Author: Molly Arost Staub
Tags : Cruise, Europe, Kids Club, Luxury Options, Multigen, Spa & Wellness, Watersports
Two teens love the ultra-service, fine dining, extraordinary European ports of call, and time spent with Grammy aboard a classy Mediterranean Crystal cruise.
I have made a tradition of exposing each of my five grandchildren to a European trip, and I recently completed the cycle. Although I had taken Cydnie to Holland when she was 8, it was time to add to her education now that she is 17. And since Marti, 13, had never been to Europe, I decided to gift them with a trip as graduation presents, Cyd from high school and Marti from middle school.
It was the perfect time for this pair of cousins to experience a cruise amid the elegant surroundings of my favorite large-ship line, the upscale Crystal. We chose a Mediterranean itinerary on the Crystal Serenity, where the girls enjoyed a mixture of once-in-their-lifetimes learning about Western civilization and fun stops, amid luxurious service.
Our Home Away from Home at Sea
Our cabin on the Penthouse Deck (a premium deck) brought many perks. As we began unpacking, our butler Samir introduced himself -- and offered to steam any or all of our clothing that had become wrinkled during our long flight from Miami to Barcelona. At no charge!
Returning to our cabin each afternoon brought another delightful treat as Samir arrived with a gigantic tray of canapes. The seafood selection included entire lobster tails, caviar and crab legs; the cheese assortment included our favorite choice of brie; salsa dips; and ripe fresh fruits.
I cautioned over-indulging, since dinner was at 6:15. Unlike more casual cruise lines, we had our reserved table, where our waiter knew our names.
Crystal Cruise's Youth Activities
On sea days and during free time, the Crystal Cruise youth directors had many activities planned, including Italian lessons (daily newsletters for appropriate age groups were always delivered.)
Among the favorite activities for little ones aboard was a behind-the-scenes stage tour, where kids tried on performers' wigs and hats. They also made cookies with a chef.
Teens thought it cool when they handmade sushi. But despite activities such as volleyball and crafts, "their favorite activity was an hour of free Internet time," said Colin Laforet, who has been a junior activities director with the line since 2001.
"The youth program has really blossomed," Laforet said, "especially since they've added specialty acts like a magician." Laforet said they've always had a dedicated room for the younger kids, but now they're considering adding one for the teens.
Emina Rahic, another junior activities director who is with Crystal for her third year after working at another cruiseline, said, "This is more fun. You really get to know the kids."
Excellence in Dining & Learning: Crystal Cruise Hallmarks
Everybody dressed for dinner, and all the children were well-behaved. (This is not the kind of line where passengers come to dinner dressed in T-shirts.) We enjoyed having our reserved dining table, where our waiter Endrais knew our likes and always brought our favorites drinks without our asking.
When Marti told him that her birthday would fall on the day we would be debarking, so she wouldn't be getting a cake at dinner, he made sure to have a birthday cake at breakfast for her.
A three-generational family from Illinois sat at a table near us. They reveled in their first time cruising together. Grandmother Leslie Sweda, from Chicago, said, "I really enjoyed this more than a land vacation. Everybody is happier, doing what they want to be doing. It's a way to really connect with your family and share time together."
Her daughter, Lisa Farmanis, said, "The kids were clued in ahead of time about the educational stuff, such as Pompeii, and they learned about things they had studied in school." Leslie added that she found that going to the excellent production numbers with her 12-year-old granddaughter Ally was a revelation. "Now I'll take her to shows at home," she said.
Another group, an 18-member Texas family was happy to share the fine dining and service, as well as the opportunity to experience western civilization's art and history with their families. Grandmother Mary Monaco said, "This was a trip, seeing Rome and Greece, the youngsters will always remember and cherish all their lives. And we wanted them to see how Crystal treats guests, to see the difference between it and other cruise lines."
On some nights, we availed ourselves of the two specialty restaurants; no extra charge for these, simply a recommended $7 per person gratuity. Silk Road is the Japanese restaurant, very low-key elegance done in white-on-white. Cyd, who frequently dines on sushi, relished her selection; the lobster roll was served in a martini glass. Marti's mushroom soup, brimming with ingredients, arrived in a tea kettle. My lobster with truffle-yuzu sauce was delightful, all garnished exquisitely.
Prego, the upscale Italian venue, is decorated with murals of Italian vistas and crystal fixtures. The girls were each addressed by the waiter as "Principessa," and everything only spiraled upward from there. My scallops encrusted with finely chopped pistachios were fabulous. Marti's fish was cooked with the skin; she immediately began to remove it, when the waiter rushed over and performed the surgery himself. When the dessert plate arrived and the girls tackled one type of tart, he immediately brought an additional dish of those tarts.
Cyd commented, "It's amazing how much attention they pay to everything." Marti added, "Everything about this place is awesome."
Crystal's Ports of Call in Spain, Monaco & Italy
The fantastic ports of call included stops in Spain, Monaco, Italy, Turkey and Greece. My granddaughters loved Barcelona, where we started, best of all the ports. Marti said "Barcelona was really awesome. Sagrada Familia (Antoni Gaudi's Temple of the Sacred Family under construction since 1882) was so pretty. And the market, la Boqueria, was neat with colorful displays of fruit I never saw before, though the giant octopuses were icky." Cydnie love the art at the Picasso Museum. We all loved strolling along La Rambla, seeing the flowers and animals (especially the mimes in their fantastic costumes and makeup), the Gothic Quarter, and the ruins of Sinagoga Mayor (believed by some to be Europe's oldest synagogue dating from the 3rd century).
Our next port was alluring Monte Carlo. On the ship, we had seen the movie "To Catch a Thief," filmed in this region, when gorgeous American movie star Grace Kelly met Prince Ranier and they fell in love. "It was so cool driving along these roads, seeing the palace and all the things in the movie," Cyd said.
We toured Monte Carlo's Princely Palace and the neo-Romanesque Cathedral, but the girls were most impressed by the Oceanographic Museum & Aquarium. Grandparents enjoy using the Azur Express Tourist Train or the free elevators to access the Old Town.
Rome disappointed because a public transportation strike put every Roman car on the streets. Our bus from the port took extra time, taxis were impossible to find and the Vatican was closed because of a meeting on priestly abuse. However, we did stroll through the splendors of the Roman Forum. The ruins, dating from 500 years B.C., indicate the enormity of the buildings, the formation of government in the Senate and the beauty of the culture.
At the immense Colosseum, begun about 72 A.D., we saw where gladiators fought each other for the amusement of the crowds, and a favorite sport pitted lions against Christians and Jews. The cousins were awed by the below-ground facilities for men and animals. In a lighter mood, we lunched at the lovely Piazza Navona featuring its three fountains including Bernini's powerful Fountain of the Four Rivers.
Pompeii is remarkable - frozen in time since a 79 A.D. when the volcano Mount Vesuvius erupted. Marti and Cyd were astonished and commented that "Pompeii was incredible, seeing how much survived the volcano eruption, with vivid color murals thousand of years later. The plaster casts of the people were eerie though."
Ports of Call in Turkey & Greece Highlight Ancient History
The port of Kusadasi, Turkey lead us to Ephesus, Asia Minor's biggest harbor during the Roman era. This vast excavated area stuns with its remaining ruins. We wandered among columns and arches, a theater that seated 25,000 dating from the 1st to 2nd century A.D. where St. Paul preached to the Ephesians, and the facade of the Library of Celsius - then the known world's third largest library boasting about 15,000 scrolls.
In a different vein, Marti thought Mykonos "was really cool, just like I pictured it. All those white cube buildings, like square marshmallows, with their blue doors and windows... and the narrow winding stone streets, with load of shops." We wandered through narrow, stone-paved streets, and a zillion shops, to find the round windmills. They loved the shopping.
We debarked in Athens, which allowed a visit to the fantastic new Acropolis Museum opened in June, 2009. Walking over the large, outdoor glass-covered entryway allows guests to peer down into an excavated Athens neighborhood from the 5th century B.C. to the 9th century A.D. Inside, the modern, air-conditioned building exhibits three floors of items removed from the Acropolis.
Of course, no visitor should miss the Parthenon, built between 447 and 438 B.C., dedicated to Athena. Considered the most important monument of ancient Greek civilization, it is set atop the crest of the Acropolis. Construction cranes no longer mar its beauty. Many experts believe it's man's most perfectly created building. And, grandparents can revel in the elevator that now brings them up to see how built-in curves conveyed straight edges when observed from below.
Booking a Crystal Grandparent - Grandchild Vacation
Since Crystal Cruises has enhanced its Junior Activities Programs and dramatically slashed its prices (at least on certain summer and holiday sailings), it's a great time for families to book grandparent-led voyages or reunions at sea. Upscale Crystal has consistently been voted the "world's best large-ship cruise line" by readers of Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler and I agree. Its fine service and facilities should please any member of your extended family.
Making reservations early guarantees your choice of cabins, and usually leads to other perks, like free upgrades or special airfare offers. Contact your travel agent, visit the Crystal Cruises website or call their agents at 888/722-0021 for more information.
Photographs for this story provided courtesy Molly Staub.