SERENITY From Sea To Sea, Part Three

Knego continues his ultra trek deluxe from Miami to Los Angeles aboard Crystal Cruises’ MV CRYSTAL SERENITY with visits to two of Colombia’s Caribbean ports and a look at more of the six-star, one-of-a-kind ship.

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All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2016 unless otherwise noted.

Friday, January 9, 2016

I was looking forward to my first ever visit to Colombia, which for so long was off limits, courtesy of Pablo Escobar and his Medellin Cartel. Once again a thriving tourist destination, Colombia has switched “no go” roles with its neighbor Venezuela.

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Saludos Santa Marta!

Santa Marta was founded in 1525 by Spanish conquistador Rodrigo de Bastidas and is the oldest European-settled town in South America. It lies on Columbia’s northeast Caribbean coast and is most well-known for being where South America’s hailed “Libertador” Simon Bolivar died on December 17, 1830.

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The beach adjacent to Santa Marta harbor and the town square.

Following breakfast, we had enough time before our afternoon Santa Marta Highlights tour to try and snag a high speed wifi connection from the makeshift but friendly cruise terminal. After an hour or so in the steamy heat, our brief return to the CRYSTAL SERENITY’s air conditioned opulence was all the more gratifying.

Crystal was quite forthcoming about the tours in South and Central America, inserting a memo with the tickets stating, “…Kindly be advised that first-class standards such as buses, guides as well as facilities are not consistent with those that you are accustomed to in other destinations…”

Even that didn’t stop our brows from furling when our friendly but coarse-voiced guide (who had been flown in from Cartagena) greeted us with, “I’m not from here and I don’t know much about this place.”

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Settlements in Santa Marta.

From that point, we ached for ear plugs as he croaked out unrelated facts about Santa Marta, the climate, geology, etc. Meanwhile, the little coach bounced along a not terribly scenic, hilly route past colorful settlements to a crowded resort and residential beach, then back to Santa Marta’s city center, eventually stopping at a site that we surmised was Bolivar’s final residence (La Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino).

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La Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino.
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Bolivar-ian Folkloricos.

Musicians played and folkloric dancers twirled in a square before we were led through a pavilion with statues and a park area with foraging iguanas to a ranch style residence. None of it was clearly explained but by that point, it didn’t need to be.

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Iguana de Santa Marta.

Once again, returning to the ship brought sighs of relief, although we were left with the impression that the people of Santa Marta were welcoming and kind.

Saturday, January 10, 2016

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Cartagena sunrise.

Ahoy, Cartagena! A dramatic sunrise greeted us as the alarm buzzed.

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Cartagena excursion begins.

We scrambled up to the Lido for breakfast before heading off on our half day tour, thankfully in the care of a more knowledgeable and soft-spoken guide than the prior day’s.

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Conventa de la Popa courtyard.

Our first stop was the Conventa de la Popa monastery on a hill overlooking Cartagena.

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Cartagena overview.

Built atop the foundations of an ancient Indian temple, it gave us a bird’s eye view of the sites we would soon be visiting.

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Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas.
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Vulture king.

At the historic Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, we made a photo stop that was quickly upstaged by a turkey vulture holding dominion over pigeons on a nearby rooftop.

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Las Bovedas craft market.
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Cartagena bougainvelia.

After a shopping stop as Las Bovedas craft market, we headed into the walled El Centro part of town with its pastel stuccoes and quaint terraces draped in bougainvillea blossoms.

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Condor contours of the Palacio de Inquisition.
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Cartagena Cathedral.
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Cartagena cuppolae.

Our walk took in the notorious Palacio de Inquisition, once the site of Catholicism-invoked torture and the Catedral de Cartagena before we rejoined the coach outside of the Plaza de Independencia.

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Mining exhibit in the Emerald Museum.
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Cartagena skyline.

There was a visit to an emerald shop and museum in the Boca Grande district and a final photo stop with a view of the modern skyline behind the Bahia de Cartagena before we returned to the cruise terminal.

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Revival via ensalada.

Back aboard, we grazed on six-star salads in the Lido before heading back out to the terminal with our laptops, once more in search of reliable and speedy wifi.

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Flaming garden.

As alluring as the Cartagena Cruise Terminal’s flamingo gardens and cafe were, it had no interior seating. We bade the swelter, local mosquitoes and noseeums a reluctant “no thanks” and once again returned to the ship with a sense of relief.

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“Cheers” backstory.

That afternoon, I had the pleasure of attending a presentation from Emmy-, Golden Globe- and People’s Choice-award winning producer and show runner Cheri Steinkellner about “Cheers”. One doesn’t have to even be a fan of the series to appreciate the fascinating backstory she provided. I made it a point to seek out her presentations for the rest of the cruise, which brings me to:

Crystal Enrichment and Entertainment

The Crystal Visions program is one of the very best in the industry, prompting us to structure a portion of our sea days around what usually amounted to three lectures at 10:00 AM, 11:00 AM and 1:30 PM. Throughout the cruise, we would be enlightened or intrigued by experts in international and regional politics, a renowned astrophysicist/anthropologist and a White House correspondent.

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Professor Anthony F. Aveni.

Dr. Anthony F. Aveni was rated by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the top ten best university professors in the U.S. Laced with humor and irony, his presentations about Meso-American civilization were not merely informative and entertaining but relevant to current socio-political trends. Dr. Aveni has been lecturing on cruise ships since the mid-1970s aboard the STELLA SOLARIS, has written or edited some 35 books and is the Russell Colgate Distinguished University Professor of Astronomy, Anthropology and Native American Studies at Colgate University.

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Ken Walsh.

Bethesda, Maryland-based Ken Walsh became a White House correspondent in 1986 and has interviewed Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He gave interesting overviews of our current election process and did his level best to not reveal his political persuasions.

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Gary Hunter.

Supervising, emceeing and cheering on all aspects of the entertainment on board, from the enrichment lectures to the guest performers and opus stage productions, CRYSTAL SERENITY’s Chiefland, Florida-based cruise director Gary Hunter never missed a beat, had a surprisingly wicked wit and an infectious enthusiasm. He’s also a mean ventriloquist.

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Across The Pond, a Beatles and U.K. Invasion tribute.
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Flutist Gary Arbuthnot.

Evening entertainment included guest singers, a virtuoso flute player and full production shows from the eleven-member Crystal Ensemble of Singers and Dancers.

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Crystal champagne.

A nice touch about attending the shows in the Galaxy Lounge was the stellar bar service. Early in the cruise, I indulged with a glass of champagne (Crystal’s “included” Paul Louis Brut Blanc de Blancs is almost as good as Veuve Clicquot) and from that point on, as soon as I was seated, I was asked if I would like a glass of champagne…

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Pellegrino time.

…until I switched to Pellegrino.

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Avenue Saloon, facing aft.

On some nights, especially those followed by sea days, we would indulge with a visit to the Avenue Saloon where pianist Dan Hodge played and sang the gamut from Cole Porter and Sinatra to Elton John.

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Night promenade.

Almost every night would end with a stroll along that incomparable promenade.

And now, a closer look at a some of CRYSTAL SERENITY’s included alternative dining venues:

Tastes

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Tastes chinois, noodles, and potstickers.

In prior posts, I mentioned how much we enjoyed lunch at Tastes, the recently expanded dining venue next to the Trident Grill on Lido Deck. Nothing beats its lunchtime (12:30 to 2:30 PM) Chinois Chicken Salad, Veggie and or Shrimp/Chicken Potstickers and a fresh-brewed iced tea (props to Crystal for eschewing that preservative-laden syrup tea formula most of the other lines use).

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Tastes galley.

At night (6:30 to 9:30 PM), Tastes takes on a slightly more sophisticated look with its candle-lit (not real candles, of course) table tops and tapas-style menu with “world cuisine” choices cooked to order in the adjacent galley.

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Tastes Duo Of Mediterranean Dips.

Reservations are suggested for Tastes but walk-ins are accommodated if space permits and there is no surcharge. Its casual ambiance and light fare were especially refreshing after long excursion days. We would dine there several times and enjoyed the Duo of Mediterranean Dips appetizer featuring muhammara (made from bell peppers) and spinach hummus with fresh-baked za tar lavash bread.

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Tastes Celeriac.

Another tangy, delicious Tastes choice was the Shaved Fennel and Celeriac Salad with pomegranate,, almonds and citronade.

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Schott zweisel.

As with the main dining room and the other specialty restaurants, there are a daily wine choices with dinner in Tastes, served in lovely Schott Zweisel stemware.

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Peanut chicken curry in Tastes.

Our favorite entrée was a sizzlingly hot Singapore Chicken Curry Noodles dish with cabbage, crushed peanuts and cilantro. The menu in Tastes changes each quarter.

Trident Grill

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Garden burger and gazpacho.

On the port side of the Magrodome-covered space shared with Tastes is the Trident Grill, another casual eatery that is open every day from 11:30 AM through 6:00 PM. In the Trident Grill, guests choose from a menu of selections at the counter that are made to order. And while this may be the most “simple” (ie burgers, sandwiches, etc.) food available on the ship, it is always well-prepared and made with high quality ingredients.

Scoops

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Scoops.

Sharing the same counter with the Trident Grill, Scoops offers up Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, sorbet or soft serve frozen yogurt and fresh-baked cookies.

Now that we’ve covered all of the CRYSTAL SERENITY’s upper deck public spaces, let’s head down to Deck 7 for a look at its line up of public rooms…

Promenade Deck (7):

The forward portion of Promenade Deck (7) is dedicated to deluxe staterooms with windows that look out onto the promenade deck. Aft of the midships stairtower, there is a line up of public rooms that end on the starboard side with the Italian specialty restaurant Prego and on the port side with the Asian specialty restaurant Silk Garden (more on those in the next post).

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Computer University at Sea, facing forward.

On the starboard side, Computer University (CU) at Sea accommodates 24 guests for computer workshop sessions that are included in the fare, although guests need to sign up in advance since space is limited.

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Bridge Lounge, facing aft.

Directly aft of CU at Sea, the Bridge Lounge seats 60. It is followed by a tiny private lounge called the Constellation Suite.

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Studio, facing aft.

On the port side, the public spaces begin with the 52-seat Studio, a multi-purpose lounge that serves as a classroom (painting, cooking, video editing, languages, etc.) and even a wine-tasting venue.

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Library, facing forward.
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Library corner.

The wood-toned Library follows, with its excellent selection of books, DVDs and music CDs that can be borrowed free-of-charge for up to 48 hours.

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Vintage, facing aft.

Directly aft of the Library, Vintage is the only dining venue we didn’t get to sample. The room can be booked in advance for private parties for $2,600.00 or on certain nights, guests can book a seat for a fee ($250.00) to enjoy a deluxe wine pairing where each food course is tailored to the wine selection.

Tiffany Deck (6) and Crystal Deck (5) public spaces, staterooms/suites and more dining venues will be featured in upcoming posts.

End Of SERENITY From Sea To Sea, Part Three

Click here for Part Four

Special Thanks: Hubert Buelacher, Paul Garcia, Janeth Tapia

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego
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