As Crystal Serenity sets sail from Venice this week on a short preview cruise, the big question is: What has changed?

The sailing comes after an extraordinary period. Including the bankruptcy of Crystal Cruises’ parent company, Genting Hong Kong. The company and its two ships were acquired for US$128m by Abercrombie & Kent Travel Group.

The ships underwent a US$170m refit. Sister ship Crystal Symphony will follow a month later.

Crystal is a brand that inspires extraordinary loyalty in its guests, with 60 percent repeat customers. My first impression? It won’t be disappointing.

Many aspects of the ship remain the same – the beautiful Palm Court lounge, the Crystal Cove bar with its distinctive “Crystal” piano, the Waterside Restaurant, and the much-loved dance hosts. They’ve enhanced a lot.

For a start, Crystal Serenity‘s capacity has been knocked back from 980 to 740. They combined smaller cabins on decks eight and nine. And the result – a more spacious Sapphire Veranda Suites, of which there are now 151. The decks were stripped back to the metal.

The new suites are sumptuous, in shades of teal, stone, and cream, with a massive walk-in shower in the marble bathroom.

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The line also crafted more penthouse suites. So Serenity has 10, and the entry-level doubles have also been refreshed. Some staterooms still have a “classic” design. This hasn’t really dated as the ship was refitted in 2018 anyway. She was then inactive during Covid.

Food offerings stepped up

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Several of the public rooms are sporting a new look. The Bistro is more spacious and contemporary. Prego, the Italian, has been replaced by Osteria d’Ovidio. It is named after Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, executive chairman of A&K Travel Group. Stefano Di Gennaro designed the menu, collaborating with Crystal. The menu has a strong focus on high-end regional Italian cuisine. I tried the eggplant confit with buffalo mozzarella and the salted sea bass with tarragon and both were excellent.

Umi Uma, offering Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s famed Japanese-Peruvian fusion cuisine, has a sleek new design. On Deck 12, Silk, which previously offered Chinese cuisine is now Tastes, with more focus on light Asian fusion and Californian-style dishes. The pool is brand new, surrounded by smart teak decking, as are the two jacuzzis. They have refitted the entire spa, now called Aurora. And the spa also has a gym.

Interestingly, they have replaced the casino with a slightly bleak-looking lounge (“a work in progress”, according to one executive). The high rollers’ room is now a shop selling logo wear.

Under the new A&K ownership, we are expecting to see more creative excursions. And there will be a revival of the voluntourism activities that the old Crystal pioneered. Pre- and post-cruise stays can tap into A&K’s vast network of destination management companies and safari camps.

The old crew are back on Crystal Serenity

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Crystal’s biggest asset has always been its crew and the mood onboard is fantastically upbeat with this return to service.

Although many crew members found jobs with other luxury lines, an astonishing 80 percent of them have come back.

For example, my butler went to Regent, then accepted a job with Explora Journeys, but was back on Crystal Serenity like a shot when he got the email.

I’m hearing this story over and over again among everyone from cabin stewards to bar waiters and senior management. “I’ve never seen anything like what we have here,” hotel director Scott Peterson tells me. “It’s like a family. Furthermore, there are going to be a lot of happy tears when the first guests board on July 31.”

What’s next

A&K’s global CEO Cristina Levis says in Cruise Weekly “Only a fool would believe that we could survive with Crystal with just two ships,” sparking speculation of an imminent announcement of a fleet expansion.

Find out more about the Crystal Serenity here

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