian Magazine, and countless other publications. He is the author of several books, and a truly top writer. But, he has yet to set foot on a cruise ship, and the Canal is, in his mind, but a ditch. It’s time to make that right.

We are going together from Los Angeles to New York City on Crystal Cruises newly refurbished Serenity.

We’ll travel together for 17 days in a lovely cabin with a balcony. It’s dubbed a Penthouse Suite. This is, in cruise parlance, a luxury ship.

Truthfully, although we are good friends, we have never spent that long a time together. Certainly, not in “confined” quarters.

Herewith an inside look:

We boarded Crystal Serenity using Crystal’s entirely new boarding procedure. Upon entering the boarding area, hand luggage goes through the scanner and then it’s off to the ship. Once aboard, all the rest is taken care of; seapass, ID photo, and you are set. Quick, easy, and so superior to the mass mess that many other ship lines have to offer.

We have a cabin on Penthouse Deck. Serenity has just recently been through a $25,000,000 rejuvenation, and our cabin reflects money well spent.

A lovely update; not flashy; not overstated, but just warmly lovely. The entire ship is reminiscent of being in a classic French mansion. At least I think it is. I’ve never really been in one.

But as beautiful as Serenity is, the typical cruise problems still pop up. For instance on one page, Reflections, the ship’s daily news of events, etc., says that one needs a reservation for Nobu’s Sushi Bar. On another page it says “first come first served”. And we were set for a table for six at 6:30, the first dining seating. The time 6:30 is on the Crystal website. We were presented with a table for two at the second seating. No real problem, we went to the dining office and got changed to a table for six at 6:00. At last after all these years of cruising I am now accepting that all things may not be as preplanned. I now sleep better.

Last night was the welcome aboard show. I never attend this show on cruise ships…..mostly they are kind of boring. “Hi, are you all having fun???” And on from there.

Last night was different. It was wonderful. As you walked into the theater, there was a female dancer on stage stretching, another looking at a notebook. This went on until actual showtime. At that point, a couple of guys with backpacks came from the audience. Then another, and then it turned into “A Chorus Line”. Amazing dancers and singers. Really amazing. Then the Cruise Director took over.

Our cruise director is Gary Hunter. He is one of the best ventriloquists alive. I met Gary years (and years) ago and we became acquaintances. He has gone from performer on cruise ships to a Cruise Director for Crystal. Of course both of us have grown a bit older. His hair is completely white, but he can still read a book without moving his lips.

After his very energetic talk about the ship and activities, the chorus did a piece from Grand Hotel. Again, top Broadway fare. When the lights went up, the live band played Sing, Sing, Sing, a Benny Goodman piece that featured, at one time, Gene Krupa. It was the first drum solo I learned when I started playing. The drummer in this band was one of the best I’ve heard. I hated him.

Owen and I headed off to the cabin. He read a book in Italian…..I put in my earplugs, put on my eye cover, and off to sleep.

Day One Crystal Serenity Canal

We are at sea and heading for Cabo San Lucas. It is grey and a bit gloomy but I promised Owen that we’d get sun by 2 PM.

We are seven years apart which at younger ages is a big gap. When I was 17 and driving my car in my junior year in High School, he was 10 and we had little in common. We are much closer these days, but are still not the same model.

Both of us head to bed around ten or so at night. I put on the eye-shade and ear plugs. He puts on his cabin reading light (which could illuminate a dark street), and starts to read. Usually he is asleep before me, comfortable in the knowledge that a book is on his lap should he need it. No problem, of course, finding it, the light is still on. Sometime in the night he wakes and extinguishes the light and then himself.

In the morning he wakes at six and goes to the gym, then for a walk and then coffee. I wake at 8:30, sip the coffee he brings to the cabin, and then we both go to breakfast at the Lido. I have no plans to see the gym on this cruise.

We spent our first day checking out Serenity, getting our internet set, and our credit cards registered. At guest services, there is no line marked out by cloth strips. You go there and somehow you’re next. Very nice people behind the counter.

Tonight was formal; we were in dark suits. We headed to table 92 to have dinner and meet our table mates. It was the Captain’s Gala Welcome Aboard Dinner. I had checked out #92 earlier in the day and went right to it. Hmmm, it said #81. Ninety two was against a wall and empty. We sat and then a dining elf told us that this had been #92 at lunch, and our table was actually closer to the lovely view. It was also empty. Our table mates were still at the Captain’s Formal Reception.

Soon they appeared. Two very nice couples; one from Florida and one from Seattle.

They are World Cruisers who have extended through NYC to Iceland, Greenland, and then the Mediterranean. It is so interesting to see how the conversation goes back and forth. They were fascinated by Owen’s Gentleman’s Quarterly writings and experiences. There is a professor on board who lectures on Alfred Hitchcock and he is a favorite of the couples. Owen used to work for George Lucas and has some inside stuff on Hitchcock. Believe me when I tell you they really paid attention to his musings. No one seemed particularly interested in the fact that I played tennis with Clint Eastwood.

Our waiters are excellent. Antoneo from Goa is taking care of my garlic allergy. After I ordered stuffed baby quail, he nodded affirmatively. After a bit, he came back; the chef had told him there was a bit of garlic in the stuffing. I had a very tasty Halibut. On other ships I have asked to avoid garlic, but this the first time it’s really been paid attention to. And, then surprise, surprise, the man on my left also had the same allergy.

Showtime again. Tonight it was Movie Music.

GREAT!! The talent is unbelievably good. All the dancers sing as is usual, however the best dancer didn’t seem to be that into vocalizing. You know how singers in a chorus open their mouths fairly wide to get the best sound. Well this guy didn’t open his mouth very wide and sometimes didn’t seem to try. I found out why. He was born and raised in Siberia. He was a leading dancer in the Academic State Ensemble of the Red Army, then joined the Academic State Folk Dance Company, then got into jazz and hip-hop choreography.

OK, so now here he is and he’s learning English, and trying hard to replace Boris with Dolly when he sings “hello”.

Tara Khaler and John Ellis, the lead singers, are simply the best I’ve seen and heard. Brett Bullock, Crystal’s executive Producer has outdone himself. He has no equal in the cruise entertainment business.

Time for bed and guess what, I miss my wife Michael. Of course because I love her, I miss her, but I can’t find my eye shade. She can always find everything.

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