The Crystal Serenity Service Experience
I don’t know when it happened, but at some point in my life I became a complete service snob. I’ve been fortunate to stay in some exceptional places and dine in some remarkable restaurants. Don’t get me wrong – I love casual, real food places and authentic tourism. But when I pay for a luxury experience, my standards are high.
All of that is to say that I took a little of the Crystal Cruises service spiel with a grain of salt. Surely luxury on the high seas wasn't quite the same as luxury on terra firma.
When you ask members of the Crystal team what makes them different, they all pretty much say the same thing. It's about the people. Everyone can build a beautiful ship, but it is the people that staff the ship that make it a truly unique experience that will justify the premium over the competition.
In my time in the cruise industry, I hear tales of guests weeping as they say goodbye to ship staff. Hugging the fine jewelry specialists or store managers in the gift shops. Taking photos with wait staff. Exchanging email addresses with the crew. But I had never seen it or felt it before. While the crew has been lovely on every single ship on which I have sailed, I have never felt even a scintilla of post-cruise emotion other than anticipation to see my family or dread at the thought of a bursting work inbox.
But from the minute I found the teal-scarved team at the Vancouver airport post travel drama, to the time that we stepped off the Crystal-chartered bus to Anchorage airport, I was swept into one of the best service experiences I’ve had in my adult life. And these are the people on board Crystal Serenity who made it happen.
Meet Clarissa: The Wooden Animal Whisperer
A wonderfully warm woman from Brazil, Clarissa happily tidied our room and our children’s adjoining room twice daily. But it was so much more than that. My 6 year-old son packed a strange collection of wooden animals, pieces of paper with each planet and dwarf planet, and rocks he picked up from somewhere in Vancouver. Every night he would put the animals, rocks, and papers in the vacant twin bed and cover them up with a blanket so that they, too, could sleep. He lost at least one of these animals each day. And each day Clarissa found said lost animal and lovingly arranged it with the other animals, rocks and papers on the desk.
She also told us how she wished she knew more songs or games to play with our boys. That ours were the first children she had had in her area and she wanted ideas on how to interact with them more. When we were leaving, we asked if we could take a picture of her with the boys, to which she responded with a delighted thank you, telling us that we made her day.
Meet Jaison: The Fruit and Coffee Magician
Jaison was our butler for our penthouse. A lovely man from India with twin 6 year-old boys, he was familiar with the fun (and stress) of having little ones around. No matter how harried he might have been on the inside, we never saw it. One of the exceptional benefits of a penthouse is the ability to order room service from the dining room or the specialty restaurants in the evenings. With two kids in tow, we used this service a few nights. And on nights where we did one order for the kids and then one for us an hour later, Jaison never batted an eye.
Another lovely benefit of the penthouse is a fruit platter that gets replenished daily. My kids LOVE fruit. So when the grapes were the first to go in the early days of the cruise, there was a gigantic bowl of grapes that started appearing daily. No request was made, they just became part of the daily fruit replenishment. When the kids started eating 3 pieces of fruit before dinner, I moved the platter into a cabinet above the TV. I never mentioned this to Jaison. And yet that platter still got refilled daily despite its hidden location. The attention to detail was truly remarkable.
Penthouse guests also have a Nespresso machine in the room. And some guests (ahem) drink a fair amount of coffee. Just like the bowl of grapes magically appeared, a bowl of Nespresso capsules and coffee mate creamer appeared to supplement the (seemingly insufficient) 4-pack of capsules that had already been receiving a daily refill.
Leaving Jaison was tough. Not only was he exceptional at answering our every unknown and unexpressed need, but he was a genuinely kind person with a lovely smile. My son Nico cried when I told him we needed to say goodbye, saying “I want to give Jaison our address so he will come and visit us.” And Jaison promised to do so. If Nico had actually done it, I truly believe that we might have received a visit from Jaison when the ship arrives in Miami in October.
Meet Sonia: The Breakfast Bubbly Guru
There are no assigned seats for the breakfast buffet, but we sat at the same table virtually every morning: partially because there aren’t a ton of 4- or 6-person spots, partially because we picked the last table before the door in case our kids got a little loud, and partially because of Sonia, another Brazilian native with a vivid and kid-friendly imagination.
At some point in the journey, my sons started referring to their apple juice as “champagne” (I think it was because my husband enjoyed champagne at every dinner and they wanted to participate). Not missing a beat, Sonia began offering the boys “champagne” at breakfast. And when cranberry juice became our kids’ beverage du jour, Sonia quickly obliged their request for “red wine”.
Serenity has no dinner buffet, so all of the breakfast staff moves down to the Crystal Dining room in the evenings. And while Sonia wasn’t our waitress, each night she greeted us warmly. Needles to say, Sonia became my kids’ favorite drink-tender.
Random Moments of Rockstar Hospitality
There are some names on board that we just couldn’t catch (any parent traveling with two small children knows that remembering basic details can be an epic conquest), but the experiences themselves were unforgettable. Shout out to:
- The pasta cook at lunch who remembered my youngest son Luca’s name the day after we met him briefly.
- The waiters who helped us carry plates of delicious food from the buffet while I juggled a 3 year-old and breakfast.
- The fry cook at Trident Grill who welcomed us with open arms when we arrived one minute before closing time to order a hot dog, chicken burger and French fries. (“If I’m here, I’m open!”, he said.)
- The shop staff that smiled warmly at Luca as he clung to the door, invariably dirtying their perfectly clean windows.
- The butlers from other rooms who got to know my youngest son by name. And would point him in the right direction with a friendly “Luca, your room is this way!” when they ran into us at the elevator.
- The front desk staff member who overheard me say to my husband “I’m feeling a little queasy, I should pop by the shop for Dramamine” and whipped out a Sea Calm pill out of thin air.
- The folks who laid out the coffee and Danish in the Galaxy Lounge for us to take with us on the nearly 3-hour journey to Anchorage from Seward.
These are seemingly small things, but they amounted to a world of memories. According to the Captain, members of the team are trained to help every guest. If someone is looking at a map, they are to go help them find what they are looking for. If time allows, they’ll even take them. Because with Crystal Cruises, service is more than delivering food to your room. More than cleaning up a messy stateroom. More than providing breakfast, lunch and dinner.
My kids are not huggers—nor am I. But as we were leaving the ship, both of my children and I ran to Clarissa, Jaison, Sonia and any faces they recognized throughout our 10-day journey (which were many) and said goodbye. Clarissa hugged my children with a tender smile. And for the first time, I *might* have shed a tear.